Books Read & Recommended, 2018

A very eclectic collection, read by the fire, on planes, in the garden. And/or heard, in bed…

Kate Atkinson, Transcription

Belinda Bauer, Snap

Carleigh Baker, Bad endings: stories *

Sarah Bakewell, At the existentialist café: freedom, being and apricot cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre [and others]

Sharon Bala, The Boat People*

Deirdre Baker, Becca fair and foul*

John Banville, Mrs. Osmond*

Linwood Barclay, A Noise Downstairs

Julian Barnes, The lemon table: stories

Billy-Ray Belcourt, This wound is a world: poems

Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists

Diana Beresford-Kroeger, Arboretum America: a philosophy of the forest; photographs by Christian H. Kroeger; foreword by Edward O. Wilson

Jill Bialosky, Poetry will save your life: a memoir*

Holly Black, Doll bones; with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler *

Leonard Cohen, The Flame

Christopher Paul Curtis, The journey of little Charlie

E.D. Blodgett, Transfiguration* 
E.D. Blodgett, Apostrophes: woman at a piano* 

George Bowering, No one (Not recommended~!)

Alan Bradley, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place*

Dionne Brand, Tessa McWatt, Rabindranath Maharaj, editors / Luminous ink: writers on writing in Canada

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone*

Stephen Harrod Buhner, Plant intelligence and the imaginal

Steve Burrows, A tiding of magpies

Jessie Burton, The miniaturist: a novel *

Rhonda Byrne, The Power*

Heather Cadsby, Standing in the flock of connections

Anne Carson, Red Doc

Kate Cayley, How you were born: stories*

David Chariandy, Brother*

Svetlana Chmakova, Brave*

Noam Chomsky ; created and edited by Peter Hutchinson, Kelly Nyks & Jared P. Scott. Requiem for the American dream: the 10 principles of concentration of wealth & power /

Noam Chomsky; interviews with David Barsamian, Global discontents

Kim Clark and Dawn Marie Kresan, Canadian Ginger: an anthology of poetry & prose*

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: an American tragedy*

Marina Cohen, The doll’s eye; illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Billy Collins, The rain in Portugal: poems

Cressida Cowell, The Wizards of Once*

Cressida Cowell, How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. How to Train Your Dragon Series, Book 12. Read by David Tennant *

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

Tom Cull, Bad animals*

Rachel Cusk, Outline*

Rachel Cusk, Transit *

Rachel Cusk, Kudos*

Lauren B. Davis, The Grimoire of Kensington Market *

Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Hysteria *

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

Mai Der Vang, Afterland: poems *

David Demchuk, The Bone Mother

Patrick deWitt, French Exit    cd

Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves*

Jeramy Dodds, Drakkar Noir

Brian Doyle, editor. A sense of wonder: the world’s best writers on the sacred, the profane, and the ordinary

Norman Dubie, The quotations of bone

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black: A Novel

Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach*

Deborah Eisenberg, Twilight of the Superheroes *

Dave Eggers, Heroes of the frontier: a novel*

Dave Eggers, The monk of Mokha. Mokhtar Alkhanshali *

Cecilia Ekbäck, The midnight sun

Cecilia Ekbäck, Wolf Winter

Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God *

Susan Faludi, In the darkroom*

  1. A. C. Farrant, The days: forecasts, warnings, advice *

Elena Favilli, Francesca Cavallo. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Aminatta FornaHappiness*
Aminatta Forna,The hired man*

Philip Freeman, Searching for Sappho: the lost songs and world of the first woman poet including new translations of all of Sappho’s surviving poetry*

Patrick Friesen, Songen*

Cornelia Funke, Ruffleclaw; illustrated by the author; translated by Oliver Latsch *

Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants; illustrated by Brett Helquist*

Jorie Graham, Fast*

Shari Green, Macy McMillan and the rainbow goddess *

Camilla Grudova, The Doll’s Alphabet

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry*

Richard Harrison, On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood *

Paula Hawkins, Into the water

Elizabeth Hay, All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir

Emma Healey, Stereoblind: poems  *

Emma Healey, Whistle in the dark*

Chris Hedges, Unspeakable: Chris Hedges on the most forbidden topics in America / with David Talbot

Sheila Heti, Motherhood *

Brenda Hillman, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire*

Alice Hoffman, Survival Lessons

Alice Hoffman, The rules of magic*

Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth*

Robert Hogg, There is No Falling

Nancy Holmes, Valancy and the new world *

Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine*

Cornelia Hoogland, Trailer park elegy*

Emma Hooper, Our Homesick Songs*

Susan Howe, Debths

David Huebert, Peninsula Sinking *

Helen Humphreys, The ghost orchard: the hidden history of the apple in North America*

Helen Humphreys, Machine Without Horses

Kazuo Ishiguro, My twentieth century evening and other small breakthroughs: the Nobel lecture*

Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci*

Annie Jacobson, Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis*

Maureen Jennings, Let darkness bury the dead: a Murdoch mystery *

Amanda Jernigan, Years, months, and days: Poems *

Jim Johnstone, editor. The next wave: an anthology of 21st century Canadian poetry

Kij Johnson, The Fox Woman *

The Journey prize stories: the best of Canada’s new writers

Han Kang, Human acts: a novel; translated from the Korean and introduced by Deborah Smith*

Thomas King, Cold Skies*

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered

Larissa Lai, When Fox Is a Thousand *

Danielle LaPorte, White Hot Truth*

  1. I. Larry, High risk*, Undercover*

Ursula K Le Guin, Words are my matter: writings about life and books, 2000-2016 with a journal of a writer’s week

John Le Carré, A delicate truth

League of Canadian Poets, Measures of astonishment: poets on poetry / presented by the League

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice

David Lehman, Best American Poetry 2016

Donna Leon, Drawing conclusions: a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery

Donna Leon, The Temptation of Forgiveness

Carrianne Leung, That time I loved you: linked stories

Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know

Jennifer LoveGrove, Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes *

Helen M. Luke, Old Age: Journey into Simplicity

Helen M. Luke; edited by Rob Baker. Kaleidoscope: the way of woman and other essays* 

Harriet Alida Lye, Honey Farm*

Kari Maaren, Weave a Circle Round*

Anne McDonald, Miss Confederation: The Diary of Mercy Anne Coles*

Gregory Maguire, Hiddensee: a tale of the once and future Nutcracker *

Terese Mailhot, Heart Berries: A Memoir

Alice Major, Memory’s daughter

Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck*

Daphne Marlatt, The Collected Earlier Poems, 1968-2008. Edited by Susan Holbrook*

Monia Mazigh, Hope has two daughters *

Alexander McCall Smith, The House of Unexpected Sisters: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency *

