Festival of All Souls explores the experience of an Asian woman born in Canada. Although neither fully rooted in one or the other, the influence of two different cultures allows heritage, gender and values to nonetheless, enrich a personal vision. The title refers to an Asian ceremony whereby families visit ancestral gravesites in the spring to pay their respects to the departed. During this observance of tribute and commemoration, time is also provided for contemplation and the acknowledgement of renewal that is in harmony with the season. The poetry in this collection is guided by, and ultimately expands upon themes inspired by this ritual: cycles of fullness and loss, expressions of visible and hidden energy, as well as navigations through public and private space. A definition of soul widens to include within our human capacity--plants, animals, minerals, and even weather. Whether leaves pause on the rim of a jade plant bowl, a starling understands Cantonese, or waves lunge like white dragons across Lake Ontario, an invitation is extended to celebrate the diversity of being in this world.
Jean Eng is a writer and visual artist from Toronto, Ontario. Her paintings have been exhibited in Canada, the U.S. and Japan. They also hang in public and private collections including the Government of Ontario. Her poetry has appeared in literary journals in Canada, the U.S., and the United Kingdom, including Canadian Literature; Contemporary Verse 2; The Dalhousie Review; Grain; The Nashwaak Review; The New Quarterly; Room; Vallum and WomenArts Quarteryl. Her work was also included in a limited edition chapbook, Lacewing, an anthology of nature poetry. She lives in Toronto.
"Jean Eng is an intrepid poet who captures arresting images, and distills the essence in crystalline form. Animal spirits, ancestral voices, and cultural motifs appear at will in Festival of All Souls, enervating the quotidian like the waves of Lake Ontario, and the joy of learning a new language."
--Carol Barbour, author of Infrangible
"The Festival of All Souls is a delicately crafted debut collection. Jean Eng uses words with the finesse of a fencer, catching the reader unawares. A streetcar ride in the presence of a fruit fly, pivots "(w)ithout warning" to love, resilience, and "the gaudy tenderness of orange// seats." The Festival of All Souls navigates life's terrain with clarity, tenderness and a wry, piercing humour. There is not one false note."
--Mary Lou Soutar-Hynes, author of Any Waking Morning
"Accomplished visual artist Jean Eng's first full-length collection of poetry, Festival of All Souls, synthesizes her Asian heritage, love of nature, and splashes of surreal imagery with remarkable skill. Her title poem closes with, "the bird understands/ perfect Cantonese"--a whimsical example of how Eng animates her poetic landscape. The reader encounters ghosts, birds, flowers, childhood memories, old loves, and even a feminist inversion of Madame Butterfly ("Lady Dragonfly") calling for the protagonist to "Become a martial artist instead" and "Practice throwing the poison stars." This sort of mystical alchemy and dry sense of humour infuses Eng's work, showcasing a thoroughly original voice."
--Myna Wallin, author of Anatomy of an Injury
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