The Invocation

Please join The Circle Women’s Collective for this moving Ritual of Re-Membering – a ritual that moves us into grief and sadness and then lifts us out into hope and power for transformation and change.

When: Sunday, December 6th, 2015 @ 12pm
Where: Brescia Auditorium, Brescia University College, London ON. Contact

Sonic World, Spoken Word

The League of Canadian Poets Interviews Penn Kemp
This year’s Golden Beret Winner is Penn Kemp!
Together with the Calgary Spoken Word Society, we are thrilled to announce the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award Penn Kemp!

I am delighted to welcome Penn as the first guest interview on our blog. A poet, activist and playwright Penn has had profound influence and impact on spoken word in Canada. Penn Kemp is a Life Member of the League of Canadian Poets, was the inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of London and has received the Queen Elizabeth 11 Diamond Jubilee medal for service to the arts. She published twenty-five books of poetry and drama, had six plays and ten CDs produced as well as Canada’s first poetry CD-ROM and several award-winning videopoems.
This $1000.00 annual award was created by Sheri-D Wilson—a pioneer of spoken word poetry in Canada—to honour a Canadian spoken word artist who has made a substantial contribution to the development of spoken word, through the originality and excellence of his or her own writing/performance works, and through involvement in—and contributions to—the expansion of the spoken word community. The Golden Beret Award was first presented at the Calgary International Spoken Word Festival in 2007.
And now, for our very special interview with Penn herself:
What was it about spoken word that first drew you to it?
My Out Spoken contribution began during a heat wave in August 1944 as I was being dragged by forceps into the world: Heavy Metal. It reached apotheosis during labour at my daughter’s birth. The “e/mergence” poetry that resulted I first performed at a 1972 League AGM in Edmonton to the consternation of certain elders present. It was released in my first book, Bearing Down (Coach House, 1972) and performed in four voices for a Seattle FM radio show in 1973. That performance opened up the door to possibilities for spoken word in those early days.
I’ve been lifting the word off the page any way I could since then, most recently in videopoems (see YouTube and As a sound poet, I have spread spoken word in festivals round the world: eg. performing at the 1980 NY Sound Poetry Festival; with the Four Horsemen at Convocation Hall in Toronto in 1979; in a radio play with bp Nichol; presenting sound operas at the Jaipur Drama Festival (India, 1999); at the Glastonbury Goddess Festival (2004) and throughout colleges in India (1999) and Brazil (2003) as writer-in-residence.
A project I spent years on is a poem which is translated into 136 languages (, produced in two book/cds and performed by 3,000 on one World Poetry Day. Travelling through India, Brazil and Germany courtesy Canada Council grants, I conducted sound orchestras in languages I didn’t know with hundreds of groups, through sounding and spoken word. For 49 years as a teacher, I’ve encouraged and mentored students from K-post-grad to lift the word off the page. My book, What Springs to Mind, with a long section on spoken word, is available on and in print.
Collaborating with artists of different disciplines, peers and students is exciting, inspiring and energizing, though it’s difficult to classify my work as I continue exploring new boundaries, breaking new sound barriers. The ear remains my first love; hence, radio and mp3s. Concentrating on the voice rather than gesture or physical presence in communicating my words has taught me to listen acutely, and that’s had an effect on all my work, from writing to performing to encouraging and teaching others in spoken word. Many performances are on Youtube.