Ami McKay, Half Spent Was the Night *

Steve McOrmond, Reckon*

W.S. Merwin, Sir Gawain and the green knight / a new verse translation*
W.S. Merwin, The river sound: poems

Anne Michaels, All We Saw*

Madeline Miller, Circe**

Valerie Mills-Milde, The Land’s Long Reach*

Thomas Moore, Ageless soul*

Naomi Novik, Uprooted*

John O’Donohue, Conamara blues: poems *

Michael Ondaatje, Warlight*

Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox*

Louise Penny, Kingdom of the Blind: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

Richard Powers, The Overstory*

Meredith Quartermain, U girl: a novel *

Sina Queyras, My Ariel*

Matt Rader, Desecrations*

Judy Rebick, Heroes In My Head *

Elizabeth Renzetti, Shrewed*

Noah Richler, The candidate: fear and loathing on the campaign trail*

Eden Robinson, Trickster Drift*

Margaret Rogerson, An Enchantment of Ravens*

Damian Rogers, Dear leader *

Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Lynne McKechnie, Paulette M. Rothbauer, editors. Reading Still Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community *

Salman Rushdie, The golden house: A Novel *

Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove *

Linda Rutenberg, The Garden at Night. Introduction by Christopher Dewdney*

Deborah Samuel, The extraordinary beauty of birds: designs, patterns and details

Richard Sanger, Dark woods. Biblioasis*

Sarah Selecky, Radiant Shimmering Light*

Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette*

Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire*

Alexie Sherman, Thunder Boy Jr.*

Merilyn Simonds, Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books*

Linda Spalding, The Reckoning*

Barbara Shapiro, The Muralist

Sjon, From the Mouth of the Whale*

Ali Smith, Autumn*

Ali Smith, Winter*

Michael V. Smith, Bad ideas

Murdoch Neil Smith, Boo: a novel

Zadie Smith, Feel Free

Mark Strand, Eavan Boland, editors, The making of a poem: a Norton anthology of poetic forms

J.R. (Tim) Struthers, ed. Clark Blaise: the Interviews

Graham Swift, Tomorrow

Gillian Sze, Panicle

Wisława Szymborska, Map: collected and last poems; edited by Clare Cavanagh

Amy Tan, Where the past begins: a writer’s memoir*

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch*

Kim Thúy, Vi ; translated from the French by Sheila Fischman

Miriam Toews, Women Talking

Alexandre Trudeau, Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China*

John Vaillliant, The Jaguar’s Children*

Alberto Villoldo, One Spirit Medicine: Ancient Ways to Ultimate Wellness*

Alberto Villoldo and David Perlmutter, Power up your brain: the neuroscience of enlightenment

Ocean Vuong, Night sky with exit wounds*

Clemantine Wamariya, The Girl Who Smiled Beads. (Julia Zave)

Elizabeth Waterston, Magic island: the fictions of L.M. Montgomery*

Joshua Whitehead, Jonny Appleseed: a novel

Anthony Williams, Medical Medium*

Deborah Willis, The dark and other love stories*

Oprah Winfrey, The wisdom of sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations. Oprah Winfrey*

Peter Wohlleben, The Inner Life of Animals*

Peter Wohlleben; translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. The weather detective: rediscovering nature’s secret signs

Meg Wolitzer, The Female Persuasion*

Lauren Wolk, Wolf Hollow*

Erin Wunker, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy

London Free Press WordsFest 2018_jpg_large

,,, and still reading…

 

A lovely book of poems from Aeolus House!

Here’s my review of Stanley Fefferman’s The Heart of All Music: Poems about Music and Musicians. Aeolus House, 2018. 52 pp. ISBN 978-1-987872-11-8. $20

Convergence is a word often used to describe the reshaping of our world by such forces as the Internet. This concept also applies to Stanley Fefferman’s latest collection, The Heart of All Music, which can be described, appropriately, as the convergence of a life-time of listening attentively to a wide range of musical genres.

It’s a treat when a poet takes a whole book to explore in depth a single subject. When the topic is music and the poet as knowledgeable as Stanley Fefferman, the result is a gift for all the senses. His work is varied in tone, mood and mode, given a perceptive ear and a gift for translating the complexities of musical experience into language. Fefferman employs a wide spectrum of forms, including prose poems that read like a possible transcription from his original review. The tone of the poems hovers between elegiac and celebratory, performative and prosaic, traditional and contemporary. This elegantly presented book is like a musical score in itself. The Heart of All Music sectioned in the four musical terms of a sonata: “Allegro, “Largo”, “Scherzo”, and the Finale, “Andante Cantabile”.

Fefferman’s preface describes the magic of listening to music. He declares “the feelings that came set off the language centres of the poet-in-me, and the music generated words.” At first I thought of searching YouTube to hear the pieces Fefferman describes. Then I realized that the poems themselves present a complicated translation that is this poet’s specific perception, “sharp as crackling bones/ that fall as feathers filling an entire hall”. The reader experiences Fefferman’s particular vision through his vivid imagery: “Debussy’s unique String Quartet unfolds a shimmer of antique silk/ embroidered with pizzicated rhythms of the new French enthusiasm”.

Metaphors translate the sometime psychedelic experience of a concert. The poet often describes one sense in terms of another, presenting the emotional range of a synaesthete. Indeed, Fefferman includes a poem to Alexander Scriabin, famous for his own synaesthetic correlations. Fefferman offers us fascinating imagery to describe specific works. His phrase, “crennellated patterns”, conjures an instant image of fortified battlements, an image immediately followed by “notes that roll/ like a silken standard in the wind”. We are thrust into a mediaeval scene to accompany Barrios’s “La Cathedral”.

Musicians play off each other; “the players spin solo threads”. Like the musicians Fefferman depicts, the instruments described in these poems have character, indeed personality. “The cello in the scherzo remains sardonic” after “jittery discourses that keen upward till they peter out /— a musical representation of life leaving the body.” Shostakovich’s final sonata is “the corvid utterance of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Nevermore’.” The cello continues “dialogues with itself/ among mutterings of ‘es muss sein’”—Beethoven’s motto in his last quartet. The phrase, “It must be”, figures prominently in  Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being as well, designating an acceptance of fate. A line of poetry also interprets another string quartet in a phrase from Eliot’s The Waste Land. One art is presented in terms of another, engaging both feeling and intellect.

Fefferman’s commentary is a “solo series of precision shifts between attitudes of stillness and repose [that] encode/ a lifetime of contemplation” in a veteran’s “deep acceptance of the world as it is.” Blues, jazz, traditional folk and classical works, Fefferman covers and comments on it all, from O’Carolan to David Bowie to John Hammond to Mozart and Claude Vivier. Fefferman is at his best presenting female singers like Lhasa De Sela in one of his most touching laments, as well as poems to composers cut off too soon by war. His beautiful last poem, dedicated to Dvorak’s Piano Trio in E minor, is a spiritual resolution for both Fefferman and his readers:

“the sound of peace itself
a melody so exquisitely played
the mind is overwhelmed with pleasure
and comes to rest in its own place
like the reflection of sky in lake.”

