at the CANADIAN WRITERS’ SUMMIT

The Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets is pleased to present the panel “Performing Women: Playwrights and Performance Poets” at the Canadian Writers’ Summit taking place this June at Harbourfront in Toronto. Find out more information about the Summit, and the League’s Annual Conference, at poets.ca/conference.

Friday, June 17, from 7:45 to 9 am, we will host our breakfast business meeting and open readings. We will be launching the anthology Women & Multimedia: Poetry Collaboration/Elaborations, with work from Di Brandt, Terry Carter, Penn Kemp, Moe Clark, Jude Neale, and Cathy Petch. This anthology is edited by Penn Kemp, and contains papers published in our Living Archives Series. This event is free to members of the League, and may be attended without registering for the Summit. Please contact the League office at admin@poets.ca for more information.

Saturday, June 18, from 4 to 5 pm, Miss Lou’s Room. Join six amazing panelists to discuss experiences and ideas concerning performance. Our six panelists are playwrights, performers, poets… and several are all three. We’ll conclude the panel with a Q&A. The panel is a joint venture between Playwrights Guild and the League of Poets. We will be launching PERFORMING WOMEN, an anthology with papers by the panelists, edited by Penn Kemp. It will also be available through the League, or online through playwrightsguild.ca. This panel is only open to Summit registrants. Visit poets.ca/conference to find out more information about registration and pricing. Miss Lou’s Room is located on the second floor of the Bill Boyle Artport, along the south side overlooking the Natrel Pond/Rink and the lake. See www.harbourfrontcentre.com/venues/misslousroom/

Panelists:

Kelly Jo Burke, “Why Ducks, Anyway?”

Cornelia Hoogland, “Red Dresses Hang from the Trees and Towers: Red and Rapunzel are Missing”

Penn Kemp, “I am translated: How does multimedia give form to a poem’s alternate expression?”

Catherine Kidd, “Zoomorphic Poetics (or, Why I Write So Many Poems About Wildlife)”

Susan McMaster, “How does collaboration enhance performance poetry? The Intimate Power of Co-Creation”

Moe Clark will be performing from her piece in WOMEN AND MULTIMEDIA.

crystalEldonsm

Photo by Daniela Sneppova, cover of WOMEN AND MULTIMEDIA

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Creative Age Festival 2016

My poem, “Double Vision“, celebrates the Creative Age Festival in London ON!

Photo: Kathy SmithPhoto by Kathy Smith

Double Vision, i

Age is the phase for integration as we enter
the violet sphere, embracing shadows in
whatever form they appear, welcoming all.
We wear our lives on our faces, to be read.

We have stood in bright glittering sunshine
long enough. We have given to the world
what the world required. Now we inquire
what we ourselves need to feel complete.

We enter understanding, standing under all
we have done, all we are. We rest in the full
spectrum of fulfilment, scanning the span of
a moment’s totality. Time out of time expands

to include our whole life, with its possibilities
realized or still potential, yet to be enacted,
expended to the rest remaining to us, doubling
to manifest or stay outstanding as life allows.

Now is when to remember just who we entered
this world to become. To gather, to recollect, to
recall, to weave into a basket of plenty and pass
our basket of us as bequest on, nest for the next.

None of our history is lost. It lives in the present
as presence. We are the legacy we leave and
that which we’ve received, stretching back over
generations. We hold in our palms the prints

of past, present and unknown epochs to come.
What brings us to wisdom, this transmission
of all we are? Our grandchildren might hear
what our offspring may not yet have learned.

For our wisdom to ripen, we need shelter, a
place that respects us so we may continue
to live the love that is antidote to fear, free
of want. Where we can reflect upon, reflect

back gleams of insight gleaned from living
well, unhampered. May we listen to our body.
Despite the indignities our flesh is heir to, we
attend to aches in organs hitherto unknown.

Photo by Marque SmithPhoto: Marque Smith

 Double Vision, ii

Now we understand why old folks walk as
they do, not from choice, but because knees
don’t bend and ankles tend to give way. We
see our parents in the mirror and marvel at

the flight of time, knowing that inside we feel
thirty or forty max., on good days. We know
the limits our younger selves blithely ignored,
growing up, growing over the lump in our heart.

As we enter elderhood, may we burn up rather
than rust away, till we are entirely retread, ready
for whatever awaits. Retired, may we try again,
treating ourselves as well we need be treated.

May our inner weather be sun-dappled no matter
what. May we recognize in the mirror the others
that we were, as we are. May we elders be seen
as lineage-holders, holding the mirror for the next

generation down the line and on. May we be heard.

