Gathering Voices in Response to Peril

POEMS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, our anthology with 48 Canadian poets in support of Ukraine, will be launched May 28, 2 pm, Blackfriars Bistro, 46 Blackfriars St., London ON! All welcome, an outdoor patio.

The anthology, all 122 pages, is out now and it is beautiful… a fitting tribute in solidarity with Ukraine!
Order from r_sitoski@yahoo.ca: $25 plus post till our launch on May 28, then $30 plus post.

POETS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, our Zoom on April 2, is now up, thanks to Richard-Yves Sitoski: h4. Truly a labour of love, from Canadian poets to Ukrainian poets and people. What a profound and poignant event, gathering 100 poets and participants coast to coast— holding fast for over three hours of words that we so needed to hear. Poetry is the ability to respond, and the poets did, in voices eloquently and powerfully expressed. This blog is intended to keep that community vibe flowing.

Part 1 of our zoom, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETCb_gHO0R4, features Penn Kemp, Richard-Yves Sitoski, Susan McCaslin, Svetlana Ischenko, Russell Thornton, Albert Dumont, Bänoo Zan, Celeste Snowber, Blaine Marchand and Marsha Barber.

The Zoom recording Part 2 is on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-XxPmrqMhE&list=PLDARA01MjoyW7WccH9j6yGtI3XZhcE0BD&index=43&t=18s. Featuring Caroline Morgan Di Giovann,i David Brydges, Diana Hayes, George Elliott Clarke, Charlie Petch, Harold Rhenisch, Jennifer Wenn, Karl Jirgens, Kate Braid, Katerina Fretwell, Kim Fahner, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Marianne Micros, Murray Reiss, Patricia Keeney, Peggy Roffey, Solo and RL Raymond.

Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkkLB2mso7E&list=PLDARA01MjoyW7WccH9j6yGtI3XZhcE0BD&index=45 . Featuring Richard-Yves Sitoski, Robert Girvan, Robert Priest, R. Pyx Sutherland, Sharon Thesen, Sheri-D Wilson, Susan McMaster and Akinlabi Ololade Ige, Susan McCaslin, Susan Wismer, Tanis MacDonald, Tolu Oloruntoba, Yvonne Blomer.

Kudos to Rico (Richard-Yves Sitoski), our indomitable host, along with Owen Sound Public Library!  Rico continues to gather our voices in poetry on https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists, 49 so far! Send your videos to him, r_sitoski@yahoo.ca. And please take a listen when you can, when you need to hear these poems. Here’s celebrating National Poetry Month, #npm22.

Attached is our cover for POEMS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, designed by Rico.

Here’s to the community of poets! Gathering voices: so many ways of maintaining connection.
May the conversation continue! For updates, please see Gathering Voices, https://www.facebook.com/groups/PendasProductions.

And here’s my poem, “Toward”, written on the day of the Zoom: https://share.icloud.com/photos/0b2Kvbbwo24LY4DdFhsgtDt6g

May peace prevail, inner and outer,
Penn

Gathering Voices: poets and participants respond to our Zoom

A wonderful event! Still glowing from the sense of purpose generated when poets come together for an important cause. Poetry forever!
Marsha Barber

Thank you all so much for what was an amazing event. Penn, Susan and Richard for your dedication to this cause, and all the poets and audience. It was deeply moving.
Yvonne Blomer

– it was deeply moving, and healing.  Thank you all!
Kate Braid

It was an extraordinary afternoon hearing all the poets read, relating to these dreadful events in Ukraine. The strange thing is that I didn’t realize how I needed to hear the human reactions, responses poetically—Facing this issue head on (through poetry) is, to my mind, part of the eventual reconstruction of world community.
Holly (& Allan) Briesmaster

Richard/Penn: Congratulations on an impressive Zoom launch! Of all the Zoom events in the past few years i have attended this was the most high profile and meaningful with poets caring about the Ukrainian crisis. Plus so many other topics that they are passionate about. I am so heartened Canadian poets are deeply engaged in the tragedies of the day. I look forward to seeing the anthology and am proud that when the history of these times is written there will not be a blank page for the poets.
David Brydges