[PHOTO: Chris Meloche, Aeolian Hall, London: Scene from The Electric Folklore Machine]
As an activist for change, I have organized several London’s 100,000 Poets for Change or editing I am the 40th Life Member of the League of Canadian Poets and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for service to the arts and community. As London’s inaugural Poet Laureate (2010-12) and as Writer-in-Residence for Western University (2009-10), I presented poetry at civic functions, acting as ambassador for the arts and connecting communities. For the last seven years, I’ve hosted a Lit-on-Air show, Gathering Voices, on Radio Western, all archived and several podcast. I was accustomed to MCing activist events, so interviewing is fun. I organized a poetry reading series at A SPACE in Toronto (1973-5), then at Victoria’s Open Space, at Forest City in London, and as Flesherton Library’s Writer-in-Residence. My little company, Pendas Productions, specializes in handbound art books of local poetry/ cd combos, I’ve edited and coached many poets who are now active performers.
2) The Golden Beret award includes a focus on innovation and the use of new technologies. What has been your favorite exploration to make as an artist over the span of your career?
I’m most keen on poetry/cd combinations… and on creative innovation and exploration.
From radio plays to On our Own Spoke, (Canada’s first poetry CD-Rom), to mp3s to videopoems, my work has been experimental. For seven years, I have prepared and performed my Sound Operas for The Summer Soirée Festival of the Arts, Aeolian Performance Hall, London ON—and dozens of other venues since 1976 at Harbourfront, ArtWord, Art Bar, etc . My presence on line is extensive with links on,,,; (5000+), My musenews is up on As well, I administer 2 active groups: Gathering Voices on;, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Culture (3500). I am on SoundCloud, foursquare and and active on http://www.linkedln/PennKemp, and Google Plus.
My work has been produced in ten cds, several dvds, throughout the web, and in 25 volumes of poetry and drama. Many of my videopoems with collaborators like Dennis Siren, Bill Gilliam, Chris Meloche are on line. With the Cloud, friends and fans can hear the work simultaneously!
3) Tell us a little bit about what you are working on right now?
On November 24, I’m leading off to York University to perform Sound Poetry. See
This winter, I’m preparing a cd of my recent play, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris, with the artistic co-directors of Light of East Ensemble, and quietly completing several manuscripts for print.
I am most honoured to receive the Sheri-D Golden Beret Award and will wear the symbol jauntily!
What is your dream for spoken word in Canada?
Given the upcoming election, I think it very appropriate for spoken word performers to speak out for political action and social justice. May we engage our Poeticians in civic discourse!
I love how inclusive and eloquent spoken word is: it engages youth in participating with keen conviction; it appeals to many demographics.
May spoken word artists take joy and inspiration in poetry’s grand tradition through the ages so that our craft can be refined and heightened by the wise words of our literary forebears. May spoken word continue to flourish!

Thanks to Penn for doing this interview with us. We couldn’t be more thrilled to award this year’s Golden Beret to her!
The League of Canadian Poets and Calgary Spoken Word Society are thrilled to announce the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award:
Penn Kemp
We are pleased to honor performance poet, activist and playwright Penn Kemp of London, Ontario for her influence and impact on spoken word in Canada. Penn Kemp is a Life Member of the League of Canadian Poets, was the inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of London and has received the Queen Elizabeth 11 Diamond Jubilee medal for service to the arts. She has published twenty-five books of poetry and drama, had six plays and ten CDs produced as well as Canada’s first poetry CD-ROM and several award-winning videopoems. Penn has performed in arts festivals around the world, giving readings and workshops, often as writer in residence.
This $1000.00 annual award was created by Sheri-D Wilson—a pioneer of spoken word poetry in Canada—to honour a Canadian spoken word artist who has made a substantial contribution to the development of spoken word, through the originality and excellence of his or her own writing/performance works, and through involvement in—and contributions to—the expansion of the spoken word community. The Golden Beret Award was first presented at the Calgary International Spoken Word Festival in 2007.
2015 Jury: bill bissett, Moe Clark and Sheri-D Wilson

On Sounding

  • Sonic Word/ Spoken World
Sound Poetry is what we all do in the discovery of language. One of the ways I got into sound poetry was listening to my children when they were very young. The discovery of language comes through a baby’s babble. When you listen to a child, it is amazing to watch and hear as their mouths form what even in babble is their native language. Words emerge from incomprehensible murmurs like mmmaammmabaabbbaabbananana…, first “mama”, then do you hear “banana”?
So for us right now, you will hear English emerge through the babble. The syntax is almost there, not quite. You get the sense of subject, verb, object. But you get the rhythm of the language as a gestalt before you get the actual words.
Just as a baby moves through babble into concrete syllables and words that become more and more articulate, I get to know through what I am sounding what I want to next explore, what’s coming up, been dredged out. The poem emerges on a wave of sound. Sound leads meaning.
Sounding as well explores what you don’t yet know about language, about what you are feeling. It’s a way of allowing parts of yourself to be heard. It is a way of expressing what has not yet been articulated.
Sounding has intrigued me because it’s a way into other language, other cultures. It’s a way of experiencing the freshness of childhood again. It’s a way of lifting poetry off the page. It’s a way of dealing with experience that is too much for the logical train of subject, verb, object. Sounding allows for any eventuality. It is a hoot. It is a way of participating in the extra-segmentals of speech. For someone like me, it’s a way of entering music. I was one of those children who had a very expressive face, knew all the words to all the songs but had no pitch. No pitch. So the music teacher asked to please stay in the choir, in the back row and mouth the words. I did. Sounding is my revenge.
Sound poetry improves our communication by releasing spontaneous, inventive dialogue beyond linguistic rules. It’s a variety of wail. It explores language in widening waves of individual expression. It’s able to use the sound of the human voice to portray the environment the inner space, to sound the alphabet, to sound like frogs, like evolution, to enter into one’s own creativity.
Sound is the source of creativity for me because it allows for play. I never know what is going to be heard. Now I’d like to share the experience of sounding with you. I’d like to do a sound poem with you. Are you game? See my participatory poem on
What you’ll need to do is sit up straight and oxygenate your brain by taking a deep breath. Take your fingers and massage your voice box tension to come in between All you need to do is make every sound that I make after I make it. The piece is called Re: Solution. It might well have been called E: Volution. May the wheels of creativity keep on turning!
Penn Kemp
Photos: 1. At Open Mic London ON, Mykonos Restaurant
2. At Calgary International Spoken Word Festival


