#31BooksInAugust

A challenge indeed, to read a poetry book a day throughout August!

It’s only now in preparing this list that I’ll see if I reached 31 books. Included here are several anthologies of poetry and the very poetic novel, Baudelaire’s Fractal. I’ve also read books that I had started earlier, a couple that I reread, and several that I have not yet finished! Some I’d been meaning to read forever. There’s always #SealeySeptember!

How to group the list? Some are from my own collection; some, gifts from friends. Many others arrived from the Library. The books came in clusters: Canadian; writers of colour, feminist, contemporary. I decided to go alphabetically. I didn’t have time to include comments or quotes, though a running commentary is ongoing in my head. Pals, if I haven’t included you here, are you in my blog for National Poetry Month? Check out https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/reading-and-recommending-poems-for-national-poetry-month-2020/.

Here’s the list:

  1. bill bissett, Air 10-11-12
  2. Billy-Ray Belcourt: NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field
  3. Di Brandt, Glitter & Fall
  4. Ariane Blackman, The River Doesn’t Stop
  5. Allan Briesmaster, River Neither
  6. Jillian Christmas, the gospel of breaking
  7. Margaret Christakos, charger
  8. Tom Cull, Bad Animals
  9. Ellen Jaffe, Skinny-Dipping with the Muse
  10. Patricia Keeney, First Woman
  11. John B. Lee, The Half-Way Tree
  12. D.A. Lockhart, Devil in the Woods
  13. Alice Major, Welcome to the Anthropocene
  14. Daphne Marlatt,  Seven Glass Bowls
  15. Susan McCaslin, Painter, Poet, Mountain: After Cézanne
  16. Susan McMaster, Haunt
  17. Bruce Meyer, McLuhan’s Canary
  18. Stephen Morrissey, A Poet’s Journey: on poetry and what it means to be a poet
  19. Colin Morton, Coastlines of the Archipelago
  20. Miguel Neneve, En los Caminos de la Miradas
  21. Catherine Owen, Riven
  22. Harold Rhenisch, Winging Home: a palette of birds
  23. Canisia Lubrin, The Dyzgraph*st
  24. Jay MillAr, The Ghosts of Jay MillAr
  25. Joni Mitchell, Morning Glory On the Vine
  26. Lisa Robertson, Baudelaire Fractals
  27. Sharon Thesen, The Receiver
  28. Phyllis Webb, Peacock Blue

Anthologies
29. Kim Maltman, editor. The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2018
30. Nyla Matuk, Resisting Canada: an anthology of poetry with an Introduction by Nyla Matuk
31. Adam Sol, How a poem moves: a field guide for readers of poetry

Thanks for such an inspiring initiative, Nicole Sealey! @Nic_Sealey

#31outof31 #TheSealeyChallenge #sealeychallenge #poetry #31Books31Days #31BooksInAugust

WHEW~! See you in September!

Penn Kemp
http://www.pennkemp.weebly.com

Reading and Recommending Poems for National Poetry Month 2020

Both books and isolated poems, with some quotes, as they happen.  I include the publishers as well, to thank them for their insistence on publishing poetry~! And the Library for fulfilling my requests for titles!

*

Margaret Atwood’s “Six Poems”, Cutting edge: new stories of mystery and crime by women writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
Gary Barwin, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems (Wolsak & Wynn)
Jay Bernard, Surge (Penguin Random House)
Frank Bidart, Half-light: collected poems 1965-2016  (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Heather Cadsby, Standing in the flock of connections (Brick Books)
Tina Chang, Hybrida: poems (Norton)
Leonard Cohen, The Flame
Marlene Cookshaw, Mowing (Brick Books)
Lorna Crozier, What the soul doesn’t want: poems (Freehand Books)
Carol Ann Duffy, The Bees (Picador)
Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, We Are Malala (Inanna Publications)
Matthew Gwathmey, Our latest in folktales (Brick Books)
Joy Harjo, An American sunrise: poems
Stevie Howell, I left nothing inside on purpose: poems (M & S)
Maureen Hynes, Sotto Voce (Brick Books)
Monika Hope Lee, If water breathes  (Resource Publications))
Michael Lista, Bloom: poems (House of Anansi)
Erin Moure, The Elements (House of Anansi)
Harold Rhenisch, The Spoken World (Hagios)
Jane Urquhart; photographs by Jennifer Dickson, Some other garden: The little flowers of   Madame de Montespan and I am walking in the garden of his imaginary palace (M & S)
David White, Local Haunts (Pedlar Press)
Howard White, A mysterious humming noise / new poems by Howard White (Anvil Press)
Sheri-D. Wilson, A Love Letter to Emily C. (Frontenac House)

