Poetry London 2015 Contest

The video and poem are now up at Central Library London, http://www.londonpubliclibrary.ca/blog/poetry-london-contest-winner-penn-kemp, and on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGAOOldLE98.

As if you are leaping in the air

As if you are leaping in the air
with Virtue and Moir. As if you
are running perfect simulation.

Lift and fly. Figures are skating,
whirling to wild quads like Sufis
dancing in Dervish reverence.

Perfection swirls along an unseen
slip of water that allows for glide,
ice two inches thick. Blades glint.

Fantasy hovers, floats flawlessly,
describing meticulous arcs on ice,

in air. Geometry touched by magic,
projection spun on glass surface.

Le Petit Prince and his Rose criss-
cross the ice to mirror our neurons
effortlessly after ruthless practice.

One haptic system rings in tune with
the other not by happenstance but
exquisite design, creating the perfect

illusion of romance. This pair knows
their true trick is always in landing home.


This poem is dedicated to London’s spectacular local heroes and Canada’s most decorated ice dance team, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The poem won second prize in Poetry London’s 2015 Contest. I read it at Landon Library on March 25.

The winning poems are up on http://www.poetrylondon.ca/index.php?/current/contest/ and posted throughout London Libraries all Poetry Month along with videos of our reading at Landon Library!

Thanks to Poetry London!

See also http://www.lfpress.com/2015/03/26/kemps-winning-verses-salutes-our-olympians.

Some Talk Magic cover

The photo of daughter Amanda and me is in Some Talk Magic, Ergo Productions.  Credit: Elizabeth Cunningham

Penn Kemp’s Five Poems For Food… and National Poetry Month!

In April, I’m delighted to celebrate National Poetry Month through the League of Canadian Poets.

National Poetry Month‘s topic this year is, very appropriately, FOOD!

 Five Poems For Food… and National Poetry Month!

Fare Trade

I would eat local food only were it not for temptation.
A green invitation of open avocado in emerald halves.
An alluring variety of mango hot to eye, cool to tongue.

The seduction of dark chocolate.
The slurped fulfilment in oyster.
The simple necessity of rice.

Otherwise, I would be content with my yard’s fall produce.
But having tasted the world’s fare, how to return unjaded
to simple pleasures that this ground offers?  Beans.

Corn.  Squash.  Corn.  Beans.  The three sisters thrive.

Yes, I will eat local food mostly.  Except for.   Except for…

When The Bare Naked Ladies sing “Snack Time”, not one of the stars
they record choose celery sticks. No-one claims carrots for their own.

O banana.  O chocolate.  Chicory can never compare to café au lait.

On to political rant: our food too cheap, our farmers ruined.

Our eyes closed, we rest easy, spoiled ripe fruit in the docks,
turning sleepy to sun-rotten.  Given so much, we reach for more

even when over full.  And poems break off as the lunch bell rings.

Penn Kemp
Luminous Entrance: a sound opera for climate change action
www.calgaryspokenwordfestival.com, program http://thecartierstreetreview.blogspot.com/

Penneats2007-11-01Ula at tableJPGPhoto: Gavin Stairs


I eat nut chocolate instead of carrots. I drink
caffeine straight from the bean. I don’t care
if my senses rot, cavities root in my mouth,
gnaw at my brain. I nod a refrain to be
wicked, to be wild at the expense of ordinary

sanity. The expanse of external wisdom
mounts as paper wrappers, candy wrappers,
oh sweet sweet the caress of chocolate.

While I don’t care if the sun turns
my uncoloured skin ultra-violet, the long
and the short of it is the spectrum
unannounced of the daily. In living we
are realized, we are being flushed out

of hiding our response by this reddening
cheek, the drenching of the brow in sudden
cartoon frenzies of sweat, the character is
worried. She is fretting. She is sunk.

Penn Kemp


In Light

Let the light in, please.  Open
the blinds to see that shadow
lies where light does not fall.

