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 MySpace.com/pennkemp). 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 (www.mytown.ca/poemforpeace), 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 http://www.chrwradio.com/talk/gatheringvoices 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 http://www.quattrobooks.ca/books/jack-layton-art-in-action/. 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, http://www.mytown.ca/pendas. 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 http://www.mytown.ca/pennletters, http://www.quattrobooks.ca/authors/penn-kemp/, http://www.twitter.com/pennkemp, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Penn-Kemp/126450531030?created(1255); http://www.facebook.com/pennkemp (5000+), http://www.library.utoronto.ca/canpoetry/kemp/. My musenews is up on http://www.mytown.ca/pennletters. As well, I administer 2 active groups: Gathering Voices on http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=3992303404; http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=27449691026, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Culture (3500). I am on SoundCloud, foursquare and http://www.see.me/ 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 http://www.openbooktoronto.com/events/york_reading_series_with_penn_kemp.
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!

http://poets.ca/2015/04/01/golden-beret-2015-penn-kemp/
2015 SHERI-D WILSON GOLDEN BERET AWARD WINNER:
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

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