*

from Margaret Atwood’s “Spider Signatures” Six Poems in Cutting edge: new stories of mystery and crime by women writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates

“and while you sleep
I hover, the first grandmother.
I trap your nightmares in my net,
eat the seeds of your fears for you,
suck out their ink

and scribble on your windowsill
these tiny glosses on Is, Is, Is,
white lullabies.”

*

Gary Barwin, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems

About to read For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe! I know it will be a Pleasure and a Surprise:)!!

*

Jay Bernard, Surge

The ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire, a racist attack?

*

Heather Cadsby, Standing in the flock of connections 

I spend all
this energy fending off cures when I could be enjoying boring times;
guarding my secrets and incessant thoughts. I tell you, my supply is
dwindling.”

*

Tina Chang, Hybrida: poems

A terrifying, brilliant book confronting the poet’s terror

“Somewhere, glass breaks
and the one who shatters it
wears a mask of God’s many faces.

*

Leonard Cohen, The Flame. Recommending the audiobook, read by Atwood, Seth Rogen, etc, a company of fine readers. Listen again and again till the rhymes chime. They already resonate.

Great to hear the exchange between Leonard and Peter Dale Scott, Frank’s son and Cohen’s mentor at McGill: “You want it darker?”

I published a book of poems called Travelling Light with Soft Press (1976), decades before Cohen’s. But his poem here is the more inspiriting, I mean inspiring.  Surprised?  I think notJ. And titles are open game.

*

Lorna Crozier, What the soul doesn’t want: poems

Up to snuff.  Deeply engaged and engaging.

*

Carol Ann Duffy, The Bees

My fave: the sweetest of all these books.

“alchemical, nectar-slurred, pollen-furred,
the world’s mantra us, our blurry sound
along the thousand scented miles to the hive…
the hive, alive, us—how we behave.

*

Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, We Are Malala (Inanna Publications)

Some of Fretwell’s phrases will ring in your head long after you have put the book down. My favourite lines in the book link spirit and the natural world:

Once all women could talk to trees.
*
I still chant to forests, seeing chi—
silvery energy—pulsing around twig,

leaf, branch, bole. The whole.

The last lines of this book are a rallying call:

United we thrive, divided we die.
All souls. All sentience.

Sentenced to prescience, We Are Malala.

*

Stevie Howell’s text, I left nothing inside on purpose: poems

How I love Stevie Howell’s text, I left nothing inside on purpose: poems. Like this:

“Anonymous,
the one who sands the edges of sorrow.”

Magic!

*

Maureen Hynes, Sotto Voce

“We’re always
looking backwards in galleries and books
to find women like ourselves.”

Maureen Hynes, “Keep It Dark”

*

Monika Hope Lee, If water breathes

We’ve both made poetry of experiences like the Kalachakra, like Jaipur!

“Talking to the Unknown”

Tomorrow a gain or loss or truce
will alter the past

and we will reach for signs, particulars
a keyhole to the future’s largesse”

Penn Novel Idea Kingston 2018

Reading at Novel Idea, Kingston. Photo by Andrew Simms.