Where there is no shadow,
there can be no fear.  Where
there is no fear, all is light.

Let light penetrate all
our permeable membrane
of skin.  Let it illuminate

dark corridors of blood
and vein.  Let light fill
our whole body till cells

dance like dust motes.
Let the sun beam light
through our pores till

we glow luminous and
radiant, incandescent,
as the day’s eye.

Let us eat light like
plants.  Let us chew
the bright air till we can

swallow light like
fire-eaters.  Let us
assimilate light till

we are light, just that
bearable lightness
of being

Penn Kemp
from Dream Sequins, Lyricalmyrical Press

Judy Rebick and Penn 2014Judy Rebick & I at table

Bass On The Grass

We have been fluid mercury
in a mess of water weed
swimming cross-current.

We know to elude the net,
a web’s small intricacy.

The line we avoid
until a play
of sun on water constellates as
damsel fly…

Wary, we approach and bite
the trick of flattery.  Bright
searing metal is our last whim.

We are lifted high, swimming
astonished into air.      Caught
by diviners.   Frantic, we fall through

streams of light, swirling blind and
gasping.     The line holds.

What will sustain us after eons
of pooled silence?  What service awaits?

We scry so little, under water or on this
unnatural resting place where up and down
dissolves.  Long lines no longer connect us.

Weeds around us flower and are still.

Penn Kemp
from The Lunar Plexus, cd. Pendas Productions
An earlier version appeared in Binding Twine, Ragweed Press

After Image

Tender, the moment when a lion
licks its caught prey in the face
cupped between soft paws.

Long tongue on zebra hide.
A kind of indolent yawn
after the swirl of dust, the flailing hoof.

This moment looks like love
to the safe observer bedded down

as the film rolls.  The zebra seems
steeped in peace, adrenaline

overload just before its eyes
glaze over.  Give over.  For ever

as if time could hold.  If it could last

before the first bite.  The blood.
letting.  Go.  The lion on cue lolls,
renders fierce intent

to savour first juice.

Penn Kemp
from The Lunar Plexus, cd. Pendas Productions

Jakekitchen20071127 003  274809_527005251_4480870_qPhoto of Jake and me: Gavin Stairs

Ode to Tim Two Bitswhopper

Ah, Tim, how far you have fallen from
fine hockey star on quicksilver skates
to purveyor of sludge and sugar and
starch even without any golden arch.

O Tim, if you’d lived you’d be fat by now,
rich on food faster than you ever flew.
You discovered the secret— free enterprise.

Hire cheery faces at minimum wage.
Make ’em watch eight hours’ video
extolling Horton history. A myth in
the making, all in marketing learned

so well from Amurican owners, those
grown-up Wendy’s to your Peter Pan.
And we know how that worked out for

you. Now you’re willing to marry again,
moving up the ranks to rank Burger King:
“The triumph of hope over experience.”

For you can never age nor decay, Tim.
You’ll franchise and fry, immortal in lard
pans or steaming as old-fashioned soma.

Place yourself on every main drag or mall
so tourists can ride from rest stop to rest
expecting their fare everywhere exactly

the same. Why travel for variety when comfort
is here? Drive through. Drive on to the next town.
Familiarity never flags when we’re in a rush.

Forget the fuss of old fogies who lament passing
home cookin’ for simulacra substitution. They’ll
die off with the trees as you lay waste your cups.

Strew your containers and spread your name far!
Overflowing fame translates into dollars, a paean
to plastic and paper debris. Ex-pan, expand and

never explain. Throw out your day-olds, don’t let
customers buy them cheap, sans tax. You have a
Canadian reputation to keep fresh. O Tim, Do-nut

Deity, your name lives in bits, in bites on Saturday
nights, 24/7. We’d bow to you if we could still bend.
Fast fueled, we promo you, we expand with you, O

Sweet Special! O Rush! Think doughnut-emburger’d.
And you’re already for all night bagel breakfast!
Penn Kemp

1509801_858856720840225_2235562567279061875_nPhoto: Stan Burfield

On April Fool’s Day, I was delighted to celebrate National Poetry Month through the League of Canadian Poets at London Open Mic Poetry Series. Introduced by Joan Clayton.