Fefferman’s epigraph announces that he associates the heart of music with the moment of happiness that he is offering in these poems. Indeed, The Heart of All Music is a paean to Music and Musicians. The cadenced rhythm of these poems will resonate long after the last note, the final phrase. To paraphrase Rumi, in this beautifully produced collection from Aeolus House, “We have fallen into the place where everything is music.”

//

Poet, performer and playwright Penn Kemp has been lauded as a trailblazer, “a poetic El Nino”, and a “one-woman literary industry”. She was  London’s inaugural Poet Laureate . Her 2018 books of poetry are Local Heroes (Insomniac), and Fox Haunts (Aeolus House). See http://www.pennkemp.weebly.com.

This review is now up on http://bywords.ca/november2018/review1.htm, thanks to Amanda Earl.

Fox Haunts reviewed

Signed copies of Fox Haunts (Aeolus House, 2008) are available for $20 plus shipping.
Contact pennkemp@gmail.com.

What caught your imagination when you were young?

For me it was Foxes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E58HtvVZQXs*

Alice Major has written a lovely review on The League of Canadian Poets’ Review page: http://poets.ca/2019/01/21/review-insomnia-bird-by-kelly-shepherd-fox-haunts-by-penn-kemp/?fbclid=IwAR2A1attCS5ufAze9Xfrby4rhiaOfZw5PdxGGtLCSJm-d-rXkVz6RhkrIpU.

“In two recent collections, urban wildlife becomes a context for poets exploring the relationship of human and animal—a relationship that stretches back into myth-making and tale-telling, sideways into contemporary biology, and forward into a future of changing climate and anthropocentric landscapes. Each poet uses a different lens and tools to produce different but complementary books…

Penn Kemp’s Fox Haunts is also a book about how a wild animal can inhabit our urban lives and our imaginations. She also braids myth, science, literary allusions. But the voice here is different—more personal, less specific about a particular city inhabited by the fox and more intrigued with the dichotomous essence of the animal in our minds.

The poet’s “I” is established from at the beginning with an autobiographical poem about a child imagining the fox in her night-time bedroom—hungry, prowling:

… He was going to eat
me alive. Unless I played dead. I froze into the mattress.
The folds of the sheet turned marble. A frieze. The fox could
not smell out the stiff and still. I could sleep. Warily.

In subsequent poems, the fox often becomes ‘you’, a fellow creature to be addressed. But he remains always risky; even if you order a tame fox from the Internet at great expense, it will still be too skittish, too easily bored:

Better keep him busy, entertained or he’ll
run amok into your cushion, your couch,
your nightmare.

Fox is an animal reported on in New Scientist and “What I hear on CBC.”  Kemp incorporates intriguing scraps of biology, like evidence that prey animals are gifted with the ability to forget the trauma of being chased, that foxes can see the earth’s magnetic field, that they may be adapting to city life to avoid hunters. Such information forms the context for arresting poetic imagery:

They look on the easy prey of pets, soft
and vulnerable bichon frises left outside
by themselves in the yard, those with not
defence but a petulant, startled bark …

… Given such ready supply
of sweet fat food, Fox laughs and moves in

The paradox—it may be easier and safer for the wild animal to live near humans—is one more riff on the idea of “wildness” that Kemp explores throughout the book. Fox is both hunter and the trapped beast; the untamed animal that wears “dainty gloves.” He is the outcast who takes back the territory of our backyards: “Kudos for taking back the night, Nox Fox.” He is the ‘rewilder’ who calls us to Be Wilder.

The poems are suffused with a tension between the real creature of our urban backyards and the creatures of our imagination, individual and collective. “Who can tell foxfire from phosphene?” the poet asks in “When Eyes Close,” an evocative short lyric about the patterns flickering in our brains when our eyes are closed. The poem’s 12 lines encapsulate one of the basic questions in philosophy: what is the relationship of the human brain to a real world?

“A blur of orange, a smudge or smear/Could manifest as creature any time, // Could grow into the idea of Fox …” she writes. Pattern becomes story, but it all starts from “what glimmers, eyes shut.”

The section “Little literary foxes” pursues the vulpine presence through folktale and Biblical narratives, literature and contemporary film.

“Aesop always gives Fox the finger/

shaking his index as reproof.”

This section is broad-ranging and stuffed with facts that are literary rather than biological: The word “shenanigans” may come from an old Gaelic word for fox. The constellation we call Canis Minor is, in Greek myth the Teumessian Fox which could never be caught. Artists from WB Yeats to Alice Munro to Kurosawa have some kind of fox relationship. However the section as a whole feels forced, as though the author has been working her way through a googled list of “fox in popular culture.” A number of the pieces don’t feel as though they have been transformed into poetry.

Nevertheless, Fox Haunts is a haunting brush with Fox’s vanishing tail. The human-animal connection is elusive, interstitial, “inner and outer, on / the verge.” And Kemp’s long career as a sound poet is apparent in the sonic delight of lines like:

Fox, you are epic,

You are epidemic,

You are anathema

 

You are a theme of tales…

Thanks to Alice Major and to the League of Poets for their Reviews section!

Well, this is fun! A cocktail, a fox tale…. I just saw this pairing: Fox Haunts, a cocktail… and a review! https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2018/Chappy-Hour-The-Quick-Red-Fox-Fox-Haunts
https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2018/Chappy-Hour-The-Quick-Red-Fox-Fox-Haunts#topofpostcontent

Other reviews of Fox Haunts are up on https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39743870-fox-haunts and https://www.amazon.com/Fox-Haunts-Penn-Kemp/dp/1987872142.

A comprehensive and thoughtful review of Fox Haunts by Jennifer Wenn is up on http://tuckmagazine.com/2019/01/11/fox-haunts-penn-kemp-review/:

Fox Haunts by Penn Kemp is a fascinating investigation of both the real animal and the figure of literature and myth. Kemp’s wordplay, wit and humour are on full display (for example, the whimsical suggestions for keeping foxes out of the yard in How To Repel the Urban Fox), but there are serious streams concerning adaptation, the collision of our civilisation with nature, and what Kemp terms rewilding. This is a captivating, multi-layered work, a demonstration of Kemp’s own precepts: “…Poetry allows for profusion//of voices and multilinear narratives//puns…” (Prompt).

Fox Haunts is divided into four sections: Family Fox-lore, The Urban Fox, Little Literary Foxes, and Dream Frequency. Family Fox-lore consists of two prefatory poems (A Child’s Garden Fox; and Steal, Stole, Stun), family memories that introduce main themes in the work. This starts with a literal collision between human technology (here, a car) and the wild (in the shape of a fox) and proceeds through imagination and a very real fox victim in the form of a stole.

