It has been a busy time for local writer Brentley Frazer.
“I’m always writing,” he says.
“If not then I’m thinking about the next thing, hunting the void for ideas.”
Following on from the success of his 2017 memoir, Scoundrel Days, Frazer is set to finish a new book of poems later this year.
But at this moment, he is happy to be back in Brisbane after spending four days in Penang, Malaysia for a poetry reading at the George Town Festival, a month longs arts and cultural festival.
“It was fun,” he says. “A great experience.”
The stint at the George Town Festival is one of a series of festival-based poetry-reading sessions for Frazer.
Other festivals where Frazer has appeared include the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Brisbane Writers Festival, the Queensland Poetry Festival, the Wellington International Poetry Festival, and the Oxfam Bookfest in London.
Frazer’s new collection of poetry, titled Riding Sharks, will be published by Australasian publishing house HeadworX, and is expected to feature 40 poems.
This is Frazer’s seventh poetry collection and follows his 2016 collection, Aboriginal to Nowhere: new poems.
Frazer’s other poetry books include A Dark Samadhi: poems + microtexts (2003), and Kulturkampf: New & Selected Poems (2015).
Last year, the University of Queensland Press published Scoundrel Days: A Memoir, which was Frazer’s first major venture into prose.
Scoundrel Days is the story of Frazer’s youth.
It depicts his experiences with drugs, alcohol, women, literature and violence, among other things.
His own publishers refer to the book as “Tom Sawyer on acid, a 21st-century On the Road, a Holden Caulfield for punks… an extraordinary memoir of a wild adolescence, told in a compelling, poetic voice”.
They go on to say: “In Scoundrel Days Brentley Frazer tells the story of his youth – wild, disillusioned, impassioned and desolate.”
“Born into a Christian cult in outback Queensland, Frazer escapes through literature and poetry, drugs and violence, sex and alcohol; and his ensuing rejection of religion, authority and the ‘way things are’ leads to adventures, desperation and, just possibly, redemption.”
It’s a riveting and confronting tale, and is certainly not your average memoir.
And readers and reviewers seem to agree.
Rohan Wilson from The Australian described Scoundrel Days as “the rarest of literary treats: a good dose of the shocking”.
Brett D’Arcy, author of The Mindless Ferocity of Sharks, dubbed Frazer’s book “one of finest Australian works in years”.
“I think Scoundrel Days is my best work to date,” Frazer says.
“I put a lot of work into that book.”
“It took me over 20 years to actually figure out how to write it, and three to four years to get it down on paper.
“I was stumbling around for all those years, filling journals, and abandoning manuscripts.
“Trying to live and learn more, trying to find the end of the story, because the story is about having no story, because life has no plot.”
Frazer composed the book using English Prime (e-Prime), a version of the English language that excludes every form of the verb ‘to be’ (are, am, is, was, were, be, been and being).
“The purpose of this [e-Prime] was to push the limits of language and abandon conceptual thinking,” Frazer says.
‘My whole point is to experiment with language and to juggle innate dissonances.”
“Looking at what makes us human.
“For example, we humans have the unique ability to put the idea of dying aside, and just get on with it.
“People who lose that ability, they think, ‘What’s the point?’
“But 99 per cent of people are able to put that aside.
“It’s a unique ability [to humans].”
Having been inspired by French Symbolist poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, Frazer says the exploration of the human condition has always been a feature of his writing.
He says he was drawn to their notions of rebellion and hedonism.
“It was all a bohemian ideal really – turning your back on the systems of man, property and title, in order to try and understand what we are.”
“Putting the eye of god back into the human skull where it belongs.”
Frazer is set to continue this investigation into the human condition with Riding Sharks.
He calls his latest body of work “transliminal poetry”.
“It’s about writing between spaces, and being an observer of the savage garden we live in,” Frazer says.
He says the title Riding Sharks was inspired by the idea that “causality is dead”.
“I was reading this really old mystic who figured it out way before Niels Bohr.”
“He said that we live in a completely magical chaotic universe.
“And all you can really do is ride the shark of chaos across the oceans of tumult.
“I thought that was really great.
“So that’s where the title came from.”
Overflowing with ideas, Frazer is also working on a novel.
But he concedes it won’t be published in the foreseeable future.
“I’ve written three different drafts, and have thrown them all in the bin, trying to get the voice right,” Frazer says.
“Then I gave up on the first-person dream, and now I’m writing it a bit like Cormac McCarthy, as an ethereal observer, but it’s like reading a film script.”
“It’s a historical fiction novel, sort of like an Australian Western.”
“It’s going to be called And One Red Morning.”
Initially known for his poetry, Frazer finds himself diving further into the realm of prose.
He says he doesn’t see a disparity between the two writing forms though.
“There’s no difference to me,” Frazer says.
“Baudelaire said: ‘One should always be a poet even in prose.’
“I read that as a kid, and so my prose was all about metaphor, and capturing sensoria.”
Although Frazer has several published works under his belt, he says he experienced difficulties in getting his work noticed by editors in the past.
“There’s always rejections and always will be, because you’re at the whims of individual editors,” he says.
“You can never please every editor.
“At some magazines, you might find editors who are really sympathetic to your work and they’ll ask for more.
“Others will never take it, based on your politics or subject matter.
“It is just part of it.”
Giving up the pen was never an option for Frazer though.
“Writing is just something I do, whether I’m published or not. I’m always going to write.
“It’s a long game. The whole point is to surf the chaos.
“Quitting is death.”