WHERE: The Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario.

THE FEATURED POET:S John Nyman, followed by Penn Kemp, opened the poetry reading at 7:00, followed by a Q&A.

SEE http://www.londonpoetryopenmic.com/biographies—featured-poets–musicians/penn-kemp-featuring-with-john-nyman-at-london-open-mic-ap

“The Hart of London”, WINDSOR REVIEW: Special Alice Munro Issue.

The Hart of London

Late this dappled day, I spot a stray
young yearling browsing for millet
beneath our bird feeder. How? We

live on a closed-off street between
highways. She arrives as straggler
separated from family and settles

down under the tangle of rosebush
for an hour. Then, startled by next
door’s lawn mower, she lopes across

our driveway to nest below the cedars,
appearing/reappearing tawny through
yellow leaves and disappearing when

my attention shifts inside the house.
Her presence endures. Not for me the names
antlered vermin, garden pest, tree girdler.

But a reminder of totem, of clan. How
alone we are in the world. How we too
know sanctuary, when to hide and where.­­­


This poem was first published in the gorgeous WINDSOR REVIEW: Special Alice Munro Issue.

Thanks to Tim Struthers for suggesting the title  It refers to an experimental 1970 film by London artist Jack Chambers.

PennSumacPhoto: Leona Graham

Poem from Windsor Review: “Goldilocks Meets Alice in Huron County”

Goldilocks Meets Alice in Huron County

a dream poem

Rounding the yard at the end of the lane
looking for Alice Munro’s old home, I
knock on the first door. This house is much

too classically fancy to be hers. The next
cottage is too run-down. The third home
is just right so I open the door and walk in.

Frail Alice greets me seated, eager for any
excuse to dismiss the nurse at her side who is
inquiring about symptoms of spreading cancer.

“I’ll chat with you for a moment,” Alice sings out.

Around her is a grey circle of regulars waiting for
their meeting to begin. The leader, a middle-aged
minister, betrays but little impatience. As the ladies

distribute a pot-luck, Alice asks that I be included.
“We turn away no-one in need,” the minister replies
haughtily, regarding my girth. “I’m in no danger

of starving,” I respond laughing. One by one,
the folks check in with stories of countering
devastating depression. I look around in wonder

at the upright citizens of a small Souwesto town
whose truths Alice has been dealing for decades –
the forbears of her tales, the writer’s source, her

fare and sustenance and now their claim to pride.


This poem was first published in the gorgeous WINDSOR REVIEW: Special Alice Munro Issue.  It is from a manuscript in progress, DREAM SEQUINS.

8623a2f_003Photo: David Redding

Poem from Windsor Review: “Telling Tales”

Telling Tales

        for the Harris family of Eldon House, London


A white house in white snow
gleams against reflected past.

The family entertain suitable
suitors to maintain their station.

They conform to a norm long
past fashion in Home County.

They adapt but do not adopt
the lay of the land. The lie is

implicit in living on middens
of territory they claim as theirs.

They plant and supplant. They
judge. They determine the law

to be real, to replace all that
went before by sheer resolve,

might of Empire at their heel.
They tell their children stories

of Home, not to be outdone but
to outdo. Tradition regulates.

Trees surround them. Sycamore
approaches imported plane tree.

Winter reverses realities: the native
ghost tree glints sunshine while plane

fades to bare-bough obscurity. Imposed
perimeters held down only by survey.

We glimpse peripheral reminiscence
half dreamt, half recollected in shards.

No telling where their multiple truths lie.
The family assume their place in the past,

proper and prosperous. Their trophies live
on in collected memorabilia, in the words

and deeds they chose to commit to paper.
Palimpsests imposed on old growth woods

as if summoning the Old World to replace
place names with their own, erasing other pasts.


