Thursday, 13 September 2012

Book 63 of 2012: The Hungry Ghost Festival

Isn't it always the way? You wait around for your friend to write a book for ages and ages, and then two come along at once!

Earlier this year my friend Jen had her first book published, the very funny Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops. Just recently (well, during the summer) The Rialto published Jen's first poetry collection. I actually got it way back when it was published, and read it a month ago, but I'm a little bit behind.

The Hungry Ghost Festival (available to order on Jen's blog) is a lovely little collection of poems focusing on life in the North East and the journey through adolescence. The title comes from a traditional Chinese festival and there's a slightly fantastical element to some of poems.

I've been familiar with Jen's poetry for a while now. I've known her for about five years now and I've enjoyed the little teasers of her writing that she's shared on HTV and on her blog. But this was all new to me. I used to be a huge poetry fan as a youngster, but as I've gotten older I've not read quite so much. What I have read has largely been as a result of Jen (either directly or indirectly); she's organised Poetry Trees where a group of us have shared copies of our favourite poetry books, as well as just recommending poems and poets (and offering to send out copies of books that she's loved).

With the poems in The Hungry Ghost Festival there's a real story behind each one. Each poem gives you a little snapshot into the scene or events you're witnessing and odd little lines make you realise that there's a whole backstory to whatever you're reading. I like that, I read the book twice (once for the first read and then once more while I went through looking for my favourite quotes) and I found myself imagining what what going on behind the poem. Jen posted a really interesting blog post about her inspirations which you can find here - I loved reading that post after I read the book.

I got the impression reading the collection that there's a lot of Jen packed into these pages. The poems come across as being very personal, which is clear when you read Jen's blog post about her inspirations. I think it's so brave to publish something which has so much of herself in it. I'm glad that I read through it twice because I think there were things I didn't full appreciate on the first read-through; poetry is like that, it needs a bit of time to percolate through your mind.

I couldn't possibly pick just one favourite poem because I like different poems in the collection for different reasons and in different ways. Among my favourites are 'Kitchen', 'Memories Of Your Sister In A Full-Body Wetsuit' and 'Lobster Girl'; my absolute absolute favourite is 'Ullambana', dedicated to her Poppa, I challenge anyone to read it without feeling their chest go all tight.

"For you I signed a form to place my brain in a jar when I'm
done with it. They will lift it from my skull and see you."Page 27

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