Poets logo

 

March is for Women

Celebrating Women’s Day 2020

For Women’s History Month, I’m reading:

Gish Jen, The Resisters
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge                                   and the Teachings of Plants
Marianne Micros, Eye
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
Sally Rooney, Conversations with friends: a novel
Laisha Rosnau, Little Fortress
Linn Ullmann, Unquiet
Lidia Yuknavitch, Verge: stories
Leni Zumas, Red Clock

For March 8, I’m celebrating Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s We Are Malala: poems and art.
From Inanna Publications: “Excellent new review of “We Are Malala” by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, in honour of #InternationalWomensDay, with thanks to Penn Kemp and The League of Canadian Poets#femlitcan #IWD2020

‘The artwork included in this volume features paintings based on photos of Malala Yousafzai. Fretwell adeptly capture’s unflinching spirit. She brings Malala to life on the page in striking reds and greys. Malala’s eyes dominate, demanding that you engage, that you pay attention. The paintings pay tribute and reflect their counterparts on the page. Readers, take note.’

http://poets.ca/2020/03/06/we-are-malala/

A Canadian artist muses on Malala Yousafzai in poetic dialogue

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
Malala Yousafzai

On the day I read Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s We Are Malala, a photo appears on my screen’s feed: Malala Yousafzai meets youth activist Greta Thunberg for the first time. Malala and Greta become instant fast friends, and no wonder. Both young women have addressed the United Nations on their respective causes (climate change and girl’s education). When Malala was 17, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Herself now 17, Greta too has been nominated for this high honour. Malala posts the two them, arms around one other. Her caption reads: “Thank you, @gretathunberg” along with a heart emoji.

CNN reports on the meeting of the world’s two most renowned young activists:

Greta Thunberg visited Malala Yousafzai at the University of Oxford. Thunberg is in the UK for a school strike planned for later this week.
Admiration between the two activists was mutual.
“So … today I met my role model,” Thunberg tweeted. “What else can I say?”
“She’s the only friend I’d skip school for,” Yousafzai quipped.*

The dialogue between these young women drew me back to Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s We Are Malala: poems and art. The connection is appropriate because Fretwell creates a similar evocation of female friendship: hers is by proxy, through the media. Her collection of poems sets up a dialogue between Malala and Fretwell’s own personal history, though the two have never met. Fretwell intertwines her stories with the large context of Malala’s. How do their stories connect, as young women growing up in different times, different continents?  What are the disconnects? Fretwell’s education as a girl is assured in ways that Malala’s never was, but as Fretwell succinctly displays, the similarities of female disempowerment are shocking, despite the poet’s apparent privilege.

It’s essential for women to tell their stories in whatever form best suits. Fretwell’s primary medium is poetry— breathless poems in short lines, reminiscent of the Urdu poetry that Malala might recognize. The poems form an urgent inquiry that Fretwell and Malala share. How does a young woman adapt to the culture in which she was raised? How can she change the culture in which she is immersed?  Both Malala and Fretwell leave their country of birth, for another, safer, saner place. Malala’s exile is involuntary: after the gunshot wound that nearly killed her, she awoke to emergency treatment in Birmingham, England. Fretwell in political protest left the U.S. for Canada, where she still (proudly) resides.

Political poetry is difficult to write because it all too easily swerves into didactic, self-righteous polemics. A good poem follows sound and language itself, leading both the poet and the reader/listener into new and surprising exploration. A political poem tends toward rant, set on the rigid track of a pre-conceived idea or conviction that the poem must adhere to. Political poetry can be written as reaction, in the moment. It has the energy of immediacy, but often it has not had time to cure/ mellow age with a wider perspective. Political poetry is often undigested emotion that has not been realized as art.

In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth writes that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind”.

Malala Yousafzai’s history is so moving that our immediate response of empathy and horror can become sentimentally ineffectual. Katerina Fretwell has taken the time necessary to allow emotion to settle into contemplation, into poems that move the reader into wider perspective of understanding that deepens our response. In We Are Malala, Katerina Fretwell walks a fine line, escaping the trap and sensationalized trappings to explore a wider perspective than her personal narrative. The dialectic between poet and her muse continues. These poems stir the reader into action.

