Creative Aging for Boomers

Demographically, baby boomers have already lived much longer than most of our great-grandparents. Thanks to modern medicine, we have survived childbirth and childhood diseases that would have killed off many of us in earlier eras. Now, suddenly, baby boomers are facing en masse a new longevity that few survivors previously attained. 

Since those born after World War II are now in their sixties; many are reclaiming The 60’s as their own, in some resonant echo with the 60’s in which they came of age. The sixties are the new forties, I hear. But I think of grandmothers, worn out and surrendered to old age at forty. My mother at seventy thought of herself as thirty-five, despite longstanding aches and pains. Nearly seventy, I think of myself as seventy, with few aches and pains, at present. (Thanks, Aquafit!) 

In approaching my eighth decade, I contemplate the years ahead and behind. So far, so good. To surrender ambition, competitiveness, greed: how freeing. I have spent the allotted lifetime of three score and ten, accumulating, accomplishing, gathering. And now the work is in letting go, shedding, prepared at any point to surrender IT ALL. 

How do we learn letting go, surrendering the unnecessary, the outmoded, that which is not useful? How do we live completely in the moment, so that we no longer live in dread of our spouse’s illness, our own? How do we age creatively? How do we grow up without the wisdom of older guides? How do we mature into elderhood, with so few signposts to guide us? 

Neoteny, the expanded time for growing up that our culture allows, is a word that I have lately been examining. “Neoteny is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles.” Croning may begin at fifty these days. What new possibilities begin at seventy, at eighty and on? We know all too well what diminishes, and what ends. 

How are we to grow into creative aging, with so few pointers? Since we’ve thrown away or lost ancient traditions that might have helped, we need to draw our own maps, our own definitions of maturity. What is an elder? Can we define the term, or do we need to live the question into our own answers, as Rilke suggests in Letters to a Young Poet: 

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” 

Sherry Ruth Anderson’s Ripening Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace is a remarkable exploration of this new territory of personal growth. Anderson’s book is both her own journey into elderhood and a guidebook that brings the reader along as a friend whom she invites into her garden. Having written such formative books as The Feminine Face of God and The Cultural Creatives, Anderson is well qualified to articulate the first steps toward elderhood. She is adept at tracing the social implications of her own investigation as it reflects cultural changes. Her personal is indeed political. 

Anderson’s own questions, ponderings and fears remain, but now she begins to live the possibilities of elderhood. 

P. 83: “Almost always, when I feel my fear open up like this, something unexpected happens… my familiar sense of self has shifted into a deep calm and stability. I feel sober and mature, steady as a mountain and at the same time quite spacious and relaxed. The sensibility is of one ancient and wise. 

All of this is quite paradoxical. I feel empty… containing all possibilities— so unformed I’m no longer caught in my yesterdays; so free I’m miles of sky with no clouds. 

Will I ever get over how experience changes when I don’t run away from it? Here my fears about getting old and losing my mind have opened to a new sense of maturity… that ancient calm wisdom… the perspective of an elder, I wonder?” 

In her inquiry, Anderson quotes some renowned elders. Mary Daly in her seminal Gyn/ecology writes: “‘We knit, knot, interlace, entwine, whirl and twirl…’ And what women found, she said, was a place to develop their integrity and ways to break the spell of the culture’s clocks.” As theologian Nelle Morton mused, “we were hearing ourselves into speech.” 

What can we learn from the process of creative aging? What wisdom can we claim? Anderson is never content to keep her own findings to herself. She has developed elder circles across the continent. In group dyads, she poses such questions as “Tell me a way you deny your experience of diminishment.” “What’s it like to feel that denial now?” “What are the gifts reserved for age?” She listens to the responses and invites us into a deeper hearing of one another. 

Anderson presents “a new perspective on aging, inviting the reader to engage the aging process through the art of inner inquiry. This work guides beyond our culture’s mind traps through stories where elders face into the lies, the losses and endings, the tender and bittersweet and ferocious truths of growing old.” 
May we too long continue to explore on all levels, inner and outer. 

May our histories be recalled. May we all remember 

the right role of elders: to listen, to be heard, to be held 

in respect. To hold on. To let go. To be held.

For further exploration, see Ripening Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace by Sherry Ruth Anderson. Changemakers Books, 2013. ISBN 978-1-78099-963-0, www.sherryruthandersoncom and
See also Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Highly recommended is activist Judy Rebick’s transformative book, Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political,
– Penn Kemp 

writer-in-residence for Creative Aging Festival, London 


For Descant Magazine, thank you!

For 45 years, Descant magazine has been central to the publishing scene in Canada.  We are so sorry to see it go! Thank you, Karen Mulhallen, Editor in Chief. For Descant Magazine over the decades, thank you!

