For Gwendolyn MacEwen

Heritage Toronto is due to honour poets and playwrights Milton Acorn and Gwendolyn MacEwen with a plaque on Toronto’s Ward’s Island.

The plaque will be unveiled at a public ceremony on the island at Lakeshore and Second Street on Aug. 29 at 1 p.m. The two were married briefly in 1962, during which time they resided in a Toronto Island home at 10 Second Street.*

How fitting, so close to Gwen’s birthday on September 1.

Please take a look at TVO’s fabulous film on Gwen by Brenda Longfellow.  I hadn’t seen it in years but it is still so brilliant. Poignant and powerful. You can hear Gwen read her poems on

Throughout the decade of the 70’s, I lived on Ward Island, kitty corner at 11 Third St. and then at 14 4th St. We moved there in 1971, after Gwen and Milt had separated: I only knew her in the city. But their house haunted my imagination. Here is my poem for Gwen:

Not Waving But Drowning


The night after what would have been
triumph if you had appeared

you appear, bleary, beckoning to me
against the wall.  Waiting to go on.

You don’t know yet it’s too late.
I’m not the one to tell you
the tide’s out.    An official lures

you away, beloved whale, marooning
slow and sodden, beached somewhere

How can your friends?  Floating in bed
you don’t respond.   Easy answers
swerve off your rounded back.

Doorbell or phone rings in your ears for
ever.   Ship’s knell, melodious backdrop
to your ongoing conversation
with the sea.  When sound

stops.    Your hands
wave across a crowd.  Your fingers
semaphore a complex code
we cannot read.

A ring of hands
ready to catch or pull you up
as you wish.  We grasp nothing
till you reach out.  Unless you hold

So many ways of calling out
for help.   Help.

Penn Kemp

“Not Waving But Drowning” was published in Boneshaker Anthology, Teksteditions, 2015. A videopoem is up on An earlier version of the poem was published in my book Travelling Light, Moonstone Press, and online at

*Excerpted from The photo in the article is of Gwen and Milt in 1960 (courtesy of the Estate of Raymond Souster and Heritage Toronto).


Painting by Jim Kemp

Canvas for Jack Layton and the NDP … and poems for Jack

“Saturday marks the 4th anniversary of the passing of my friend and our late leader Jack Layton.

We all know Jack loved campaigning, and I know he would be thrilled with the energy and momentum NDP campaigns are building right across this country. There is still a lot of work to do to complete the dream of Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton in forming an NDP led government that will build a Canada where no one is left behind.

I need your help to carry on that work.

So on Saturday I am inviting you to join me at my campaign headquarters to be part of our “Do It For Jack” door-to-door canvass in London-Fanshawe!

Groups will be gathering at 10am and again at 1:30pm to head out and deliver flyers to constituents in London-Fanshawe.

Please join me in honouring Jack the way he would want us to, with genuine grassroots outreach to the people in our community.

If you can join us, please RSVP at:

As Jack would’ve said, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work, because we can’t stop until we get the job done!”:

Irene Mathyssen


Remember love, hope, optimism, and canvas for Jack now. Vote NDP!

Jack Layton:Art in Action,


For Jack Layton, d. August 22, 2011

Now it feels significant to let Jack free to dance

or rest in peace, after such a monumental fight.

Somehow I feel he has won the war; I feel him

triumphant.  As for the NDP, I have a vision of

not one leader rising to replace him, but a collective

of MPs riding the national swell of love for Jack…

Now Canadians in experiencing such devastating loss

will recognize his value and the values of his party.

At last.  This may be his greatest gift to us.  The time

has come not for another charismatic leader to see us

through but for the collective tribe to work in unity for



The Last Line is Yours

I dream Jack Layton is sitting up in bed

joyously celebrating his win, beaming,

radiant: his indomitable optimism seeing

him through cancer and out the other side.

I know the game’s over.  He understands

what we won’t till we too join him across

that last finishing line.  Wherever you are,

Jack, we love you.  Thank you for all you

won for us now that you are one with all.

His last line?  “And we’ll change the world.”


Up and At ‘Em,

for Jack,

Who is always hip!

Hip enough to lean left,

very left of centre and

perfectly well balanced.

Hip enough to call down

injustice when he sees it.

Hip enough to calm down

doubt and call out for all

those whose voices are

silenced in the Harper din

minority.  Hip enough to

know exactly when the next

election is called for.

Hip to the latest outrage

fraud too easily lent.

Hip enough to lead

opposition into power:

Our next Prime Minister

surely.  In confidence.

When a hip poem is called for,

a hip poem responds,

comes out swinging.

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

March 6, 2011

Goodbye, dear Jack…

Penn Kemp

And a ditty Jack wd have liked:

Among Today’s Dead and Sorely Missed

So there’s Jack, standing at the gates with Jerry

Leiber, who co-wrote ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Stand By Me,’

and ‘Jailhouse Rock’.  Sure hope Jack managed

to smuggle up his guitar.  Wonder which song

he’s singing first.  A duet I wish we could hear.

By this irreverent ditty, Jack would be chuffed.

August 22 2011

Jack Layton: Art in Action is available from Quattro Books, $25.



Lammas Blessings from our Tales of Tailtu performance,

Here’s to Tailtu, mother of the sun deity Lugh, whose day Lammas is. Tailtu prepared all Ireland for cultivation…and demolished forests in the process. She died of exhaustion.

If only she hadn’t sacrificed so much, more great Druid oak and ash groves would remain.