But how do we continue activism while we study or pursue our chosen art? How do we manifest that art in action? Fretwell points a way. Her enthusiasm, her passion, ignites and inspires. And Fretwell has several bows in her quiver. Not only is she a widely published and accomplished poet, but she paints as well. The artwork included in this volume features paintings based on photos of Malala Yousafzai. Fretwell adeptly capture’s unflinching spirit. She brings Malala to life on the page in striking reds and greys. Malala’s eyes dominate, demanding that you engage, that you pay attention.  The paintings pay tribute and reflect their counterparts on the page. Readers, take note.

Malala,
this verse serves me well:
So vie with one another in good works

As always, Inanna’s production values are impeccable, so that the font is easy on the eye, the pages sturdy and Fretwell’s art work subtle and powerful in reflecting the poems.

One of the best editors of our time, Harold Rhenisch, is acknowledged, “non pareil”, as pulling the poet out of the politics and into the poetry: an essential task, this conversion from reportage. News, undigested, is unlikely to stay new. To endure, it must be transformed into art.  In William Carlos Williams’s famous line, “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack// of what is found there” And to Ezra Pound, “Poetry is news that stays news” (

Reactions to “ecological grief” and “climate depression” are given form in these poems and by their expression, that grief, no matter how bleak is alleviated in the very act of creation. As Malala writes, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” Fretwell joins the chorus of women speaking their many truths. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” At this perilous time, we need artists to tell their histories and to inspire and encourage transformative change.

Like Henry Vaughan, her poetic and literal ancestor from the seventeenth century, Fretwell contemplates “The World”. Vaughan writes, in his famous poem of the same name:

Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d…

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout. **

Fretwell too, takes on the world. Her “clouds of crying witnesses” are young women activists in hot pursuit of injustice. They are intent on holding “the darksome stateman”, in all his guises, to account.

Some of Fretwell’s phrases will ring in your head long after you have put the book down. My favourite lines in the book link spirit and the natural world:

Once all women could talk to trees.
*
I still chant to forests, seeing chi—
silvery energy—pulsing around twig,

leaf, branch, bole. The whole.

The last lines of this book are a rallying call:

United we thrive, divided we die.
All souls. All sentience.

Sentenced to prescience, We Are Malala.

* https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/25/world/malala-greta-thunberg-meet-trnd/index.html
** https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45434/the-world-56d2250cca80d

Penn Kemp

malala-yousafzai-nobel-peace-prize

This essay appears on http://poets.ca/2020/03/06/we-are-malala/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Reading the Exotic, the Other, in a Palindromic Month

Notes on Reading 02/2020

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The water dancer
Alexander McCall Smith, To the land of long lost friends
Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht, Inland
Alix Ohlin, Dual Citizens
Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel

/////////

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The water dancer celebrates the power of story and lineage.

What better way to begin Black History Month than with this powerful novel! To be read along with Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Brilliant, immersive, majestic, magic.

“But knowing now the awesome power of memory, how it can open a blue door from one world to another, how it can move us…can fold the land like cloth… I know now that this story, this Conduction, had to begin there on that fantastic bridge between the land of the living and the land of the lost.”

“I understood Conduction, understood it as a relay of feeling, assembled from moments so striking that they become real as stone and steel”

///////////////

Alexander McCall Smith, To the land of long lost friends

Listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s To the land of long lost friends, I’m conflicted. The easy charm, the delicious accents with rolling r’s, the satisfyingly happy endings, the morality: yes. But the characters are tropes out of Little Black Sambo. When I was five, this forbidden book was my favourite; I read it to my dolls off by heart, loving the exoticism, the bright colours, the adventures… and the pancakes! How do we recognize colonialism in ourselves? I know Alexander McCall Smith was born in Africa.  Would he recognize his lightly white-washed stories in present-day Botswana?

///////

Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht, Inland

Inland is the better novel by far, though the characters are stock in both. The landscape moves from “the former Yugoslavia” (which always suggests Serbia) to the American West of the past. Here’s Obreht has capture the feel of the land, and dialogue. Both novels rest in a mythic premise, a fascination with folkloric beasts.

///////////

Alix Ohlin, Dual Citizens

A gentle read twinning two sisters, two countries. So refreshing to read a deeply felt story where the turmoil is internal, not political nor ecological. Though wolves are involved!