Here’s my favourite post from Descant by esteemed writer and publisher Michael Mirolla:

The Consul-General & The Poets

It’s not often that the Consul-General of South Africa drives two and a half hours from Toronto to the town of Clinton, located in the heart of Huron County and the Lake Huron shoreline. And perhaps even less often does she do it to attend a poetry reading at a Legion Hall. But that’s exactly what Nogolide Nojozi did on April 12, 2008.

Hosted by SkyWing Press, Clinton’s very own poetry publishing house owned and operated by the indefatigable Ronda Wicks, Crossing The Lines: Poetry Without Borders brought together six poets for an afternoon of multicultural, multilingual, multi-genre and multi-vocal readings that definitely did away with the stereotypical expectations (some would call them “prejudices”) that all too often keep people away from poetry.

Anyone who has ever heard Penn Kemp and her willing minions perform her “Poem For Peace in Two Voices” (in vocal pitches, in sing-song, in an ever-expanding multitude of languages, in dialect, in supposedly dead languages, and in tandem with the audience) knows that the typical boundaries put up around poetic reading don’t need to be there. Here, it is actually fun to be uplifted.

Poets on stage.jpg

L to R: Michael Mirolla, Vusi Moloi, Daniel Kolos, Nogolide Nojozi, Katerina Fretwell, Penn Kemp.

But that doesn’t mean that more serious matters were ignored. South Africa’s Consul-General was there to support and introduce Vusi Moloi, a South African journalist whose work forced him into exile in 1987. Vusi, in traditional Zulu dress, read from his recently published collection “A Goodbye To My Little Troubles”—in English, Zulu and Sosotho. The book is dedicated to “the great women of the beautiful mother earth” and is sub-titled: “Poetry of Liberation, Loveliness, Identity, and Spirituality”.

Katerina Fretwell, a choral tenor and visual artist as well as a poet, read and sang from her fifth and latest collection “Samsara: Canadian in Asia.” The book not only features Katerina’s sensitive observations of a trip through Thailand, Vietnam and China, but also her original watercolours to illustrate the poems.

Hungarian-born Daniel Kolos, a practicing Egyptologist and raiser of goats in Priceville, read in his mother tongue and in English from both his “Slipped Out” and “From One Child to Another” collections. Combining the personal and the philosophical, Kolos seems at home both in love hymns and in historical ruminations.

Taking a break from her organizational duties, SkyWing publisher Ronda Wicks also took the stage (as Ronda Eller) to read from “Whale Songs in the Aurora Borealis” and “The Lion and The Golden Calf”, her recently released collection. Aided by Del Almeida, several of her joyful poems were rendered in French, ensuring representation from Canada’s other official language.

Ronda On Stage2.jpg

Del Almeida and Ronda Eller
The sixth poet on the card was yours truly, reading in Italian and English from both my upcoming bilingual English-Italian collection “Interstellar Distances/Distanze Interstellari” from Italian publisher Edizioni Il Grappolo, and “Light and Time,” due out in July from SkyWing Press. A thoroughly orthodox poet, I dressed in my customary black and tried to look serious.

Poetry is all about mood and setting, ambiance and atmosphere. On this particular day, those elements all came together—from watching the Consul-General stand in line at the local Tim Horton’s (green tea, one trusts) to Penn Kemp ululating, from Ronda’s “poetic” garb to announcer Joe Wooden’s laconic and woodsy introductions, from the professional poise of Daniel Kolos to the infectious nervousness of a young open microphone poet.

And poetry readings are all about celebrating and sharing with an audience what comes from many hours of solitary, and often thankless, creation. The best kind of sharing.

(Photo Credits: Gavin Stairs)

  1. Thanks, Michael!

    It was great fun to celebrate Beyond Borders for National Poetry Month!


Leaping Poem for the Year of the Goat

Chinese New Year inspires London poet | The London Free Press.

City’s former poet laureate urges Londoners to ‘butt our heads against the powers that be’

Chinese New Year inspires London poet Penn Kemp

“Poet Lionizes goats– no kidding”

By Dan Brown, The London Free Press

London writer, poet, playwright, performance artist and author Penn Kemp. (Free Press file photo)

London writer, poet, playwright, performance artist and author Penn Kemp. (Free Press file photo)

“I’m making a very political point,” she said of the 12-line work that she put together Thursday morning. “We want to butt our heads against the powers-that-be.”

Although she typically works from sounds, this particular poem came to her through the imagery of the Chinese zodiac.

There has been some discrepancy over whether this is the year of the goat or the sheep, but Kemp thinks we should emulate the former — known as a stubborn, ornery animal that can stomach almost anything.

Kemp — London’s poet laureate from 2010 to 2012 — grants that sheep are cuddly and cute, making for a more pleasant image. However, she thinks “the goat is a really more intelligent, aware animal than the sheep.”

She intends to collect the poem into a forthcoming manuscript of political poetry. “I try to be clear and that’s tricky,” she said of her process. “Metaphors can often be read and interpreted on many levels and in many ways.”

