Local Heroes, Insomniac Press

Here’s celebrating The London Free Press for supporting poetry and our local cultural heroes!

it’s not often a poet hits above the fold, the front page of TODAY, and a poem to Greg Curnoe on the next:)

Poet celebrates London's cultural heroes in new book

Penn Local Heroes LFP

Celebrating our champions of art: Penn Kemp pays tribute to London’s cultural heroes in her new book.

Penn Kemp invented her own word to describe London adventurer Teresa Harris.

“I call her my s/hero,” said Kemp, London’s best-known contemporary poet, performance artist, novelist, playwright and sound poet.

Kemp has written two plays about Harris, the youngest of 12 children born to John and Amelia Harris, who built what remains today as London’s oldest and most historic home, Eldon House, which the family donated to the city along with the land that is now Harris Park.

Now, Kemp has released a new book of poetry, Local Heroes (Insomniac Press, $19.95 at local book stores), that pays tribute to several of London’s cultural heroes, including Harris.

Others featured in the book include her own father, artist Jim Kemp, an advertising and publicity executive at London Life who introduced Kemp to many luminaries of the London arts scene; Nobel Prize laureate and short story writer Alice Munro; Giller Prize-winning writer Bonnie Burnard; the late artist Greg Curnoe; and, the Reaney family, including the late three-time Governor General Award winning poet, playwright and Western University English professor James Reaney, his wife and acclaimed poet Colleen Thibaudeau and their son, James Stewart Reaney, a retired Free Press journalist.

“It grieves me that so many of the poems are eulogies,” Kemp writes in her introduction.

“Their commonality is a sense of adventure and exploration. The poems of Local Heroes are dear to my heart as a response to the lifelong contributions of such champions of Southwesto, such as Greg Curnoe and James Reaney, who popularized this term.”

Just back from a tour of Western Canada where she performed at the Edmonton Poetry Festival and in Victoria and Vancouver in celebration of Poetry Month, Kemp said she was inspired to produce the book by a number of experiences, including being asked to write a poem to commemorate the retirement of Reaney, titled James Stewart Reaney, Local Hero.

“That’s what gave me the idea for a book of poetry of the same name,” said Kemp.

“It was that and other circumstances, such as working with (third-year) Western University English students on Community Engaged Learning. I grew up in London in a cultural milieu where I met many of London’s artists and writers.”

The first section of the book continues with Kemp’s celebration of Harris, who spurned the Victorian era norms, choosing a nontraditional life that saw her twice married to wealthy men (John Scott, 1859; St. George Littledale, 1877) with whom she traveled across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Asia.

“What I’ve done is included outtakes from my plays about Harris (The Dream Life of Teresa Harris and The Triumph of Teresa Harris) that didn’t fit within the play structure but extend the story about her life,” said Kemp, named London’s first poet laureate in 2010.

The middle section is a tribute to her father.

“He was sort of a bridge between the old school — he called himself a painter, not an artist — and the young Turks, such as Greg (Curnoe) and Jack (Chambers),” said Kemp.

The last section brings focus to her other cultural icons, including a section titled Dream Sequins for Alice Munro and a poem to celebrate the 40th anniversary of London-based Brick Books, which has helped launch the careers of several Canadian poets.

“It’s an unusual book for me in that it is so specific to London and each poem is dedicated to a different person,” said Kemp, who will give a reading from the book May 28 at London Public Library.

“It’s a lot more narrative than my previous works.”

Kemp will give a reading from Local Heroes May 28 at London Public Library’s Stevenson Hunt Room as part of the series, Women Trailblazers: Writers and Voices for Change, a reading and lecture series celebrating Canadian women writers.

The event will include a reading by journalist, activist and feminist Judy Rebick reading from her new book, Heroes in My Head.

Kemp, who has published more than two dozens books over the years, along with recordings of her works, is already in the final stages of another book, this one titled Fox Haunts, expected to be released in the summer.

“A book is like a birth of a child for me,” said Kemp. “It’s such an enormous joy. In many way, this book, Local Heroes, brings my experiences of the London community together.”

Joe Belanger, jbelanger@postmedia.com

Many thanks to Joe Belanger, Arts Editor Barbara Taylor and photographer Mike Hensen!   

Thanks as well to a CAIP grant from London Arts Council that allowed me time to write Local Heroes! 

And to Insomniac Press for a beautiful book! 

Here’s a tribute from Local Heroes:

Travelling Lights

For Greg CurnoeNovember 9, 1936-November 14, 1992

After there’ll be no more, odd
characters invade the painting.

Lurching out of mother lode
they slide off smooth banks

to the open pond white paper makes,
cavorting seal-slick in breakers

between home and hold. Scrolled
letters sparkle currents of glyph.

Fantasy floats in layered brightness,
breathing bands in and out and then

not. The travelling light of attention
shines on disparate objects lit by his

restless, roaming curiosity even after
his own bike reflector is put out.

Polished obsessions unravel on shelves
for whoever is there where he was.

Greg would be over eighty now.

Imagine him, still holding forth,
holding on, staying put.

Eccentric, Greg created his own
centre, devoted to place, his place.

The wheels of his bike are still
spinning orange and complementary
blue onto the page, the pavement.

And pigment on canvas, vivid as
his tattered sweater, his legacy
our heritage in old deeds, in

stuff whose singularity he chose
to honor and display as serious

games of play, series whose choices
make room for us
to see here.


What remains is the reach from pen
to paper to record the procession

of cyclists, Greg riding herd, along
a field flooded in light, gray barn rising

from the mist and mesmerizing
the driver who followed the illusion

of art turned against itself

Convinced of no louder verge
beyond shaping the dark space

where sound stops hollow and
is not yet silence ringing back.
Penn Kemp

Late London artist Greg Curnoe, 1986.



One thought on “Local Heroes, Insomniac Press

  1. […] Canadian women writers. The series concludes on Monday May 28 at 7 pm with Judy Rebick and Penn Kemp reading from their new […]

    Liked by 1 person

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