/////////”

Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel

What’s not to love on a blustery winter day? Astrology! Epithets for each chapter by Blake! The unreliable narrator a madly determined old woman, as ferocious as she is tender. And does she love animals!

penn-1950

Mid-Winter Poem

This poem will be published in P.S., a collaboration with beloved Sharon Thesen to be published by Kalamalka Press in the spring of 2020.

As the Initiation of Imbolc begins

My birds are ruder than yours, they
squabble a dance of dominance.  But
I offer you the scarlet of cardinals in
return for a glimpse of a red-shafted
flicker at your feeder.  Let ‘em meet.

We are in the same weather thousands
of miles apart and yet I carry an image
of you shoveling alongside the walk,
heaving snow with a cheeky grin that
by the end of the driveway is grimace.

Though we talk, I can’t quite figure out
what you’re saying.  Your mouth moves,
your lips shape words that fly like birds
on the frost breath, cartoon apparitions,
and conversation curls in upon itself.

*

Response quickens into a new poem.
Exhalation is exhilaration in the cold.
Small hairs in my nostrils are spiked:
a word which leads me to mull over
Burgundy and cinnamon spiced hot.

Thought our forecast is bleak mid-winter,
snow squalls are more easily weathered
than political disruption and upheaval.
Trump addresses the state of disunion.
The blood and full blue moon eclipses.

*

A phrase from a poem I read today—
“in the revolving question of a field”—
leads beyond the shoveled path to
the woods we think we know.  As if
trees belong or we to one another.

All your particulars of sheen sparkle,
snow in pale sun, the showing forth:
Candlemas, Celtic cross-quarter day.
Baby and his mother presented pure.
Bridget spreads wide her crimson cloak.

Penn Kemp, for Sharon

Penn Sharon Pyx (2)

Sharon and Penn at Caetani Cultural Centre, thanks to http://www.kalwriters.com/residency/residency.html.
Photo by Roberta Pyx  Sutherland

A poem for today’s palindrome: 02022020

Forecast for February, 2020

Today’s palindrome is 02022020,
perfect for Groundhog Day, Bill
Murray’s film of nearly eternal return!

All the groundhogs agree on early
spring, their vision 20/20 in new snow.
We mark the myth with earth magic.

O whistling pig! Spot this quarter turn.
Persephone, goddess of flowers, returns
today in Greece. Here, she wears thick

brown fur and burrows up through feet
of snow to determine with a nod whether
winter will soon surrender to spring or

not. A quick survey and she ducks back
down the cold tunnel of time into long
distant mythic dream. We don’t know

what the groundhog dreams when she
scurries home to her warm, hushed den.
Edible flowers from my garden, I bet.

Or the security in curling round herself
as her squirming pile of pups blindly
snuffles, eyes unnecessary in the dark.

Mary now purified, free of confinement
shows forth her babe. Forty days respite
in temenos, in shelter, and they call that

impure. The labour in giving birth impure!
Longer light at last starts to awaken her.
Goddess has recovered to hold her child.

Persephone in Hades eats the pomegranate
that ensures her return: red, translucent and
succulent fruit seeds, cased in possibility.

She changes from Crone to Maiden once
more and always, grieving Mother consoled,
together to celebrate the Feast of Torches.

We lay out scarves for Brighid’s blessing on
outer evergreen boughs. We retrieve white
cloths next morning from beneath topknots of

soft snow that fell all night, consecrated when
Brighid passed over. Her snowdrops here are
snowflakes dropped one by one into many.

Imbolc in the Mother’s belly when ewes lie
near to lambing, drawing milk for a wan sun
on the grand cross: eagle, lion, human, calf.

Initiatory dreams score a long night’s rest.
We celebrate Imbolc, fire festival between
solstice and equinox on the year’s wheel.

Penn Kemp

Some Talk Magic coverAmandaUlasnowhill2014

​Mothers and Daughters and Mothers and Daughters

My poem for you, in the beauty of new snow…

Poems & Plays for Sale, by the Book-full!