The Urban Fox, Section Two, is the longest one and in many ways the heart of the work. We meet the foxes adapting to and claiming space within our cities, at first just via subtle indications like a rustle in a bush (Ghost Scents), glowing eyes at night (Night Vision; Avoidance Tactic), a slight odour left behind (Natural Magic) or tracks (What Matters; The Beauty of Snowy Waste and Noble Silence; Synecdoche). Later we discover Fox raiding “our pantry, our cat-//food, or cat perhaps” (Be Wilder), urinating on compost bins (Foul Play), raiding a henhouse (Foul Play), keeping everyone awake with screams and shrieks (What the Fox Says), grabbing the family dog by the leg (Foxes I Have Known, Rabid), carrying off defenceless bichons frisés (Why Here, Why Now) or depositing unmatched footwear inside via the cat door (Your Lair Is My Layer, Apparently). We perceive the world through Fox’s heightened senses: hearing (On the Nature of Intelligence; Pointers; Strategies, Night Vision); night sight (On the Nature of Intelligence; Night Vision); seeing the earth’s magnetic field (Strategies). A special mention of At the Moment of Equinox, a lovely hymn to balance and to nature, Fox’s realm.

Little Literary Foxes, Section Three, investigates literature, with touchpoints including Kurosawa (Inari, Kami of Foxes), Ovid (Song of His Origins), the Bible (Samson Agonistes, On Condemnation and Canticles), Milton (Samson Agonistes), Aesop (Fox Fable; Verse, Vice, Virtue), Yeats (Celtic Twilight), The Little Prince (Les Petits Amis), Kim Philby (“The Fox That Came to Stay”), Stephen King & Stanley Kubrick (Eye Shine), Alice Munro (Fair Play on Fur in F Sharp) and more.

In Dream Frequency, Section Four, Kemp, as she has in other works, explores her dreams. Here she finds herself haunted by Fox’s many aspects; a riff on the book title. As Kemp notes in her Introduction “Fox Haunts begins with a play on words. Who’s haunting whom?” We discover Fox and Kemp engaged in a variety of pas de deux: “…You wrap yourself round//in an ourobos of sleep and dream…” (Elementals); “Fox leads me a merry chase as will-of-wisp//streaks across western sky painting random//wisps along cirrus cloud…” (Avoidance Tactic); “We are entangled in tango, not//knowing the steps, not knowing//what trust is, leaning backward.” (Fox Trot); “…I burrow after you into teeming dark” (The Light Breach); “…I stand before you, astonished,//mouth so agape you might well leap down//the little red lane straight into bloodstream.” (Offer).

Throughout the entire work Fox is a liminal figure: “Between discrete realms of possibility” (By her wits, you shall know her); neither dog nor cat (Doubles); inner and outer (Doubles; How to Haunt); literal and figurative (On Condemnation and Canticles); dream and waking (O Fabulist).

An all-important boundary is that between hunter and hunted. When the former, Fox most often victimizes poor Rabbit (How to Hunt; Strategies; Synecdoche; Synopsis, Lady into Fox). Other prey include voles and moles (Night Vision; Strategies); crows (Pulling a Fast One); fowl generally (Pointers; Foul Play); mice (Pointers; On Condemnation and Canticles) and the aforementioned bichons frisés (Why Here, Why Now). In a nice touch, Kemp dreams that Fox and Rabbit are pals (Fox Play).

But while Fox is hunting to feed her family, our civilization all too often turns Fox into the victim, for far less essential reasons: hit by a car (A Child’s Garden Fox; Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563 to the Present); killed for its fur (Steal, Stole, Stun; The Purchase; Fair Play on Fur in F Sharp); starving (“Helpless, Helpless, Helpless”); clubbed to death for raiding a henhouse in search of food (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563 to the Present); hunted for sport (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563 to the Present|); used as live torches (Song of His Origins; Samson Agonistes); pushed off a ledge five stories up (“The Fox That Came to Stay”).

Kemp’s prescription for restoring harmony is rewilding, adapting to and drawing from nature what we need, and perhaps have lost: “clarity and strength”, “surrender and acceptance”, “joy and creativity”, “initiation, inspiration”, “your broad view”, “your ground, your holy round” (At the Moment of Equinox). “Reclaim, rather,//and rewild, let’s agree.// //Yes, rewild us for we are//bewildered and beknighted.// //We are precariously tame and//dangerous.” (Be Wilder).

In the final poem, addressing Fox, Kemp expresses wishes and hopes we all could share: “On your own, you’ll do just fine as long//as we humans don’t interfere with your//livelihood, your livelong neighbourhood.// //May you be freed from old mythologies//that call you trickster, demon temptress,//ghost and fraudster. May you run free.”

Fox Haunts is a beautiful, thought-provoking, multi-level meditation, and a heartfelt plea for a reconfiguration of our spirits and a new relationship with the world around us.”

Jennifer Wenn is a trans-identified writer from London, Ontario. In addition to her day job as a Systems Analyst, she has written From Adversity to Accomplishment, a family and social history; and published poetry in Tuck Magazine, Synaeresis, Wordsfestzine and the anthology Things That Matter.   She is also the proud parent of two adult children.

Image result for fox glyph

Two beautiful reviews Fox Haunts came in
one after the other
on little fox feet from the Okanagan.

How could I not share them with you?

FoxHaunts-Cover

 

Fox Haunts. Poems by Penn Kemp. Aeolus House, 2018. 97 pages. $20.

Review by Bill Arnott

First time I saw a fox I was atop an open-air double decker, trundling along rugged coast, intermittently thrashed by leafy birch as though in a weaving Finnish sauna. I was compelled to shield my eyes – the same reaction as when something’s beyond comprehension, available only to the worthy. In fact it was present for everyone. Laid bare, unabashedly rich in beauty and lore. A slender, russet blonde animal, taller than I imagined. Regal. Same as when I met Penn Kemp. Somewhere a fellow trickster – Loki, Kokopelli perhaps, danced a gleeful jig, as I carried a newly signed Fox Haunts to my semi-detached lair.

Adaptation runs through this London Laureate’s new poems in darting twists, flight from imagined hunter’s horn. At times furtive, dreamily camouflaged, or bounding in plain sight, Kemp’s artistry enraptures. We join Penn in childhood, parents fused into fox memories with “A Child’s Garden Fox.”

“Sleepy, sleeping in my mother’s lap. Nestled. / When. A fox ran in front of the car. And / was transfixed by the headlights. Ran and / ran in front of the car but could not escape”

In red hued monochrome we glimpse dead fur and living banshees in “Steal, Stole, Stun.”