November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Three takes on SIOLENCE!

I coined this neologism to combat the silence that so often trails violence.


In her biography of Elizabeth Smart, Rosemary Sullivan writes: “Every witness leaves gaps, deliberate or not. A biographer learns to listen between the words for the potent silences.” She describes how Elizabeth’s sister, cutting out some of the information in material she was sending, left Rosemary to wonder at that gap with a cryptic note: “Eat your heart out.”

But what if the biography is one’s own memoir? One’s own mind is then the site of potent silences to be examined: Mind the Gap. As Erin Mouré has said, the work is to decipher that anxiety, not to smooth it over too soon or to bury it.

Silence for me has been the background upon which my writing is figure. Writing is the arabesque back to recover what has been lost. Autobiographical fiction gives me permission to speak the obvious mysteries.

Excerpt from a novel, Bound by Water
by Penn Kemp

His fingers closed, blunt tips touching, the heels of the palms meeting, almost as in prayer. The hands ringing her throat, gold wedding ring pressing into her gullet. Even now, her body responded to the closeness of his, still dearly familiar and almost real. But she herself had already disappeared up the smoky trail, out the top of her head into the wide blue sky. Up there was a buzzing as of bees in the air, in the cool expanse. And a strange croak that seemed to have begun in her throat and travelled up with her into the wind. It was a croak; she was flying. She was a gull and free. Mewing, she hovered, opened her new eyes to glimpse the roof of their house, of all the houses, so puny from this height. They were five rows of little boxes nestled in a protective, billowing grove of trees along one edge of the Island. Beyond them, around her, the water sparkled, waiting, eternal.

Violent shaking startled her out of freedom: a sudden updraft, had she flown into a hurricane? She was being pulled back, down the vortex into a body she thought she had surrendered. The sound was in her ear, a roaring, carol, carol, but she heard no song. Nothing but Lyle’s voice, loud as Poseidon in a seashell. She swam now in an ocean of blood. Swirling red currents filled every cranny of her consciousness and this time she went under.

Cause and effect; events and who knew for sure what did happen. When she returned, the room was empty again but it too was swirling around her. It was an ordinary Island living room, filled with the brightly coloured booty of past travels: hangings and curtains and rugs. But now the Turkish reds and oranges, the Moroccan blacks of curtain danced a jig of molecules that confused her senses. She was lying on the couch, the one real piece of furniture they owned. At least it was steady. She shut her eyes again. She would not see.

She heard his footsteps, running closer. Water, soaking her head. She looked at him. A yellow cast of fear lay over the last red flare of rage on his face. But the hands that held the basin barely trembled. “If you’ve quite recovered,” Lyle declared, “I’ll head off to the city. Just take it easy, Carole. Is there anything we need? You’ll be all right.”

Irony of statement, concern or relief: it didn’t matter. The pain neatly divided her head from her shoulders. “I’ll be all right,” she attempted re-entry. “Just go.” Instead, her voice croaked. The words and the ability to make words had disappeared. And Lyle was already out the door. A flash of his yellow bike, and silence, except for the buzzing of wasps in her head.

What had it been about this time? How long? Could either of them remember? There was a complicity between them: nothing had happened. They could talk to no-one, certainly not each other, about the sudden black holes, the mine fields in ordinary conversation that would suddenly erupt. Because most of the time, they were not there. The house was simply a house, the scene domestic, cats and kids and cauliflower on the stove. Carole could talk to no one. She could not talk. When she tried, once, twice, her father reminded her of family pride, her friends reminded her their business was not to interfere. Not to know.