Books are the best gift for a time of self-isolation!  A shout-out to Canadian small press publishers and indie bookshops.  Long may you thrive! Your health all round!

Here are my recent offerings for your wish list, to share with poetry- and play-loving pals.

If you order the books from me, I’ll sign them for you!

Penn Kemp
525 Canterbury Road
London Ontario N6G 2N5
pennkemp@gmail.com

Or order from Amazon*. Details below.

From Insomniac Press*, $2O + tax + postage:

River Revery front back cover

Celebrating local writers! https://lfpress.com/entertainment/books/new-books-by-london-and-area-authors-just-in-time-for-christmas

Local Heroes cover good

From Quattro Books*, $2O + tax + postage:

FoxHaunts-Cover

barbaric-cultural-practice_front-cover

Also, prose to celebrate Jack Layton: Love, Hope and Optimism, Ongoing!*

960121_10151616103230020_1383103619_n

Travel to Ancient Egypt with me for $6 + tax +postage!

Helwa cover

Or this fabulous hand-made chapbook from Mother Tongue Books for $50 + tax +postage!

Suite Ancient Egypt

If you love plays and local history, two of my plays about Victorian explorer Teresa Harris are available: https://www.canadianplayoutlet.com/products/the-dream-life-of-teresa-harris and https://www.canadianplayoutlet.com/products/the-triumph-of-teresa-harris.

And this anthology,  available only from me. $20 in this format.  But for $12, without the colour, order from https://www.canadianplayoutlet.com/products/performing-women.

performing-women-2016

* Find my books on https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Penn+Kemp&ref=nb_sb_noss.

You can also find them in your Library, I hope. Certainly London Public Library has them all, plus CDs and DVDS.

Blessings for a Joyous Holiday! 

Penn
http://www.pennkemp.weebly.com

Poems for Sale: a wish list for you

Books are the best gift for upcoming holidays… a respite from the rush.

Here are my recent offerings to share with poetry- and play-loving pals.

If you order from me, I’ll sign them as you wish!
Penn Kemp
525 Canterbury Road
London Ontario N6G 2N5
pennkemp@gmail.com

Or order from Amazon*. Details below.

From Insomniac Press*, $2O + tax + postage:

River Revery front back cover

Local Heroes cover good

From Quattro Books*, $2O + tax + postage:

FoxHaunts-Cover

barbaric-cultural-practice_front-cover

Also, prose to celebrate Jack Layton: Love, Hope and Optimism, Ongoing!*

960121_10151616103230020_1383103619_n

Travel to Ancient Egypt with me for $6 + tax +postage!

Helwa cover

Or this fabulous hand-made chapbook from Mother Tongue Books for $50 + tax +postage!

Suite Ancient Egypt

If you love plays and local history, two of my plays about Victorian explorer Teresa Harris are available: https://www.canadianplayoutlet.com/products/the-dream-life-of-teresa-harris and https://www.canadianplayoutlet.com/products/the-triumph-of-teresa-harris.

And this anthology,  available only from me. $20 in this format.  But for $12, without the colour, order from https://www.canadianplayoutlet.com/products/performing-women.

performing-women-2016

* Find my books on https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Penn+Kemp&ref=nb_sb_noss.

Blessings for a Joyous Holiday!
Penn

Listening to the River

“London poet Penn Kemp helps explore identity at Wordsfest”

The Thames River moves swiftly through London’s Kilally Meadows, a turn in the river at the end of Windermere Road that is eating away at the bank, carving a new history in its journey.

It’s here on the Thames, two kilometres from her childhood home that poet, spoken word performer and playwright Penn Kemp has found inspiration that culminated in River Revery, her 31st book of poetry and drama.

It will be launched Saturday at the sixth annual Words, London’s literary and creative arts festival, also known as Wordsfest, being held at Museum London Friday through Sunday.

Wordsfest will feature 40 Canadian authors, poets, writers, songwriters and other literary stars. It’s a “celebration of creative ideas, artistic expression and cultural diversity,”  where the concept of identity will be the theme.