“The dried heads of black fox hung / from my grandmother’s stole as if / ready to strike. Dead flat button jet / eyes shut tight to their own secret”

And with fireside ease we move through seasons, geography and myth, playful “Glow” perching us parrot-like on the writer’s shoulder, experiencing evolving words while peering real-time into her thoughts.

“That narrow snout surfaces to / figure your next ploy, asking / curiously: ‘Who do you serve?’ // The essential question mocks / my reply. The whole, of course.”

Reading Kemp’s work I feel nestled in a sidecar affixed to the master’s motorbike, confident in her route, at times in conversation, storytelling, or akin to a lie-down on a therapist’s sofa. This book can leave one simultaneously inspired and intimidated, seeing genius expand exponentially with time.

Writing this I’m at Penn’s desk, at least the one she left for me to use in Vernon, BC. Beside me Fox Haunts lies curled and content, in its rightful place atop the rest. Through a broad bay window a few last leaves cling in vixen colours and from “Entertaining the Fox” the author’s words linger. “May you be translated. And remain / entirely your own.”

poetscorner.ca/team/

Image result for fox glyph

Review by Fern G. Z. Carr

Penn Kemp’s Fox Haunts (Aeolus House, 2018) is an intriguing exploration of all that is vulpine – a quest to define the quintessential nature of the fox. In keeping with its elusive nature, her portrayal of this creature is fluid and dynamic.

The title, Fox Haunts, is an apt play on words.  This is not only a work of place but a work that is indeed haunting – whether by its mastery of surreal imagery such as the reverie of miniature firefly-like foxes or the cruel reality of rabies.

Poems are contrasting yet complementary: predation vs. elegance (“sharp white teeth” / “Vixen slips off her black gloves”) and science vs. folklore (“The earth’s magnetic field serves as a reference guide for our Fox” / “foxglove holds the power of opposites”).

After having examined the vicissitudes and psyche of the fox, Kemp ultimately concludes that a fox is but a fox.  Her final poem in this collection is essentially a benediction with a proviso that the species will be fine as long it can be freed from pejorative mythologies and human interference – a caveat reflecting the sensibilities of the enchanting poems in this book.

www.ferngzcarr.com

Stevie Howell’s review is up on https://quillandquire.com/review/fox-haunts/.
“Penn Kemp’s Fox Haunts is a collection of poems about an enduring character in fables and folklore: the fox. Kemp is enchanted with her subject matter, and there are many playful moments.”

Stanley Fefferman‘s review is up on http://poets.ca/2018/08/10/review-fox-haunts-by-penn-kemp/ and http://opusonereview.com/?p=4786.

*Video of my reading by Dennis Siren.

FOX HAUNTS is ready to trot!

FOX HAUNTS isn’t officially out till September, but foxes are sly and appear unexpectedly, those tricksters. Here’s a delicious first review by poet Stanley Fefferman: http://opusonereview.com/?p=4769!

Penn Kemp’s FOX HAUNTS reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Penn Kemp. Fox Haunts. Aeolus House, 2018. 97 pp.

The way suburban garden fences are a line the fox crosses from the countryside to steal our chickens, is like the line fox, since time immemorial, has crossed from the countryside into our myths, into our dreams, into our literature and our language. Shenanigans is derived from the Gaelic word for fox. A skulk of foxes is the collective noun. Jimmie Hendrix sang of his “Foxy Lady.” And here is a stanza from Penn Kemp’s poem to Inari, the Shinto fox-god deity:

Fox girls dance beneath the twisted maple

calling their sister to tranform from mist

as beguiling women with red in their hair.

Fox Haunts, Penn Kemp’s 24th collection, is a meditation in 90 poems on a predator who is our closest neighbour, one who is getting closer all the time as it’s habitat yields to subdivisions. The longest section of Fox Haunts, entitled “Urban Fox,” consists of poems about foxes Kemp might have encountered: her writing can be elegant.

It’s true you walk on toes like cats

like a ballerina of the wildwood.

Kemp empathizes with the drama of the hunt, the inside as well as the outside of it.

 

Fox circles her prey, closing in

on her victim in ever tightening

gyres. Her fixed glare freezes

poor rabbit into terror so pure it

dissolves to acceptance, suspended

acquiescence, adrenalin overload.

Almost like peace. Soft as comfort,

this compliance in the fox’s grasp.

Just a single shriek before the

neck snaps.

At her best, Kemp’s narrative and poetry are transparent. She has variance in her voice: sometimes she addresses her images directly to the fox:” I come upon your prints on/muddy path, neatly, deliberately splayed.” Sometimes, she drops into a journalistic mode and addresses the reader directly in what sounds to me like chopped prose: “Like Canada Geese, Fox may/be adopting city life to avoid/ hunters, the tough slog of/country life. Clever fellow.” Only to follow that with a passage of the most startlingly direct poetry:

 

They look upon the easy prey of pets, soft

and vulnerable bichon frisés left outside

by themselves in the yard, those with no

defense but a petulant, startled bark —

before they are meat, carried off dangling

in the soft jaw of a mother triumphantly keen

on feeding her kits.

 

Kemp is ‘entranced’ with the world of “Wily wiry trickster tales,” and devotes a section to ‘Fox’ references in the writings of Taliesin, Ovid, in the legend of Samson, in other Hebrew Scriptures relating to Solomon and Ezekiel, in Aesop, W.B Yeats and St. Exupéry, Akiro Kurosawa and Alice Munro whose father raised foxes for fur on a farm where he also kept ” Old horses in the barn waiting/their turn to be fed, to be feed.” As for the night sky, Kemp puts fox in the constellation Canis Major and Canis Minor, These bits of Fox arcana bring into close focus the mythical resonance of that beast in the human imagination.

 

After having the pleasure of reading Fox Haunts, and of writing down these few thoughts, I look forward to more hours with the book, looking into the stories behind lines like:

 

Fetch Laelaps, a bitch commanded to catch all

she chases. Let her seize that Teumessian fox!

 

Fox Haunts is one those rare books that can become a companion.

ABOUT PENN KEMP.  She has been dubbed “a one-woman literary industry” as London, Ontario’s inaugural Poet Laureate and Western University’s Writer-in-Residence. Kemp was the League of Canadian Poets’ Spoken Word Artist, 2015. Her website is www.pennkemp.weebly.com

https://www.stanleyfefferman.com/blog/fox-haunts-by-penn-kemp-a-review-by-stanley-fefferman

This poem is in my forthcoming FOX HAUNTS which can now be ordered! https://www.amazon.com/Fox-Haunts-Penn-Kemp/dp/1987872142/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525695775&sr=1-5

I’ll be launching FOX HAUNTS on September 9, 2018, 4-6 pm. Launch, Aeolus House poets: Ariane Blackman, Brian Cameron, Stanley Fefferman, Tom Hamilton, Penn Kemp and Colin Morton. Pressed (waffle house), 750 Gladstone Ave, Ottawa, ON K1R 6X5. (613) 680-9294. Contact: Allan, abriesmaster@outlook.com.