Penn Kemp, from Windsor Review: Special Alice Munro Issue

Photos by Daniela Sneppova at Eldon House, from my play, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris.

1. Eldon House through Daniela’s crystal ball

2, Map plus Donna Creighton as Teresa Harris in Eldon House

Poem: The Dream Life

Ad 1 (Web)

The Dream Life of Teresa Harris, b. 1839 d. 1928

You wonder what prepared me. You know
I am a gatherer, and gatherers often wander
far from home especially if they are last,

the youngest of twelve. All those brothers
and sisters doubled up behind me, always
older: no wonder I had to run all the way
round the world to escape their constraint.

They were forever first up the hill and
fastest to hide away. They made the rules.
I was eternally seeking them out across
creaking floor boards, sure giveaways.

Though secret places were mine, ones
they’d never fit. I could squirm under
oak bureaus, sneak behind the wardrobe,
tuck between draped bronze lion claws.

Growing up in such an upright house, I
could never catch on to proper routine
instilled by successions of nannies. I
dreamed of escaping provincial mores.

Out from under my mother’s petticoats,
away from my brother’s taunts, my sisters’
impossible glamour, the corsets’ apparel
I‘d never grow into, whatever my age.

I too would be married into the ritual of
household management, the daily round
of what to wear, what to eat and who is
up to snuff. For this life I am groomed.

My sisters dream of gentlemen callers to
whisk them into a comfortable future. I
dread such confinement of finery hindered
by lace nicety, boxed in by picnic hamper.

We are as high as we can be in this London.
We have burned stumps to create a wooden
town. We live at the Forks of Antler River,
nowhere to turn but out and away, escape

into the wonderful wild, somehow. I read,
dreaming mountain. I wander into the wood,
already exploring, discovering land new to me
in clearings, in shifting currents of the Thames.

When Scott comes calling, asking for my hand, he
promises Ladahk, Kashmir, India, lands where
women like me do not go. Gladly accepting, I
head off to honeymoon in immeasurable adventure.

When Scott later dies, of course I marry St. George
Littledale, our travelling companion. He is fifteen
years my junior. Now I am no longer the youngest.

I gather men, my mother snipes, resenting our age
difference. But I am his match. He offers me
solace a long way from home. I gather information
for the Great Game the way he collects big game.

We exchange formal family high tea for rancid
yak butter tea laced with salt. My mother would
bitterly complain if she knew how far I’d left her
white linen, white skirts, white house for the peaks.

“On 4 August 1895, at a 19,000 ft pass on the north side of Goring La in Tibet, only 48 miles from Lhasa, a 43-year-old Englishman, his 55-year-old wife and a fox terrier confronted over 150 Tibetans armed with primitive matchlocks… Teresa and George Littledale were known as the greatest English explorers of their day, journeying further into the hidden lands of Asia than any Western explorer had previously achieved.”

We come so close to impenetrable Lhasa,
I can almost breathe the air a pass away.
“We utterly refuse to go back an inch…
They said their heads would be cut off if

they did not send us back. I at once told
St. George to say that if it were a question
of my dying going over the pass or their
heads being cut off, I preferred the latter.”

Ill with disappointment and dysentery,
we leave. I must be carried out of Tibet
while Tanny, my fox terrier, frisks all
twelve hundred miles away. While

I dream in the albedo of snow
of our white house gleaming
Himalayan high on the hill.

I dream in the mountain pass
of romping on our lawn, of
batting croquet balls uphill.

And dogs, always, fox terriers,
a breed you could trust to run
true to type, to romp and gambol

like mountain sheep, the small
ones they now call Littledales,
after my husband, St. George.

