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

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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”

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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…

Grazing the Face of Climate Change: a poem

#barbaricculturalpractice @QuattroBook
The cedar the bohemian
wax wings twitter among
bare boughs on their way
warmward.
Envy emulates flight,
lights desire, douses
doubt in fiercer certainty.
Icarus stretches his fine
new wings, disarmed by
possibilities plus.
“Beware the wax, my son.
It cannot last in the face of
strong Sun shine.”
No fear. Bright day beckons.
“I’m on my way and who will
gainsay the path to glory, glory!”
Damn the consequence, o’erweening teen.
Between between the elements.
High performance art starts here.
Raising mighty arms he flaps. He flies.
Close, warming his face. Oh, the glow!
Pride bursts, sun bursts, sun grazing.
Rising solar flare— sudden glare incipient—
may might may not
Bright implausible wings dim before
a brighter sun, too close.
Closer. Losing altitude, attitude
Lost.
Farther from father info free fall.
(Hubris, they will say in that all-knowing future.)
The fall, falling. Spring springing.
A flutter of feathers catching the light light on the surface.
Follow their fine drift on the wind, winding down
through sub-lunar splendour onto sea sparkle.
Living sphere, Facing fear too late on a sea of metrics.
Facing ob- livion. (Immortal eyes can not cut it).
Dead last. Death lasts forever. Ever more.
Reflect, refract, reflect again and loss a gain.
Free to fail only once and then no longer
No longer boy but myth.
Penn Kemp201709 hyacinth flower
Photo: Mary McDonald

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

Books are the best gift for a New Year and a new decade!  A shout-out to Canadian small press publishers.  Long may you thrive!

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