How Festive the Ambulance is the debut poetry collection from the author of the acclaimed 2014 novel For Today I Am a Boy. The poems, which are mostly based around thought-provoking situations, demonstrate Fu’s attention to the unexpected contours in everyday life, the quirky or strange set against the ordinary.
The opening section (of five), “Creatures Great and Small,” pushes the reader into an immediate consideration of the other. The initial three poems are from the perspective of “Pig Man,” whose annoying behaviour is ignored because he has “a forgettable face.” A poem about a unicorn princess is followed by a sequence titled “Lifecycle of the Mole-Woman.” In “Afterhours,” the Joker engages in a conversation with Batman; the gift basket he’s brought includes a butter knife that the Caped Crusader uses on his nemesis. I have no idea what this all means, but it’s entertaining in a dark way.
If there is an overriding emotion in this book, it’s anger – anger at the mess we’ve made of the world, and the extremes of haves and have-nots. In “Cradle Song,” which opens the second section, the speaker says, “There must be a place where your anus doesn’t bleed from a disease of excess or need.” Fu never holds back and she punches with authority. The third section, “A Love Story,” isn’t about love, but the challenges of a variety of relationships. These include relationships with objects; in “Forgive Me,” those objects voice complaints of their own. As the speaker says: “Nothing stops / once given a voice.”
The remaining two sections include poems about Jesus and a boxer; teenage girls in a restaurant; insults; and mosquitoes in Winnipeg. Popular culture is woven into many of the poems along with references to high (unpopular?) culture; the importance here is the collision of high and low, which has the effect of elevating the poems’ pop cultural elements. The storm of images occasionally seems strained, but Fu is attempting a tour-de-force, and often succeeds.
How Festive the Ambulance is highly imaginative in content and form, and Fu always delivers some mental sustenance to accompany the considerable impact of her verbal blows. But her occasional overreach may make you shake your head a bit.