Sunday, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 7-9 pm. Launch, Aeolus House poets: Ariane Blackman, Brian Cameron, Tom Hamilton, Penn Kemp and Sydney White. Supermarket Restaurant, 268 Augusta Ave., Toronto. Contact: Allan, abriesmaster@outlook.com.

 

Upcoming Events with Penn

Here’s my reading schedule for the next few months: I hope to see you!
All events are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 in London: Reading with Penn Kemp and Daphne Marlatt, 3:30 to 4:20 p.m. AHB-3R07, Western University. The Arts and Humanities Building is the old Ivey Business building, directly south of University College.

Saturday, March 10, 2018 in Toronto: Words and Music Salon, 12:30 to 3:30 pm. I’m reading 2:30-3:00 pm. The Tiki Room, the Tranzac, 292 Brunswick Ave. Sponsored by the League of Poets, Metro Reading in Public Places.

Thursday, April 19, 2018 in London: The launch of Local Heroes (Insomniac Press 2018) by Penn Kemp. The evening includes an exhibition tour with curator Amber Lloydlangston, followed by Penn’s reading @ 7:30 pm. The theatre will show several short videos on Local Heroes by Dennis Siren, Mary McDonald and Western’s Community Engaged Learning students.
6:30 to 7:15 p.m. – Curator Tour: Women’s Lives in Canada: A History, 1875-2000;          7:30 to 8:30 p.m. – Penn’s reading; and 8:30 to 9 p.m. – book signing.
Lecture Theatre, Museum London, 421 Ridout St N.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018, 8 pm: ‘ALT’ show, Victoria Poetry Project Caffè Fantastico, 965 Kings Road, Victoria, British Columbia V8T 1W7. Contact shayne avec i grec vegabard@gmail.comhttps://www.facebook.com/vicslam/.

Friday, April 27, 2018 in Edmonton, Alberta:  Featured reader, “Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths”, The Edmonton Poetry Festival. They match a wine to the poet. I’ve offered to be a full-bodied Red! https://edmontonpoetryfestival.com

Monday, May 28, 2018 in London, 7 to 8:30 pm: Women Trailblazers: Writers and Voices for Change: Heroes. A reading and lecture series celebrating Canadian women writers.
Featured guests: Judy Rebick and Penn Kemp, Stevenson & Hunt Room, Central Library, 251 Dundas StreetJudy is reading from Heroes in My Head (Anansi) and Penn from Local Heroes (Insomniac).

Penn Kemp and Daphne Marlatt Reading 2018

With thanks to Debbie Okun Hill for her profile and updates:

https://okunhill.wordpress.com/2018/02/10/poet-profile-penn-kemp-and-barbaric-cultural-practice/

Books Read, 2017

Ah, the season of lists…

Here’s to curling up with a good book! Happy reading…

Poetry highly recommended:
Roo Borson, Rain, road, an open boat
Susan McCaslin, Into the Open
Sharon Thesen, The Receiver
Daphne Marlatt, Reading Sveva

Some of my favourite prose this year: all by Canadian women!:

Eden Robinson, Son of a Trickster
Alison Pick, Strangers With the Same Dream
Claire Cameron, The Last Neanderthal
Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant
Barbara Gowdy, Little Sister
Karen Connelly‏, The Change Room
Louise Penny, Glass Houses
Emma Donoghue, Landing

And two English writers:
Paula Cocozza, How to be human  
Margaret Drabble, The Dark Flood Rises

Not to mention the brilliant stylist, Adam Gopnik, At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York, and James King, The Way It Is: The Life of Greg Curnoe

Here’s the list: an odd mixture.  Because of a concussion, I was limited to light reading for some months. Thank goodness for audio books!

Books Read, 2017

Cecelia Ahern, Lyrebird

Yehuda Amichai, The poetry of Yehuda Amichai / edited by Robert Alter

Kelley Armstrong, A darkness absolute

John Ashbery, Commotion of the birds / new poems by John Ashbery

Kate Atkinson, Emotionally weird: a comic novel

Kate Atkinson, Started early, took my dog

Kate Atkinson, When will there be good news?

Margaret Atwood; illustrated by Duan Petrii. A trio of tolerable tales
Margaret Atwood, Angel Catbird. Vol. 1 / story by Margaret Atwood; illustrations by Johnnie Christmas
Margaret Atwood, Angel Catbird #2: To Castle Catula
Margaret Atwood, The Burgess Shale: the Canadian writing landscape of the 1960s

Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1

Sarah Bakewell, At the existentialist café: freedom, being and apricot cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre [and others]

Peter Balakian, Ozone journal

Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture

Gary Barwin, No TV for woodpeckers: poems

Peter S. Beagle, We Never Talk About My Brother

Peter S. Beagle, Summerlong

Ann Beattie, The state we’re in: Maine stories

Ann Beattie, The accomplished guest: stories

Brit Bennett, The Mothers

Tara Bennett-Goleman, Emotional Alchemy: how the mind can heal the heart

David Bergen, Stranger

John Berger, Portraits: John Berger on artists

Lucia Berlin, A manual for cleaning women: selected stories; edited and with an introduction by Stephen Emerson; foreword by Lydia Davis

Jill Bialosky, Poetry will save your life: a memoir

Roo Borson, Rain, road, an open boat

David Bouchard; paintings by Kristy Cameron; music by Stephen Kakfwi; Ojibwe language by Jason and Nancy Jones. Dreamcatcher and the seven deceivers= Asabikeshiiwasp gaye awiya oga-gagwe-niisibidoon

Brian Bouldrey, editor. Inspired journeys: travel writers in search of the muse

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three; Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity

Erin Bow, The Swan Riders

Melanie Brooks, Writing hard stories: celebrated memoirists who shaped art from trauma

Dan Brown, Origin: A Novel

Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson, London: 150 Cultural Moments

Stephen Harrod Buhner, Plant intelligence and the imaginal

Jessie Burton, The Muse

Steve Burrows, A Shimmer of Hummingbirds a Birder Murder Mystery

Steve Burrows, A cast of falcon

Sharon Butala, Where I live now: a journey through love and loss to healing and hope

Claire Cameron, The Last Neanderthal

J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country

Kate Cayley, Other houses

Michael Chabon, Moonglow

Tracy Chevalier, The lady and the unicorn

Tracy Chevalier, ed. Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre

Pema Chödrön, The compassion book: teachings for awakening the heart

Ann Cleeves, Blue lightning

Ann Cleeves, Dead water

Lynn Coady, Who needs books?: reading in the digital age

Harlan Coben, Fool me once

Paula Cocozza, How to be human

Karen Connelly‏, The Change Room

Lynn Crosbie, The corpses of the future

Lorna Crozier, The Wrong Cat

Laura Cumming, The Vanishing Velazquez

Rachel Cusk, Transit

Ram Dass, Polishing the mirror: how to live from your spiritual heart

Wade Davis, Wade Davis: photographs

Albert Flynn DeSilver, Writing As A Path To Awakening

David Demchuk, The Bone Mother

Mary di Michele, Bicycle thieves

Lloyd M. Dickie and Paul R. Boudreau, Awakening higher consciousness: guidance from ancient Egypt and Sumer