And where could she go anyway, on her own with two kids and no money and a body that would not move. Guilt, shame, Carole wrapped those qualities around her to keep warm, as if they were her own, protecting her from the eyes of neighbours, hiding the black and yellowing bruises under sleeves and stockings. What had she done? The dishes, drying in the sink. What had he done?

His fingers she had studied so closely, bald sentinels drumming up action. Beating to their own rhythm, the jazz that syncopated his every movement.

Next time. No, there would be no next time. There was never going to be a next time. This Carole believed on faith. This Lyle believed on faith. When he returned that night after the children were asleep, Lyle knew of course that he had changed, knew his rage had disappeared forever, as if it never was. Carole knew there was no such thing as fear. They held onto each other all night. Without a word.

Siolence Part 3
by Penn Kemp
That story of violence was muffled because in the framework of the seventies it was not acknowledged to exist. That story I could not tell, because, as ground dissolves to figure, it did not exist in the positive noise of ordinary living. The action of violence upon articulation might best be expressed in a neologism: siolence.

Even in introducing a later book, BINDING TWINE, about losing custody of my children, I could not be direct. The blame, along with the mantle of silence, I still took on as my own. The root cause of violence I slipped in askance, in the middle of the forward, where it might not be noticed:

“This is the testimony the judge did not, could not hear… I have allowed myself to be victimized. I have learned. I do not allow myself to be victimized. I have learned. I do not allow myself to be victimized now. I take immediate action. I let nothing slip by. The central issue is passivity: how to break through the pattern of resignation, the sense of defeat and loss.

“For years I lived in a state of shock, driven out of my body. Yes, my pelvis split at the birth of each child. Yes, I was beaten and had nowhere to go. The effect was I could not grasp reality easily. I saw things as if I were a foot above myself, hands at the ends of long poles, ineffectual. Now, having worked through the terror, I am here, present, willing to face what comes. Willing to let this book out in the hope that it reaches others who have been where I have.

“One woman’s account to every woman, every person.”

Shell shocked. This is the gap into which I stuffed the memories I could not accept as real: eighteen months of clinging by a silent scream to life in a familial war zone. The body has a long memory and holds its fear long after it knows it should feel safe. I’m a writer and not easily squelched, and yet I was silenced for twenty years, by fear, by shame. Violence stuns; the mouth opens and after a while no scream emerges.

What can the experience of siolence be like for those who do not turn to language easily? As we find our own tongues, in turn we need to listen to others who are beginning to tell their stories. Encouragement is a safe place, a silence that is attentive and welcoming, so that all our stories may be heard. Let those bones speak.

Those of us who have experienced siolence recognize one other. There is a certain look in the eye (I wrote eve). A gingerness, as if we are still afraid to touch down. I prepare this piece at an adult education centre, while waiting to receive individual writers. Like calls to like.

The woman who hesitantly shows me her poem has written about gathering lovely flowers, red and blue, making the house beautiful once more with their scent. Her words describing the meadow are so light and airy that they feel unreal. To ground the writing, I ask her what might be behind the fantasy. “I had to escape,” she tells me. And the story she has never told pours out. “He beat on me. I could take that. But once he laid a hand on the kids, I got us out. I ran without a word.” And came back to school. She decides to write what happened in her marriage as her “Independent Study”. Stories swirl in our wake, till I am whisked off to the next class.

First published on
Posted for #WomanAbusePreventionMonth @endwomanabuse

Penn’s essay was featured in the League of Canadian Poets’ Living Archives series:  Siolence: Poets on Women, Violence and Silence, Quarry Press.

Read all of BINDING TWINE:

Poem for Vimy Ridge

This poem is up Soon to be translated into French!

The poem will be read at the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge on April 9th 2017 in France at Vimy Ridge. And the oak stand is thriving!

Stand of Oak Scions

Battle’s devastation cut down men and oaks,
leaving Vimy Ridge bare from ‘16 till now.
But one veteran sent a few acorns to Canada

and raised a grove memento. Now these trees
will stand as metaphor for endurance, mingled
roots living on in lieu of the soldiers who fell.

Now our Canadian branches have returned home,
happily grafted onto European oak saplings.
They’ll respond to wind in the crackling Fall.

These oaks will listen through trembling roots
to news that travels in the near neighbourwood:
subtle climate shiftings from drought to deluge.

The lobed leaves that open to embrace sun, to
soak in rain: they will know a longer time we
can only imagine, knowing history’s record.

This copse you plant now may not remember
a war a century past though it could realize its
own long span to last the whole millennium.