“The Thames River is the very centre of London – look at the forks downtown – the very heart of the city, the flow, the current and the influence,” said Kemp, sitting under a sunny sky days ago a few metres from the river.

In Kemp’s new book is the poem Riparian, inspired by the place where we had just been walking and this excerpt reflects our view:

Woodcocks drum in May at Kilally Meadows as
mallard mothers introduce their pride to water.

Cattails sieve sediment in the marsh. Let alone.
Carrying on. There a dead ash stands undercut by
spring current sweeping without resistance among
dangled roots. On topmost branch, the local osprey,
intent on a shoal of suckers suspended in shadow,

catches sunlight, breast gleaming, before plummeting
with curved claws to pluck family breakfast.”

On Saturday at 1 p.m., Kemp will be in conversation with Diana Beresford-Kroeger, an author, medical biochemist and botanist who wrote the forward for River Revery.

Beresford-Kroeger is the author of several books, including To Speak for the Trees, released in September. She was named a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 2011 and named by the society as one of 25 women explorers of Canada.

The Thames, its tributaries and the land it flows through is the land of Kemp’s childhood, where she wondered and dreamed and played and ran and walked and rode a bike.

The river meanders through her work, including her plays about Teresa Harris, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris (2013) and The Triumph of Teresa Harris (2017).

Harris was born in 1839, youngest of the 12 children of Royal Navy Capt. John Harris, one of the city’s earliest settlers and builder of Eldon House. The house was owned by the family until 1960 when it was donated to the city as a museum, while much of its property along the Thames became Harris Park.

Teresa, an independent minded adventurer, inspires not only Kemp’s work but also her heart.

River Revery, dedicated to Kemp’s grandchildren, is not just a book of poems; it’s a collaboration with London artist Mary McDonald, who provided photos and animations to support Kemp’s words. The website riverrevery.ca includes the full breadth of the work, which was first revealed at last year’s Wordsfest.

Kemp is also a wealth of knowledge about the Thames. She tells me the Thames is called Deshkan Ziibi (Antler River) in the Ojibwe language, but it was named by Lt.-Gov. John Graves Simcoe after its British namesake – a name itself rooted in the ancient Celtic language and meaning the Dark One.

“I really think we need to return to listening to what the river and the land are telling us,” said Kemp, a lifelong environmentalist and activist.

“Ever since I was a tiny child, I’ve tried to articulate the mystery not expressed in words – the river, trees, the birds – . . . and I’m still trying to translate the mystery. I believe if I’m listening I can hear one maple.”

Kemp gets irritated with anthropomorphism of nature by people making it appear and behave as a human being even though the rivers, trees, animals and land are distinct entities.

“The land is not limited to our sensibilities or understanding and comprehension,” said Kemp.

“That’s where the listening comes in . . . We’ve been trained to project, transfer our humanness values to nature and the truth is nature is so much longer lived. It has its own life. It breathes so much longer than we do. We have to get back to honouring the land as the Indigenous People did before colonialism.”

Kemp said the Thames is more than a “metaphor” of the identity of London. “It’s the reality of our identity, staring us in the face, asking for recognition, to be honoured and valued, not just to be used,” she said.

Wordsfest artistic director Joshua Lambier said the festival’s theme of identity is about “re-imagining Souwesto” referring to name coined by the late London artist Greg Curnoe for Southwestern Ontario.

Lambier said identity will be explored from a variety of angles, including the “notion of the Forest City,” which Kemp and Beresford-Kroeger will explore, and the relationship between “creativity and identity,” which a panel hosted by award-winning author Nino Ricci, the Alice Munro Chair in Creativity at Western University, will discuss Saturday at 4 p.m.

“The great thing about Wordsfest is the diversity of the content, so there should be something for everyone,” said Lambier.

“We try to bring the Western University campus downtown to the people of London who want to meet and see national authors, but also our local writers who will all be discussing new ideas, new books, new artistic approaches.”

Joe Belanger, The London Free Press, October 31, 2019

GOING WITH THE FLOW: Kemp a natural at Wordsfest C1

London poet helps explore identity at sixth-annual Wordsfest

Penn102019 Belanger

Photo: Joe Belanger

Believe…

In the space of a year she has learned to sit,
to stand, to walk, to totter forward in a run.