Penn Kemp

This poem was  published in Cautionary Tales: Giving Voice to the Elders (2015) for the League of Canadian Poets Feminist Caucus Archives.  The original version of “Double Vision” was commissioned by Gina Barber for the Age Friendly London Report.  It was recorded by Dennis Siren on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B8DOIfinOs.

Photos are from Creative Age Festival 2015, in the London Public Library Rotary Garden.

Photo: Bernarda Norwood

Q & A Featured, Playwright’s Guild of Canada

What a celebration of Canadian writing in all its forms! Such an opportunity on such a scale is unprecedented in Canada and a terrific occasion for synergy. It will be fun to meet old friends from across the country and to hear and meet writers new to me.

  • What do you see as the role of the playwright within the greater Canadian writing community?

By their public nature, plays have a great sense of community and collaboration, involving so many— whether on stage, off stage, or in the audience. Other writing forms are more private or personal: the author of a poem or novel is single

Plays written with the local in mind bring that sensibility wherever they are performed across Canada, so that we get to know each other better, experiencing different communities and perspectives in their public expression. The particular becomes universal.

I’m closely tied to the idea of collective in writing and co-creating plays. For me playwriting is an interactive political act as the actors are so immediately present and engaged with the audience. The stage offers a chance for dialogue among opposing personalities, forces, themes, opinions: that’s what makes up a drama.

I think our deepest purpose as playwrights hasn’t changed since Aristotle stated claimed that drama should portray a form of truth. Molière claimed that tragedy might be heroic, but comedy must hold the mirror to nature. To continue the idea that plays reflect nature as well as society, I can but quote Hamlet in his advice to the players:

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature:
for any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the
mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
pressure.

  • You will be speaking on the Performing Women: Playwrights and Performance Poets panel on Saturday, June 18th. How did this panel come together?

Every year, the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets publishes a chapbook. At the annual League meeting last June, I suggested the topic, Women and Multimedia, and agreed to edit such a work. Ideas proliferated so quickly that it soon became apparent that we’d need another anthology: Performing Women: Playwrights and Performance Poets, for which I put out a call. What started off as chapbooks soon expanded to 70-80 pages each. The two anthologies I edited will be launched at the Summit. See www.poets.ca/feministcaucus. We are also hoping to produce a CD, Performing Women, from the panel proceedings.

Our project is a joint venture between Playwrights Guild and the League of Canadian Poets. How wonderful to see the close and keen co-operation between our writers’ organizations in supporting both the panel and the anthology— a collaboration to be celebrated in itself! With thanks to Anne Burke, chair of the Feminist Caucus and publisher; the League of Canadian Poets staff; and Robin Sokolski from Playwrights Guild of Canada: they were midwives to this anthology.

Our panelists are playwrights, performers, poets… and several are all three. Kelley Jo Burke and Cornelia Hoogland were sponsored by the Guild of Canadian Playwrights. Catherine Kidd, Susan McMaster and I were sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets. Sheri-D will be with us in spirit: her work is in the anthology

Each panelist will present her experience and ideas concerning performance— reading from her essay or performing work that illustrates her points. We’ll conclude with a Q & A. I’m truly honoured to work with such talented co-creators. It is inspiring to hear the personal stories that have transcended and unfolded with creases the tumultuous experience of twisting experience and ideas into art

  • Tell us about the anthology you’re launching at this event that is being published in the League of Canadian Poets’ Feminist Caucus Archive series.

“Playwrights and Performance Poets: the Panel, the Anthology”

Here’s an anthology that surges with energy to create a resonating concert of variety and scope. These pieces are not just lifted off the page: they are singing, dancing spheres of possibility, sparking new connections. So many threads weave through the works. With titles like these, how could you not read on?

Kelley Jo Burke, “Why Ducks, Anyway?”
Cornelia Hoogland, “Red Dresses Hang from the Trees and Towers: Red and Rapunzel are Missing”
Penn Kemp, “Sounding the depth, the surface resounding”
Catherine Kidd, “Zoomorphic Poetics (or, Why I Write So Many Poems About Wildlife)”
Susan McMaster, “How does collaboration enhance performance poetry? The Intimate Power of Co-Creation”
Sheri-D Wilson, “Spoken Word Poetry as Political Act”

For the cover of our anthology, I’ve chosen the red dress of REDress, contributed by Cornelia Hoogland. This emblematic installation connects us graphically to the natural world: the post comes alive as a woman wrapping her arms around herself. Cornelia writes that she had “a fulsome email discussion with women who i thought were in a better position to provide a caption. Here is what we’ve ended up with, written mostly by Maxine Matilpi:”

“This installation was inspired by Jaime Black’s REDress project, an aesthetic response to the more than 1000 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The location, Village Point (on Denman Island, B.C.), formerly a Pentlatch village, serves as a reminder that the story of missing and murdered Indigenous women is not only a current reality but is also deeply connected to colonial history.” Maxine Matilpi

Such a moving tribute is one of the most profound ways of stirring folks to take action for change, however it manifests. The line between actor/subject and audience dissolves in a sense of our mutual humanity. I believe that such shared participation is a core purpose of performance art, whatever guise it takes.