The oaks you plant on Vimy Ridge will not be
thinking of men today or ever: their work is in
attending to the rise from heartwood out to leaf.

These oaks may not thank you personally but
their presence is gratitude enough, is witness.
Thriving, they will return life to Vimy Ridge.

In the slow dream of trees may the men awake
who died here. May they be recalled by name
in their prime, rising as hope from desolation.
Penn Kemp

This poem will be up on

Penn Kemp presents Sound/Performance Poetry, November 24, 2015, York University

I’m presenting Sound/Performance Poetry, November 24, 2015. 1:00-2:30pm. Reading Series, Bethune College, Room 320 (also known as The Paul Delaney Gallery). Department of English, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto M3J 1P3. Host: Patricia Keeney. Contact: Michelle, tel: 416-736-2100 ext. 33304, All welcome. Free, with refreshments.  Here’s the poster: YORK 2015 Penn Kemp Poster

Below are some New and Justified variations of sound poems that have been published in my Incrementally, book and cd, by Pendas Productions.  The correct format is up on! More sound poetry can be seen and heard on


New and Justified: Sound Poems


sigh                                                                                                                                                                                                                              kick
sigh                                                                                                    kick                                                                                                                caws
sigh                                                                    kick                                                         caws                                                                                  of
sigh                                                                    kick                                                         caws                                                                                  of
sigh                                                kick                                           caws                                          of                                                                   this
sigh                               kick                                         caws                                of                                        dis                                                 ease


SIGH                                                                                                                                                                                          CLONES

sigh                                                                                                                                                                                                                            click
sigh                                                                                                   click                                                                                                                  call
sigh                                                                                                   click                                                                                                                  call
sigh                                                                    click                                                       call                                                                                   eye
sigh                                                click                                          call                                           eye                                                                      D
sigh                             click                                         call                                 eye                                      D                                                          as

SIDE                                                                                                                                                                                                   SHOW

sigh                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 an
sigh                                                                                                   an                                                                                                                       ide
sigh                                                                    an                                                           ide                                                                                    sue
sigh                                                an                                              ide                                            sue                                                                       a
sigh                             an                                              ide                                  sue                                       a                                                     side

SEEK                                                                              A                                                                                                                   PATH

pacts                                                                                                                                                                                                                           woe
pacts                                                                                                woe                                                                                                                beast
pacts                                                                woe                                                         beast                                                                            come




U                                                                                                                                                                                                                               more
humour                                                                                                                                                                                                                        or
humour                                                                                          or                                                                                                                      less
humour                                                                                          or                                                                                                                 lesson
humour                                                           or                                                         less                                                                                  undo
humour                                   or                                                   less                                      undo                                                                what
humour                      or                                           less                               undo                                           what                                              U
humour            or                            less                                       undo                                              what                             U                            D
humour     or                   less                               undo                                       what                                        U                         D                  sir
humour   or              less                          undo                          what                                                    U                             D                     serve

U                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      re
U                                                                                                          re                                                                                                                      see
U                                                                         re                                                         see                                                                                           if
U                                                                                                          re                                                                                                                  sieve

a                                                                                                                                                                                                           chore
a                                                                                      chore                                                                                                             till
a                                                                                   chortle                                                                                                           or

hour                                                                                      D                                                                                                                 fence
a                                                                                            gain                                                                                                                  st
all                                                          sere                                                     E                                                                                            us
un                                 as                                                       sail                                           a                                                                   bull
man ooo vers



caw                                                                                                                                                                                                                              calf
caw                                                                                                       calf                                                                                                                  on
caw                                                                    calf                                                       on                                                                                    knee
caw                                                                                                       calf                                                                                                          phony

reason                                                                                                                                                                                                                         ate
reason                                                                                                 ate                                                                                                              thing

within                                                                                                                                                                                                               the
within                                                                                       the                                                                                                                mid
within                                                    the                                                          mid                                                                                drift
I                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     call
I         doll                                                                                                                                                                                                                     um
I                                                                                                             doll                                                                                                              chat
I                                                                           doll                                                        chat                                                                                 her
I                                               doll                                                      chat                                                      her                                              balks
I                           doll                                  chat                               her                                        balks                            is                             woo
I              doll                                 chat                            her                          box                   is                             woo                                   den
I     doll                          chat                                her                      box                       is                       woo                              den               ven
I   doll               chat                         her                          box                            is                  wood              den               ven                       ear

a                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  void
a                                                                                                             void                                                                                                         dance
ring                                                                                                                                                                                                      hall
ring hall low

Penn Kemp