This is a little about me. I’m from a village in the north-east of England, near the sea. It’s not far from Newcastle. It’s near a haunted windmill that’s lost its top. It’s a place where we put raspberry sauce on our ice cream, but we don’t call it raspberry sauce; we call it monkey blood. That’s how we roll.
The Hungry Ghost Festival (my first poetry collection that came out this week) is about my experience of that place [I lived there until I was eighteen, and my family all still live there]. It’s not about what actually happened when I was younger; it’s often not even about real places. It’s about misremembered and strange things. It’s about girls praying to The Angel of the North. It’s about the idea of a mermaid born in the river Tyne. It’s about another girl who’s bullied for being a ‘real-life mermaid.’ It’s about Chinese lanterns, teenagers at the beach, and a family who run a sacred farm. It’s about lots of things. It’s rather scary that it’s now out in the world and people are reading it, but so exciting at the same time.
The first poem I remember falling in love with when I was younger was The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.
THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door…
It still makes me smile now, and reminds me of a cold night, sitting under a blanket in bed, with the wind blowing outside. It was in a large compendium of other poems I had. I also remember laughing at Colin McNaughton poems, and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.
I wrote a lot when I was younger. I was the [un]cool kid who sat on the fire escape step at break time writing, instead of playing Red Rover. I was fascinated by words, and by writing. Not just what you could do with it, but the physical act of it. I spent quite a bit of time in hospital when I was younger. I’ve had lots and lots of operations on my hands, several on my eyes and mouth. My fingers were fused together at birth, and a few are missing [EEC Syndrome]. Those that are left are misshapen. So, my wonderful surgeon Miss Reid spent a lot of time building by hands for me. So, I loved writing: a combination of being fascinated at holding a pen, and conjuring up worlds of crazy fairy tales like the ones I’d read. There’s a poem in The Hungry Ghost Festival called Lobster Girl, which touches on this.
Poetry’s the one form of writing I’ve always written. I’ve hopped around from humour writing, to short stories, to serious novel-type ideas, but throughout all of those I’ve also always wrote poetry. My current favourite collections are Ted Hughes’s Crow, Ryan Van Winkle’s Tomorrow We Will Live Here, Michael Ondaatje’s The Cinnamon Peeler, Berryman’s Dream Songs, not forgetting Ashley Capps, Margaret Atwood, Tim Atkins… far too many to mention here.
Two people can read the same poem and take something completely different from it in a way that’s not so extreme with prose. I love that. Poetry’s the old school way of telling stories. Lines worm their way into your head and stay there.
For me, in The Hungry Ghost Festival, poetry is tied up in place and folklore. It’s about the riverside and rumours in the hills, and falling in love with someone you’re not supposed to be found with. It’s about the beach at night, and owls flying into windows. And it’s also about whatever you want it to be about.
Having this poetry collection published by The Rialto is very different from my experience with ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’; this feels so much more personal, which is both scary and exciting. With this book, I kind of feel like I’m sitting on your bookcase, waving hello.
So, erm… hello! x
‘… You pick my arms up and spread them out
so we are matching. Our woollen scarves
touch our noses – catch our breath
like cloth balloons.
We dig our feet into the soil
and stamp down into the very deep….’
[extract from Angel Metal, The Hungry Ghost Festival]
Originally published by Jen on her blog This is not a six word novel