Of Castlemaine, the novelist and resident Alex Miller has remarked that it has a population of 7000 of whom 13,000 are poets. B. N. Oakman lives not far away, but is a regular reader of his own work at the monthly poetry event in the town. He would be well worth hearing, on the evidence of this splendidly titled book of verse,
In Defence of Hawaiian Shirts.
It is also heartening to learn that a principal
influence in turning him towards poetry (Oakman had been an academic teacher of economics) was listening to ''the distinguished American poet Ted Kooser read two of his poems on television''. That they are such different poets is happily beside – or perhaps to – the point.
Oakman is an adept at striking first lines. In the title poem, ''Too many uniforms mean a country's turning dangerous''. In ''Remembering the Corporal'', ''You never spoke of the war, childhood's favourite/ uncle from those distant railway towns''.
There are wry poems about the poverty of modern academic life and a tender remembrance of his father in ''Ballarat Bitter'': he was one who smiled ''a revenant's bloodless smile,/before vanishing into his sunless exile''. The back cover cheekily confides more of Oakman's range: ''ekphrastic to football''. The noun of course means Australian Rules, as in ''My Football Team is Hopeless''. The adjective, as all school children know, involves treating one artistic medium in terms of another. Thus, here are poems about two of the Van Diemen's Land paintings by Samuel Glover.
Oakman also offers poems about Franco and his foe, the Spanish poet and rector of Salamanca University, Unamuno; a reflection on Wallace Stevens's dictum ''Money is a kind of poetry'', with the riposte ''money is not kind to poetry''.
There is an affectionate tribute to his aunt
Josephine, ''I Mean to Say Love'', while he also writes by far the sharpest political poem of the three collections. In ''A Credo for a Labor Leader'', we are instructed, ''And by these refrainings you shall come to know me''.
May Oakman thrive in Castlemaine, and beyond.
– Peter Pierce, The Canberra Times
Wistful without being whimsical, poignant but tough, Oakman’s poems subtly rhyme and chime their way into our consciousness and gnaw at what might remain of our conscience.
– Ian Britain (Editor, Meanjin, 2001-8)
Oakman writes of the known world with compassion, humour and intelligence, making the familiar new, and the forgotten remembered. These are poems to think with, to carry with you, and to draw upon.
– Valerie Krips, Arena Magazine
Oakman is a forgiving observer of human frailty, as well as pretence. He listens to the daily language of his neighbour and turns it into wry wisdom.
– Philip Harvey, Eureka Street
A rising star of Australian poetry wearing a particularly vibrant Hawaiian shirt!
– Ross Donlon, Convenor, Poetry in Castlemaine