Today, I spent almost two hours in zoom poetry reading for “Poets In Response To Peril” as organized by Canadian Poet Penn Kemp. When the invasion of Ukraine began, she wanted to put together a chapbook, but instead, the outpouring of Canadian voices created a full-length book.. within days. 
This is a really remarkable and quick effort, and the reading had me in tears as a poetry and people lover.  My cat enjoyed the reading as well. 🙂
The proceeds of the book sales will go to PEN Ukraine.
Please consider purchasing this book in support of the voices of Ukraine and PEN Ukraine.  email inquiries and orders to:r_sitoski@yahoo.ca 
Sarah M. Daugherty

My sincere thanks to Penn and Richard and the Library Zoom meister for arranging a truly astonishing afternoon of poetry, coast to coast. It was an honour to take part. Our poems now go out like prayers to Ukraine and , sadly, other places in our world where people suffering in peril may find a measure of comfort in our words. Poetry does have power. With love,
Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni

Our time together yesterday reminded me of a statement I made years ago. This is it: “Time is the storage place of our memories. And the human heart is the storage place of our tears. I have gone to that place of memories and visited where tears are kept. What I retrieved was the notion that poetry is delightful to the human spirit.” I hope your Sunday is restful and emotionally uplifting.
Albert Dumont

Congratulations on this impressive mobilization of poetic force in support of our allies and fellow artists under attack in Ukraine.
Neil Eddinger

These poets…so amazing…all of them.
Kim Fahner

What an event dear Penn, and such variety and diversity and even Ukrainian spoken! Brava! A huge life-changing Poets in Response to Peril event. Brava/bravo Richard and Penn!! The variety, poignancy, astoundingly creative and delightful videos all contribute to a masterful, memorable production. 
Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

​We were particularly interested in your latest book since it also benefits those affected in the Ukraine. What a beautiful endeavour that helps shed light on the dreadful situation expressed with poetry. It is so beneficial and of course, our residents love reading poetry!
Rebecca Gee

Dear Penn, Rico, Susan and all who made this special event possible…It was an emotional gathering of coast-to-coast poets and poems and I was honoured to be part of the outpouring of love and grief and hope at this time of peril.
Here’s to peace and freedom indeed!
Diana Hayes

Dear Penn & Rico,
Warm thanks for hosting such a wonderful event! It was fabulous.
I know it took a lot of energy to do that. You’re culture heroes!
Excellent reading. — It came out great!
Good to see and hear so many supportive authors!
A strong reading set! — The book extends vital support of Ukraine while condemning war.
What a massive job. Your combined energies on the reading, video and book are deeply appreciated.
Here’s hoping that the war will come to an end soon. 
The world stands against the atrocities.
It is good that Canadian writers also stand against such martial aggression.
Thank you for it all,
Sunflowers for Ukraine) 🌼🌼 🌼
Karl Jirgens

And thanks dear heart for all your continuing efforts. I love that the whole project began with the conviction that poetry makes everything happen…in its time.
Patricia Keeney

Such an amazing project! I hope the blog post, the project (and the new book!) get lots of well-deserved attention and love!
Renée Knapp

Thank you  Richard-Yves Sitoski and Penn Kemp for all the work you put into Saturday’s very moving “Poets in Response to Peril” event. It felt like a teaser for the upcoming anthology. Now I can’t wait to read “Poems in Response to Peril”.
Mary Little

Wonderful initiative, great event. And thanks to you Penn, to Richard-Yves, to Susan McCaslin who worked so hard to bring it to fruition. Thanks to Tim for the technical support. A great gathering. Splendid poetry. Now people should purchase the Anthology and help support Ukraine. But it was great to feel a part of the poetic community this afternoon. I look forward to reading the anthology. There were many powerful, moving poems this afternoon.  
Blaine Marchand

Dear Penn & Richard,
Thanks to you both for collaborating on this wonderful and meaningful event. I hope more books orders flow in. Thanks for all you are doing to get more poets’ voice out to the public, Penn. And thanks for the links you are providing to preserve people’s responses to Saturday’s amazing event. The event continues opening in ever-widening circles!
Susan McCaslin

Yes, thank you Penn, Rico, Tim, Susan, and all of my fellow poets for a most intense and meaningful event. I’ll remember it!
Susan McMaster