– – –

Butting In The Year of Yang, 2015

Christians may separate sheep from goats but
Chinese does not distinguish between Caprinae.
Yang, ‘a hoofed animal that eats grass and bleats’.

Any ruminating mammal. That Hong Kong leader
claims it’s the Year of the Sheep so unruly subjects
will fall meekly into line. His nickname: the Wolf.

Specific qualifiers Green and Wood lead me to Goat,
not so cuddly or kind, but knowing his own mind—
wild dancing Pan clacking his hooves in a clearing.

Sound the horns! Let Pan pipes start trilling reels!
May the play commence and whirl wind up again.
Light slanting in long through green scent of cedar.


Barbara Taylor, London Free Press Entertainment & Life editor, tweets: favpoet marks New Year w praising goat prose Words & why RuttanPic

James Reaney, London Free Press, tweets: Poetry on Page 2 MT : Chinese New Year inspires


This poem is for all activist art and activist artists!

May the Wood Goat upset Harper’s applecart with a big BUT…!

No need to be sheepish.  Don’t let him get your goat.
Ram his agenda!

How many goats would a wood goat goad
if a wood goat could goad Harper?

Celebrate on,


Photo: Derek Ruttan, London Free Press

Celebrating Canadian Poetry: Daphne Marlatt

Brick Books is celebrating forty years of publishing great Canadian Poetry: Celebration of Canadian Poetry, On February 12, 2015, I join them in saluting our poets:

Celebrating Daphne Marlatt

A poem may be the most natural form for a poet writing about another poet…what better way to write an appreciation of one of my favourite Canadian poets? This piece was published in an earlier version in my book, Trance Form, Soft Press, in 1976, reprinted by Pendas Productions.

 From Trance Form

…follow a lady

into echo of eloquence

a shine on the laurel bush

she hides to hear

her own

& other


she seeks the small but authentic


from form thru form

she hedges

into earth

rooting taking hold of place

lapsing to silence

that her knowledge might


against the power of



she has tapped

no running away – this to



when she looks she peers

pushing back the thicket

long white hand

long white strand

out of the web

she weaves by day

frenetic &


on the clearing loom of words

stories rustle

hover at the corner of



a thing


at water’s edge


a central flow

form is apparent

in the moving   out

& down   thru fact

black teeming muck


(   wing

presences rustle

their story

a torrent

of sound streams round this

ring we intuit, dancing

into its power

it continues/

telling the steps

to continue its falling/




over forty years

Penn Kemp

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhotos: Gavin Stairs???????????????????????????????

Poem for Political Action

Crossing the Floor

So MP Eve Adams drops Mr. Harper and joins
Justin. May more rats soon flee our sad ship
of state, crossing as Flag Day approaches.

The Liberals are showing true Blue colours
courting Cons. Relish her name: Eve Adams.
“I can no longer support mean-spirited leader-

ship…values simply don’t align with this team.”


Running as new Liberal against the Finance
Minister Joe Oliver, Eve is likely to lose. But
the Liberal Party has nothing to lose in such
a fight. They’ve shown an open door to all
Red Tories disgruntled with Harper’s rule.
Justin has lost nothing except our respect.

Penn Kemp

Skating, anyone? On “Shooting the duck”

Skating, anyone?

Shooting the Duck

During the snowy winter of 1952, when I was eight, Mom drove me every week to Carling Arena for a figure skating class. She outfitted me just right, in a navy blue velvet skirt that just covered my bum, a white rabbit muff that kept my mittened fingers warm, and a pompom wool cap.

But those nasty nicks on the skate blades would confoundedly trip me up just as  I pushed forward. Even when I learned not to topple over, I could never figure out how to shoot the duck. The ideal was to hunker down till you were nearly sitting on your sates and then to shoot one leg out like the barrel of a gun as you coasted along the ice. Not me. I would invariably end up on my bottom, my gangly colt legs galumphing out in front of me.

Barbara Shuttleworth was held up as a perfect example beyond any accomplishment the rest of us could ever manage: she was beautiful, blond, and a year or two older, skating graceful rings around us all in a swirl of perfection. Meanwhile, we watched and shivered glumly, the wet wool of our leggings entering the crisp air of the arena like an unwelcome, embarrassed dog.

But I had been given a dime and a nickel. My reward after class was a soggy and savoured cone of chips, the best chips ever, the paper cone soaked in salted vinegar, well worth taking mittens off for, and enduring my mother’s encouragement on the wet-bottomed ride home. She’d been an avid skater on outdoor ponds, and had unwarranted hopes for me.


/Some Talk Magic cover.AmandaUlasnowhill2014

Amanda and me, Toronto Island, 1976, from the cover of my book, “Some Talk Magic”, Ergo Productions.  Photo by Elizabeth Cunningham.

And then… Amanda and her children, 2014! Through the generations…