Penn Kemp

* All quotes are from Nicholas and Elizabeth Clinch’s THROUGH A LAND OF EXTREMES: THE LITTLEDALES OF CENTRAL ASIA


The poem can be heard in my CD, Night Vision (Pendas Productions). It’s performed with singer/songwriter Brenda McMorrow and me on this videopoem by Dennis Siren: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO4_aJpvqjE&list=UUExB7YpDG2lBqqRtH06GIKg&index=67, filmed at The Aeolian Hall, London ON.

The Dream Life of Teresa Harris

Teresa Harris, b.1839, Eldon House, London. d. 1928.

This poem portrays the dream life of 19th century Londoner, explorer and world traveller, Teresa Harris. What a long life to explore, and such interesting times! Teresa tells her amazing story from her death bed, reliving her delightful childhood as the youngest of twelfth children in newly built Eldon House. The Thames, down the hill from the home at The Forks, plays an essential role in the piece as a living presence. Born to a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself in their new home in London, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life. Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother, her family and her two husbands. Both men offered Teresa escape from the ordinary domestic constraint for a woman of her time and position in London society.  Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had. Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination.  Teresa came back home to Eldon House often, and I am interested in exploring the effects of her visits on the family/

My own visits to Eldon House, with its beautifully realized interiors and lush heritage gardens, brought the era alive.  As did visits to the Harris Fonds in the Archives at Western. When I was Writer-in-Residence at Western (2009-10), my own literary archives were deposited in the Collection. When head archivist and noted local historian, Dr. John Lutman, gave me an extensive tour of the Archives, I was deeply impressed by the extensive Harris Family holdings and history, available there in letters, diaries, even a lock of Teresa’s hair. If I, as a native Londoner, did not know this history, then it seemed a writerly challenge to bring Teresa’s story to life, to connect our so easily forgotten past with London’s cultural heritage.

The play originated in this poem, “The Dream Life of Teresa Harris”,above, first published in POSSESSIONS: The Eldon House Poems (Poetry London, 2010).  To honour Eldon House’s 175th Anniversary, Poetry London had put out a call for poems about the place and I was inspired to write several. This short poem became part of my Sound Opera, Dream Sequins, produced at Aeolian Hall in 2010 and in a CD, Night Vision (Pendas Productions).


Photos from the play by Daniela Sneppova.

Donna Creighton plays Teresa and Mary Ashton plays her mother, Amelia.

Music from 19th C. Upper Canada, Poems from the present

Come to Eldon House Interpretive Centre on March 8, 2:30 pm for Music of the Harris Family and Poems from Possessions: The Eldon House Poems!

Eldon House Interpretive Centre, 481 Ridout Street, London ON.  $20. For tickets, call 519-661-5169.

Featuring Rachel Snow, soprano, Sigmar Martin, violin, Stephen Holowitz, piano and James Reaney, narrator

Special Guests from Poetry London reading from Possessions- The Eldon House Poems.

The spirit of nineteenth century London Ontario comes to life with presentations of music discovered in the Eldon House archives and other favourites of the period,

See James Reaney’s http://blogs.canoe.ca/brandnewblog/entertainment/eldon-house-ic-will-rawk-on-march-8/, http://www.lfpress.com/2015/03/06/my-london-harmonious-history-revealed and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1001660329853682&fref=ts

I will be reading my poem, “The Dream Life of Teresa Harris”, from the anthology Possessions: The Eldon House Poems. The poem can be heard in my CD, Night Vision (Pendas Productions). It’s performed with singer/songwriter Brenda McMorrow and me on this videopoem by Dennis Siren: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO4_aJpvqjE&list=UUExB7YpDG2lBqqRtH06GIKg&index=67, filmed at The Aeolian. This poem portrays the dream life of 19th century Londoner, explorer and world traveller, Teresa Harris. She was the youngest daughter of Eldon House’s Harris family. The poem developed into the play, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris, presented at Eldon House in September, 2013.

Scenes from the play to get you in the mood:

TeresaDonnagardenDSC_3597 TeresaDonnastairsgunTeresaDonnaPanayiotisMary

Photos by our art director, Daniela Sneppova