Performance of necessity demands a wider exploration and communication of the subjective self, as it expresses itself in the world with other people and/or other mediums. How does collaboration enhance and expand a single artist’s vision? With that sense of inquiry in mind, I called for playwrights and poets to explore the topic of women performing. Three of our contributors are primarily Spoken Word poets. It is fascinating to read how these women have expanded the possibilities of performing to include ritual and visual references as well as the resonance of sound.

Performing Women: Playwrights and Performance Poets can be read along with the Feminist Caucus anthology Women and Multimedia. All but one of the contributors to Women in Performance are also members of the League of Poets, so their work fits in beautifully. For even more synergy, take a look at these poets’ essays from Women and Multimedia: Poetry Collaboration/Elaboration: don`t these titles entice you to read on?

Di Brandt, “Wild, wild, wild woman”
Terry Ann Carter, “Poetry and the Artist’s Book
Moe Clark, “Prayer + Performance: Intersections of poetic transformation
Penn Kemp, “I am translated: How does multimedia give form to a poem’s alternate expression?”
Judith Neale, “Sum of all parts”
Cathy Petch, “De-Mystifying the Language of Tech”

Performing Women: Playwrights and Performance Poets is available from http://www.poets.ca/feministcaucus/ and the copyscript program of the Guild of Canadian Playwrights, https://www.playwrightsguild.ca/about/programs-and-services, Contact orders@playwrightsguild.ca.

5) People are perhaps most familiar with your work as a poet, especially in your capacities as the inaugural Poet Laureate of London, Ontario (2010 – 2012) and your Life Membership in the League of Canadian Poets. What drew you to playwriting? How influential is your poetic work on your playwriting? How do you balance your roles as poet, performer, and playwright?

All of my plays have begun as poems. In poetry, I can succinctly express the essence of my preoccupation in concrete lines that can then be drawn out, teased into different voices and displayed more elaborately on stage. My first concern is always with language itself, how a voice finds itself. I was drawn to playwriting when I started to hear voicesJ that grew more insistent as a theme developed. These voices erupted into dialogue and the conversation continued. Poetry is a fireball; sometimes it radiates out in different expressions into different characters.

Writing poetry is a necessarily solitary pursuit. I’m my own editor. But in plays, I depend very much on collaboration, even while the script is in process. I’ve worked with brilliant directors like Anne Anglin and Louise Fagan who have more of a dramatic sensibility than I do. They can visualize and enact the narrative thrust and arc of the drama. They can imaginatively realize the action on stage in ways that I don’t.

Sometimes, one form demands to be and experienced from the different perspectives of other art forms: a performance, a monologue, a drama. As an activist and Poet Laureate, I was able to draw attention to local and global issues in the community. When a poem can not contain such imperatives, I turn to plays or what I call Sound Opera. This is a collaborative form I developed in performance and recording over the last four decades, in a desire to lift poetry off the page to the stage. Our first performance, directed by Anne Anglin from my book, Trance Form, was in 1976 at Harbourfront. Sound Opera is based on text but it expands poetic possibilities to include voice, music and movement in expressing  narrative when emotions burst the seams of print. Anne also directed my play, What the Ear Hears Last, for Theatre Passe Muraille: a translation of my long poem, When the Heart Parts. The latter is also a Sound Opera!

The focus is different on stage. When I write plays, I am thinking politically and publicly about some topic that vexes or intrigues me. I am taking a position and attempting to persuade and to present different views. For example, my first play, ANGEL MAKERS, presented the first play dealing with abortion in Canada. Though firmly pro-choice, it presented the complex experiences of the six characters. My first radio play, BEARING DOWN, portrayed a woman in labour and its aftermath in a long sound poem on a subject that had not been articulated. What the Ear Hears Last is about a man dying in hospital, another subject that was at the time taboo, developed as well from a sound poem.

Thanks for the opportunity to articulate my writing process!

6) In a 2014 interview with Stan Burfield, you speak in great detail about your love of world mythology. How does that love translate itself into your playwriting?

Certainly my first play is based on fable and fairy tale. The Epic of Toad and Heron was created as a protest when Toronto Islanders were threatened by Metro with eviction. Instead of buttonholing Torontonians in protest, I chose to write a play that was first performed on the Island (and subsequently in schools). Even now my hero, the flying Toad, is proudly displayed on the Toronto Island flag.