One of the poets said that she was falling in love with the community of poets on the zoom. Certainly, it was a wonderful group of poets, both in terms of their poetry and also their humanity. In the midst of sorrow about the war, there was also much beauty in the poets’ words…The breadth and depth of the poems shared by the poets was emotionally moving. Thank you again for putting together such a phenomenal project.
Ola Nowasad

I would like to order a copy of Poems in Response to Peril. I attended the Zoom event on April 2nd and it was phenomenal.
Lisa Reynolds

That was a very rich and varied collection of poems and poets. A delight to be a part of the gathering. Well done, organizers. Thanks!
Peggy Roffey

Sorry Penn for not to be able to participate at event with my voice. I was just ear but not voice. Anyway, I already doing my best with colegues writer here in Bosnia to help some of Ukrainian writer to find temporarry home here in Sarajevo and to be evacuate with great help of German Goethe Institute. I hope I am doing right, aven I have Memory of myself rejecting to leave Sarajevo with my two Children on the beginnig of four years long siege of my city starting 1992.
All the best to you and friends making that event possible.
Goran Simic
Because of a poor connection from Bosnia, Goran was able to be with us only “by ear but not voice.” How ironic, because the voices of those who have known war need to be heard! As this conversation points out:
Dear Mr Simic, (And Everyone else…)
I have not had the pleasure of meeting you, but I do know of your fine work, and have just now read two of your poems, https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/13065/poems-about-migration-love-and-war-by-bosnian-poet-goran-simic. It does not seem right that you could not share your voice at this event, particularly because in addition to your gifts as a poet, you are much closer in many ways to the bloody events unfolding in the Ukraine than many of us here.
Robert Girvan
Dear Robert, thank you for kind words about my poetry. I will be glad to record one of my poems to participate for video Message as Canadian/ Bosnian contribution of poets who alarm the world about attack on Ukrainian state, culture and history. All of my friends writers who survived siege in Sarajevo still feel alive the same scars watching destruction of city and civilians in Ukraina. But with pride for people not to give up struggle. I will do video asap because I spend most of my day on the hill keeping company to the four street abandoned dogs we adopted five years ago.
Goran Simic
Dear Goran,
Excellent! I look forward to seeing you and hearing your voice and words. The lucky ones who have not (yet) faced war, bow their heads to those who have endured it, and listen.
Robert Girvan
Goran has sent the video of his poem for https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists
I hope you do too. His greetings from Sarajevo and the poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mW1KSzzPQ9c&list=PLDARA01MjoyW7WccH9j6yGtI3XZhcE0BD&index=41.

I am still feeling the pleasure of seeing you in your great blue and yellow costume, and the 
 honour of being involved in the  hours of poetic tension that was so invigorating,  even in the perilous present.
Elizabeth Waterston

All I can say is
Thank you and love to you.
You are a great inspiration,
your spirit, insights and grace
encourage me, inspire.
Sheri-D Wilson

Please let me add my voice to those who have already thanked the organizers and all who attended yesterday’s reading.  It was indeed a marathon and, as one of the final readers, it was gratifying to see how many people hung in through the whole reading in an amazing outpouring of solidarity, support and yes, love. As Richard has noted, if even a fraction of that positive reverse-bomb energy intervenes in places in the world where people’s lives are torn by violence, we will have done our bit for peace and for the sustainable future of humanity. I look forward to receiving my copies of the anthology. 
Susan Wismer

The Cover Reveal!

Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology

Preorder now from r_sitoski@yahoo.ca!

Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology highlights the work by 48 of our most committed Canadian poets, responding to the current crisis in Ukraine and other perils afflicting our troubled times. These passionate, often heartbreaking, poems offer us sunflowers and broken earth; intimacy and grief; falling bombs and the fragility of flesh; AK-47s and a bride’s bouquet. This anthology couldn’t be more timely and necessary.

Poems in Response to Peril is 125 pages of poetry that describe what Penn Kemp calls “a sharing of community, of heart space. Such an outlet for despair helps us—both writer and reader— to become activists. The poems encompass the entirety of human emotions, written and published in the white heat of this moment in 2022. The videos of readings by our contributors will be linked by q.r. code in the book! You can see 40 readings now up on https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists.

Poems in Response to Peril will be published in Spring, 2022 by Pendas Productions/Laughing Raven Press. Pre-orders are $25 plus postage. To order Poems in Response to Peril, please email Richard-Yves Sitoski, r_sitoski@yahoo.ca.