Joan Didion, South and West

Emma Donoghue, The Lotterys Plus One

Emma Donoghue, Landing

Margaret Drabble, The Dark Flood Rises

Philip Eade, Sylvia: queen of the headhunters: an eccentric Englishwoman and her lost kingdom

Elena Ferrante, Fragments

Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey Translated by Ann Goldstein

Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookstore

Penelope Fitzgerald, At Freddie’s

Philip Freeman, Searching for Sappho: the lost songs and world of the first woman poet: including new translations of all of Sappho’s surviving poetry

Tana French, The Trespasser

Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist

Penelope Fitzgerald, The bookshop

Christopher Fowler, Full Dark House

Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology

Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop

Malin Persson Giolito, Quicksand; translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

Philip Glass, Words without music: a memoir

James Gleick, Time Travel: A History

Rumer Godden; introduction by Phyllis Tickle, In this house of Brede

Al Gore, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power

Nora Gould, Selah

Barbara Gowdy, Little Sister

Naomi Goldberg, The True Secret of Writing

Herman Goodden, Three Artists: William Kurelek, Jack Chambers & Greg Curnoe

Daisy Goodwin, Victoria

Adam Gopnik, At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York

Robert Gottlieb, Avid Reader: A Life

Philippa Gregory, The Last Tudor

Terry Griggs, Nieve

Terry Griggs, The discovery of honey

John Grisham, Camino Island

David Grossman, A horse walks into a bar

Don Gutteridge, The way it was / poems by Don Gutteridge

Joan Haggerty, The Dancehall Years

Kang Han, The vegetarian: a novel

Graham Hancock, Magicians of the gods: the forgotten wisdom of Earth’s lost civilisation

Yuval Harari, Homo deus: a brief history of tomorrow

Michael Helm, After James

Brenda Hillman, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire

James Hillman & Sonu Shamdasani, Lament of the dead: psychology after Jung’s Red book

Anne Hillerman, Song of the Lion

Susan Holbrook, Throaty wipes

Emma Hooper, Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders

Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade

Helen Humphreys, The river

Markus Imhoof & Claus-Peter Lieckfeld, More than honey: the survival of bees and the future of our world

Anosh Irani, The Parcel

Annie Jacobsen, Phenomena: the secret history of the U.S. government’s investigations into extrasensory perception and psychokinesis

Tama Janowitz, Scream: a memoir of glamour and dysfunction

Greg Jenkins, Theban oracle: discover the magic of the ancient alphabet that changes lives

Marni Jackson, Don’t I know you?

Paulette Jiles, News of the World

Han Kang, The Vegetarian

Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

James King, The Way It Is: The Life of Greg Curnoe

Naomi Klein, No is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

Christina Baker Kline, Orphan train: a novel

Joy Kogawa, Gently to Nagasaki

Hari Kunzru, White Tears

  1. Travis Lane, Crossover: poems

John Le Carré, A Legacy of Spies

Genevieve Lehr, Stomata

Donna Leon, Death in a strange country

Donna Leon, The waters of eternal youth

Donna Leon, Falling in Love

Donna Leon, Death and Judgement

Donna Leon, Quietly in Their Sleep

Donna Leon, Drawing conclusions: a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery

Donna Leon, The girl of his dreams

Donna Leon, Looks are deceiving

Donna Leon, Through a glass darkly

Donna Leon, Suffer the little children

Donna Leon, Earthly Remains: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

Martine Leavitt, My book of life by Angel

Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

Penelope Lively, The purple swamp hen and other stories

Beau Lotto, Deviate: the science of seeing differently

Charles C Lovett, The Lost Book of the Grail

Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Field Guide to the Small and Significant

Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs

Henning Mankell, Quicksand: what it means to be a human being

Lee Maracle, Talking to the diaspora

Stephen Marche, The Unmade Bed: the messy truth about men and women in the 21st century

Megan Marshall, Elizabeth Bishop: a miracle for breakfast

Daphne Marlatt, Reading Sveva

Elan Mastai, All our wrong todays: a novel

Alexander McCall Smith, Precious and Grace

Alexander McCall Smith, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

Anna & Jane McGarrigle, Mountain city girls: the McGarrigle family album

Ami McKay, The Witches of New York

Adrian McKinty, The Cold Cold Ground

John McWhorter, The language hoax: why the world looks the same in any language

Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Coyote Medicine

Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior  

John Metcalf, The museum at the end of the world

Claire Messud, The Burning Girl

Anne Michaels, All We Saw

Jacob Mooney, Don’t Be Interesting

Robert Moss, Sidewalk oracles: playing with signs, symbols, and synchronicity in everyday life

Rhonda Mullins, Twenty-One Cardinals, Coach House Books. English translation of Les héritiers de la mine by Jocelyne Saucier

Alice Munro Dear life: [stories]

Haruki Murakami, Wind; Pinball: two novels

Shane Neilson, On shaving off his face: poems

Jo Nesbo, The Thirst  yuck

John Nyman, Players

Heather O’Neill, The lonely hearts hotel

David Orr, You, too, could write a poem: selected reviews and essays, 2000-2015 *

Orhan Pamuk, The Red-Haired Woman

Molly Peacock, Analyst

Louise Penny, Glass Houses

Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Heaven

Alison Pick, Strangers With the Same Dream

Nancy Geddes Poole, The past— comes back: a memoir

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Steven Price, By Gaslight

Francine Prose, Mister Monkey: a novel

Philip Pullman, Mystery of the Ghost Ship

Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

Andrew Pyper, The Only Child: A Novel

Susan Quinn, Eleanor and Hick: the love affair that shaped a First Lady

Matt Rader, Desecrations

Ian Rankin, Rather Be the Devil

Michael Redhill, Bellevue Square

Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Robbie Robertson, Testimony

Eden Robinson, Son of a Trickster

Peter Robinson, In the Dark Places

Judith Rodger, Greg Curnoe: Life & Work

Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Bernard Sanders, Our revolution: a future to believe in

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

Dani Shapiro, Hourglass: time, memory, marriage

Will Schwalbe, Books for Living

Will Schwalbe, The End of Your Life Book Club

Gregory Scofield, Witness, I am

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This accident of being lost: songs and stories