Mythology for me is closely connected to the poetic spirit, where archetypes can dance more abstractly than on the stage. Perhaps my connection to mythology in theatre comes through my love of history and history’s resonance in the present. My latest play presents a Victorian woman, Teresa Harris, who marries to leave her colonial life in London ON, much as I did a century later. How does her life correspond with and differ from my own, or yours?

Another long poem, ANIMUS, had its own narrative arc that director Anne Anglin and I developed into a play, EROS RISING, Theatre Passe Muraille. It is also a Sound Opera, Re:Animating Animus . The recurring theme in both Sound Opera, poem and play is the myth of Eros and Psyche. That archetype is apparent in each title.

7) Do you have any advice for aspiring playwrights? What advice do you wish you had received when you started writing?

When I started writing for theatre, it was 1975, and Canadian theatre was just coming into its own: a very exciting time that allowed for theatre to break down the fourth wall. I came of age in the flaunted Sixties, so capitalism was anathema to me if we were going to change the world. It would have been useful through the years to realize that a more pragmatic approach was necessary if I were to support myself as a writer into old age. My way was to lower my standard of living through the decades since!

I think young artists are much more aware of the practical business demands of getting the work out there: the necessity of promotion and marketing through the present avenues that social media offers. So, aspiring playwrights… Let that spirit of the Sixties expand the possibilities of theatre. May collaboration replace competition. Throw caution to the winds and keep the doors open to let that fresh air blow through all your preconceptions of what theatre can be. But keep your business savvy.

8) What’s next for Penn Kemp?

This summer, I’ll be preparing several plays, Eros Rising and The Dream Life of Teresa Harris for the copyscript program. And hanging out in the garden.

March 2017 will be a busy month for me! Forthcoming then is a new collection of poetry, Barbaric Cultural Practice, from Quattro Books as well as a play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris. I’ll be working on this play after the Summit… trying not even to think about it till then! But it’s an exciting project. Eldon House Heritage Museum and The Palace Theatre in London have asked me to develop The Dream Life of Teresa Harris, an earlier processional play I did at Eldon House, into a two full act production for the Palace Theatre, with ten actors and the original two musicians. Teresa Harris was the youngest daughter growing up in Eldon House. She became one of the greatest explorers of the Victorian age, but her character is complex and contradictory: she remains a woman of her times. A fascinating project that once again began with a long poem.

More updates are on www.pennkemp.wordpress.com and https://www.facebook.com/Penn-Kemp-126450531030/ as well as https://twitter.com/pennkemp. See you there!

“Featured Playwright Q&A”, 2016

The Cover of “Women and Multimedia”crystalEldonsm

Photo: Daniela Sneppova for “The Dream Life of Teresa Harris”

Poem to Celebrate Our Trees

For ReForest London!

Celebrating Tree in Souwesto

Mother trees surround us, the very
few left over from original forest we
long paved over, old rotten stumps
that settlers burnt to clear their land.

The Oak above Pond Mills hidden
on a hillside of younger upstarts.
The Beech behind Attawandaron
where October puffball might pop.

The Black Spruce and Tamarack
that whisk us into clearer northern
air as we walk through Sifton Bog
like winds that wind along each limb.

The Hickory I climbed as a girl
on Medway Farm, lying astride
one long branch intertwined by
all those saplings vying for light.

The three Birch in our front lawn,
planted when we moved here some
sixty years ago, growing old along-
side, dropping fireplace kindling.

Trees we have known are trees we
can meet by species. Once connected,
always familiar, old friends to greet
on any city street or in deep woods

if we can slow down long enough to
salute the Tree of Life in each. Light
candelabra of Catalpa, Horse Chestnut,
Pine, Balsam Fir, Juniper or Cedar cone.

Sing a litany of names that belong here.
Alder, Balm of Gilead, Willow galore.
Glorious Maple, Butternut, sad slips of
Elm, even intrusive Buckthorn now.

Celebrate those graceful interlopers,
the Carolinians (Redbud, Tulip Tree,
magnificent Magnolia) sheltering here
at comfort’s edge in Snowbelt country.

Here’s to lacy Walnut, Honey Locust,
whose canopies carry us off to African
plains: Acacia giraffes might browse
or Le Douanier paint above his lion.

Sycamore is our memory tree, shedding
its bark like arbutus, its winter silhouette
a ghostly skeleton, reminiscent of that
other London’s Plane-shaded streets.

Trees know their season, their reason for
being. How each tree reaches out to be-
come World Tree. We have so much to
learn from not living on but with our place.

We who live in this Forest City must ensure
a name never replaces the reality of canopy.
Long may our trees flourish for we can only
prosper with our elder brothers, our mothers.

Penn Kemp

http://reforestlondon.ca/celebrating-tree-souwesto

PennSumac

Photo: Leona Graham, Elsie Perrin Williams Estate