 Here’s celebrating National Poetry Month with poems that move us to action! 

”Piercing Hearts: poets ‘are talking tough’ and their words make a difference”  The London Free Press, March 5, 2022, https://lfpress.com/entertainment/local-arts/poets-are-talking-tough-and-their-words-make-a-difference.

 https://www.facebook.com/groups/PendasProductions/ 
www.pennkemp.wordpress.com
https://pennkemp.substack.com/publish?s=w.

Gary Barwin: Poetry Matters, from POEMS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, Pendas Productions

Couplets and Cupcakes for Ukraine

What is the responsibility of poets in times of crisis? The ability to respond.

On April 2 at 2pm EDT, you’re invited to attend Poets in Response to Peril, an online event in which poets offer reflections and poems on the power and limitations of poetry in times of crisis. Registration: https://rsitoski.com/event-details/poets-in-response-to-peril…

Among our featured poets are Russell Thornton and Svetlana Ischenko. They will read from Poems from the Scythian Wild Field by celebrated Ukrainian poet Dmytro Kremin (Ekstasis Editions), first in Ukrainian and then in their English translation.  

We are also reaching out directly to Ukraine, at the request of an Ukrainian publisher “to inspire and give support”: https://anetta-publishers.com/pages/16.

Cupcakes
From Blackfriars Bistro & Catering: “In our commitment to support the Ukraine war relief, we will be donating 100% of the sales of our Ukraine Flag-inspired Cupcakes to the humanitarian relief efforts & fight against the Russian Occupation. You can pick-up cupcakes in our pantry/larder or pre order by calling 519-667-4930.” And they will send cupcakes too! See blackfriarsbistro.com, 46 Blackfriars St, London, ON N6H 1K7.  

Couplets
This poem was written for April’s National Poetry Month theme of “Intimacy”.

Our Kind of Intimate

What could be more intimate than
constant streaming on our screens,
images plastered on the occipital
nerve, imprinted, planted, permanent?

What more intimate than a tiny cell,
replicating green and reptilian-spiked,
one that multiplies in our bodies as
Covid spreads, as familiar Omicron?

What more intimate than a deep love
roping in family, friends, and foreign
faces on the Web to our known orbit?

In the knowledge that we are all one
multi-armed huge beast we call humanity.
backed for or against, wholly, alone.

What could be more intimate than
a marriage under siege, the bride’s
bouquet between her and him in
 camouflage, weapons at the ready?

A sharp pang of metal piercing flesh,
the rude intrusion of steel into bone.
Sounds haunting the bloodstream
linger along what once were halls

of the bombed maternity hospital,
children still under the walls, not to
speak of infants, mothers in labour.

What more intimate than the time
when thought coalesces into form
between pen and paper, text onto key
board? Before words arise and fall

in place, the sacred alphabet arranged
just so in orderly progression that never
before has taken shape, as the poem is
birthed? Its aftermath, crimson placenta

of relief, grief given way to gratitude
that something remains while entire
civilizations collapse and fall. The fall
resounding rings hollow down our ears.

In our time and beyond, throughout
the barriers of history being broken,
the current kind of intimate intimidates
us not into submission—but to action.

PK

And let us remember and respond to the many other crises ongoing in Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Myanmar and Congo:  https://www.rescue.org/article/top-10-crises-world-cant-ignore-2022.
And then there is climate change…

Arms And The Boy

In our time all the world’s worst
clichés are actualised in stark paradox,
explosive irony.

I am swimming in happiness
rain cocooning my window pane
when TV presents unfriendly fire
dropping smart bombs far-off.

I fall through the scream as if to land
among proud and elegant peoples
divided by civil, uncivil arms.

Dispossessed of the West they thought they knew,
dis/oriented, where do they turn?
Women and men cleaving, cleft, bereft.

City institutions crack under cloud cover.
The clans, the earth, rent in spring rain.
Shovels at a narrow grave.

The image that struck me most
was a fourteen-year-old boy,
just skin and bones. The men were
burying him when

crossed, his last gesture,
an ache up arms’ inner
two tears ran down his cheeks.

That boy survived but cannot speak.
Language is lost in war, though lies thrive.