Sue Sinclair, Heaven’s Thieves

Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Carolyn Smart, Careen

Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

Zadie Smith, Swing Time

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

Linda Spalding, The Reckoning

Dana Spiotta, Innocents and Others

Mirabai Starr, Caravan of no despair: a memoir of loss and transformation

Jon Kalman Stefansson, Fish Have No Feet

D.E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle’s book

Elizabeth Strout, Anything Is Possible

Cordelia Strube, On the shores of darkness, there is light

Matthew Sullivan, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Shaun Tan; foreword by Neil Gaiman, The singing bones: inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales

Deborah Tannen, You’re the only one I can tell: inside the language of women’s friendships

Charles Taylor, The language animal: the full shape of the human linguistic capacity

Susan McCaslin,
Sharon Thesen, The Receiver

Laura Thompson, The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters

James Thurber, The Wonderful O

Colm Toibin, House of Names

Tomas Tranströmer, The great enigma: new collected poems; translated from Swedish by Robin Fulton

Rose Tremain, The Gustav Sonata: a novel

Jeff VanderMeer, Borne

Katherena Vermette, The Break

Karen Virag, editing Canadian English: a guide for editors, writers and everyone who works with words / editor-in-chief

Eleanor Wachtel, The Best of Writers & Company

Martin Walker, Bruno, Chief of Police

Martin Walker, Bruno, Chief of Police, Fatal pursuit: a Bruno, chief of police novel

Martin Walker, The Templars’ Last Secret: A Bruno, Chief of Police novel

Mary Walsh, Crying for the moon: a novel

Phyllis Webb, Peacock Blue, The Collected Poems

Izabella Wentz, Hashimoto’s Protocol

Hank Wesselman, Medicinemaker: mystic encounters on the Shaman’s path

Jennifer Welsh, The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-first Century

Zoe Whittall, The Best Kind of People

Kathleen Winter, Lost in September

Jeanette Winterson, Christmas days: 12 stories and 12 feasts for 12 days

Peter Wohlleben; foreword by Tim Flannery; The hidden life of trees: what they feel, how they communicate: discoveries from a secret world

Gwendolyn Womack, The fortune teller

Diana Wynne Jones, Witch week

Jon Young; with science and audio editing by Dan Gardoqui, What the robin knows: how birds reveal the secrets of the natural world

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Jan Zwicky, The long walk

Jan Zwicky, Wittgenstein Elegies, intro: Sue Sinclair

penn-1950

Kate Roger’s Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

Penn Poetry New West Barbaric

Reading Barbaric Cultural Practice at Poetry New West, BC

Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

Quattro Books 2016; ISBN 978-1-988254-38-8

The title of Penn Kemp’s most recent poetry collection reflects her urgent activist response to government announcements she thought could undermine Canadian diversity.  As they campaigned to hold onto power in 2015, the Harper Conservatives vowed to create an RCMP tip line where Canadians could report suspected “barbaric cultural practices” such as honour killings and female genital mutilation. Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch said the hotline would allow “citizens and victims” to directly reach out to authorities because such, “practices have no place in Canadian society”[i]— but the effect was to demonize new Canadians and polarize society around identity politics.

In this latest collection, peripatetic poet, and author of more than 25 books, Penn Kemp, points out the “barbaric cultural practices” of Canada and the West:  proxy wars, poverty and pollution. Her poetic critiques engage the reader with wit and word play. As an ex-patriot Canadian poet based in Hong Kong where freedom is under threat, I could relate to Penn Kemp’s broad, ironic perspective in Barbaric Cultural Practice.

In “Arms and the Boy” (p.30),  the narrator watching war coverage falls  “through the scream as if to land/among proud and elegant peoples/divided by civil, uncivil arms.//Women and men cleaving, cleft, bereft./ Dispossessed of a West they thought they knew./Dis/oriented, where do they turn?”

The boy who survives the onslaught of smart bombs, “…cannot speak–/language lost though lies thrive.”

In ”Smog Alert” (p.26),  the air is gritty—chewable: “Clouds crowd the mind,  clogging thought.”

The city often “fills/our lungs with tiny lumps that hang there/”.

No matter the seriousness of their subject matter, the poems in this collection avoid despair. A poet’s sense of wonder is never far off. Penn Kemp plays with how the poem can come to us as reluctant visitation. In “Cogito Ergo Sum” (p.15),  Kemp jokes, “This is the poem and I/take no hand in it. I/want to write a comedy.//That’s rich. That’s fun/ny laughs the voice in/my head that keeps/right on talking the poem/down the tree and onto//the screen. “

In “Paraclete down the Street” (p.65) a “sudden poem lights/on (her) shoulder, a tameable parakeet…”.

Kemp is a jazz poet who often riffs on her subject with internal rhyme and alliteration. Reading this collection has made me want to pun! Even when she protests how computers distance us from poetry Penn Kemp is a-mused. In “Mind the Game” (p.19), she pauses and reflects that, “We are beyond the mouse.// My Spell Checker would change Cogito to Caught./For someone’s  Suggest salmon’s.”

In the poignant poem “Struck by Stroke” (p.58) the poet shows her emotional range. The narrator is gentle on the topic of love and ageing: “Those who give the brain a rest recover/quicker…His mind is air-brushed/to a whiter, more spacious landscape/reflected in such snowy waste outside.//So we sink into sweet reverie fireside,/unthinking, unburdened…”.

In “For the Trip” (p.82), the narrator offers her ageing mother, who is searching for a butterfly, a “beaded purse with its butterfly motif as substitute/more lasting than real…”.

As a lover of birds and wilderness I especially appreciate Kemp’s poems penned in praise of nature. They are as ominous as they are playful about the consequences of the Anthropocene. In “Bass on the Grass” (p.95) the narrator warns that “We have been fluid mercury/in a mess of water weed/swimming cross-current.//We know to elude the net, a web’s small intricacy.”

The narrator concludes, “We scry so little, under water or on this/unnatural resting place where up and down/dissolves. Long lines no longer connect us.”

In “Grazing the Face of Climate Change” (p.97), birds migrate and “Envy emulates flight,/lights desire, douses/doubt in fiercer certainty.”

Icarus is evoked in the same poem as warning about global warming, “Bright implausible wings dim/before a brighter sun, too close.” The narrator warns, “Reflect, refract, reflect/again and loss a gain.//Free to fail only/once and then no/longer. He arrives//dead last. Death lasts/for/ever.//No longer/boy but/myth.”

In Barbaric Cultural Practice Penn Kemp challenges us to reflect the way only she can. Trudeau may be at the helm, but Canada’s own Trump, henchmen and women are waiting in the wings. This collection remains relevant. In the final poem of the book, “Ongoing Cultural Practice” (p.108), Kemp advises those of us who love humanity and the natural world to “Bear down hard./The time is come.”

[i] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-barbaric-cultural-practices-law-1.3254118

Reviewed by Kate Rogers