She has seen one full round of the seasons.
She wraps her family round her little finger.

Now just before dusk we stroll hand in hand
to witness the evening ritual of geese return.

Gliding along the Thames in formation, they
skim overhead, flapping slow time in synch.

She studies their procedure, dropping my hand
to edge forward, neck outstretched, arms aero-

dynamically angled. She flaps and flaps along
the bank, following their flight, ready for that

sudden lift. Again, again, till the last goose has
flown. Dragging her heels home, disconcerted,

she braces her body against the rising breeze,
bewildered that she too can’t take off to sky

but game to try again tomorrow, convinced
the birds’ secret will soon belong to her.

believe 2018 Mary McDonald

 

Presenting RIVER REVERY

My new collection of poems is available from https://insomniacpress.com/new-releases.

RIVER REVERY

Rivers are often used in mythology to represent boundaries; to cross the river is to transform. The poems in RIVER REVERY reflect the river Thames as it winds through the city of London, Ontario. Because the Thames forks into two streams at the city’s core, it was called Askunessippi, “the antlered river,” by the original Algonquin inhabitants. For Indigenous communities, it is “Deshkan Ziibiing.” In re-naming the river the Thames, English settlers colonized forbidding new territory as an imitation of ‘home,’ rather than embracing the vibrancy of the river as it is. A distillation of ecological concern is a current necessity in RIVER REVERY. Such inspiration in poetry is one source for right action since the Thames waters our gardens, real and imaginary.

Poetry  ·   $19.95  ·  Trade paperback  ·  ISBN 978-1-55483-238-5 ·  122 pages  ·  5″ x 8”

River Revery

The London Free Press is marvellous at supporting local arts. Check out this interview on RIVER REVERY at Killaly Meadow! https://lfpress.com/entertainment/books/london-poet-helps-explore-identity-at-wordsfest?fbclid=IwAR0KU-ArMTmBwAmQ5IhMXix-Lm-QhSrlOCEWMBLF3_gywQS3uFy3gtk8p88

RIVER REVERY was launched at the glorious WORDS: The Literary and Creative Arts Festival Museum London!  I was honoured to be “In Conversation” with Diana Beresford-Kroeger. An indomitable visionary, Diana was launching her essential new book:

To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest  

Our conversation was moderated by beloved rogue psychiatrist, Nina Desjardins to a full house, with lively audience participation.

All fired up! A triad of women offer the courage and resilience of heart, imagination and action to face climate change and tip the balance towards recovery.

Penn Nina Diana Jake Wordsfest by PatriciaWith Nina Desjardins, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, me and my son Jake Chalmers at the book signing after our Wordsfest “In Conversation”! FUN! Thanks, everyone for filling the hall… and THANKS, Wordsfest! My reading from RIVER REVERY  was sponsored by The League of Canadian Poets. https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/river-revery/

The video of “In Conversation” with Diana Beresford-Kroeger was recorded by the ever-brilliant Dennis Siren: https://youtu.be/lf_apKTzpgQ, for all those needing inspiration!
A poem from RIVER REVERY is in the 2019 http://wordsfest.ca/zine.

My reading was funded by Canada Poetry Tours, The League of Canadian Poets @canadianpoets and the Canada Council for the Arts,

.Poets logo    logo

RIVER REVERY features photographs by Mary McDonald and QR codes linking to poetry films by Mary McDonald and by Dennis Siren.

Animations and sound explorations of several of the poems by media artist extraordinaire Mary McDonald are up on RiverRevery.ca as well as news about the poetry films: they are shown in festivals everywhere! You can add to this community project on #RiverReveryLdn. An Augmented Reality, multimedia animation collaboration, with thanks to @LdnArtsCouncil #CommunityArtsInvestmentProgram

RIVER REVERY is dedicated to my grandchildren, Ula and Kai… and to all the grand children who will carry on!

Shall we rename the Thames? The Antler River!

Yours in the current’s flow,
Penn