PK

Blackfriars Bistro

A Gathering of Poets in Response to Peril

🌻

In his famous elegy for W. B. Yeats, W. H. Auden says, “poetry makes nothing happen.” He adds: “it survives,/A way of happening, a mouth.”

In response to Auden, please join our Zoom reading on April 2, 2022 at 2 pm EST. This “Oh!Sound Reading” will feature many of the poets below. Details are posted on https://www.rsitoski.com/event-details/poets-in-response-to-peril. Please respond there if you can join us for National Poetry Month. Along with host Richard-Yves Sitoski, we will be celebrating How Poems MatterWhy Poems Matter.

How do poets respond to precarious events in the world? Susan McCaslin writes : “On Feb. 24, 2022, when the world woke to the shock of the catastrophic bombing of Ukraine, I asked myself and a few of my fellow poet friends how they would respond to Auden’s words, especially in these perilous times.” Susan and I discussed this line from Auden and continued with our own reflections on activism through poetry in this “Dialogue: Reflections on W.H. Auden’s ‘Poetry Makes Nothing Happen’”:  https://www.inanna.ca/2018/11/29/art-action-transformation/.

I continued curating this project, with thanks to all the contributing poets. It’s published on March FORTH, the only day of the year that is a command! See The London Free Press column on Saturday, March 5 on https://lfpress.com/entertainment/local-arts/poets-are-talking-tough-and-their-words-make-a-difference with a video of my introduction to our project and a video reading of two poems for Ukraine up on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqEczOl0OyQ. Thanks to the LFP for their ongoing support of poetry! Here’s to peace with freedom!

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

🌻

How Poems MatterWhy Poems Matter.

Poetry makes the song of the heart shape the architecture the eye creates.” Jim Andrews

“I mean this little visual as a statement of how poetry can matter. I feel that it can place us in the meaningful nexus between being epistemological warriors and worriers. Both meaningful positions to consider the world. Poetry makes nothing happen? It does make things happen in terms of epistemology, both as a view on the outside world and one’s internal world.” Gary Barwin

“Poetry makes nothing obvious, nothing earth-shaking happen. At first. But it’s a slow ignition that can light up your life later, on the right day, at the right time, right when you need it most.” Kate Braid

“In the dark hours we place a bird beside a crumbled citadel, a voice inside a crowded tunnel, a mother singing in her mother tongue to a baby who cannot sleep. The image, metaphor, voice  resonates with the rhythms of heart beat and pulse, this for me is poetry. Where we turn in the dark and in the light.” Yvonne Blomer

David C. Brydges

“The poet’s lampoon must never go dull. Poetry precisely pricks the diplomatic bubble mask with such elegant savagery. Poetry without provocation is a seed without soil. Poets are society’s second government of conscience and dissent. Poets are language light-bearers in darker times. Poets are historians capturing a community’s tragedies and triumphs. We record and share our humanity so others can identify, empathize, and be inspired. Helping to bring wholeness to the human journey when hearts are broken. A poem is a small act as contemporary artist Ai Weiwei says on taking action: “A small act is worth a million thoughts.” Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves, they can do a little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving. — statement in the cemetery where Jackson Pollock is buried.” David C. Brydges

“Tyrants hate poets: Ovid was exiled by Augustus, Mandelstam was killed by Stalin, Neruda banished by Pinochet, Hikmet imprisoned in Turkey. When I hear the word Putin I reach for my sonnet!”
Andrei Codrescu

“Poetry is the translation of silences into words.” Sadiqa de Meijer

“When I woke up to the news of war I had no words. And spent a few days disoriented. I stumbled upon a recording I did for the “slow erosions” chapbook launch in January 2021. These poems anchored me, opened a space and I have listened to them since many times and shared with friends. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpr6Vpkw8d0&list=PLhdtAvxoVAXFJJj9a_pUXRCsAUN-TWawy” Daniela Elza

“Poetry is the place where the light gets into a person’s heart and mind on darker days. It’s the way hope lives in the world, saying ‘yes’ even when everything else seems to say ‘no.’ Poetry transports, transforms, and transmutes. It’s strong magic, and words have power—especially in the face of apathy or tyranny. Poetry asks you to pay attention, to observe, to be the witness, and then it asks you to write the words down on paper and give them a clear, true voice.” Kim Fahner

“Auden also wrote, ‘But it survives/ A way of happening, a mouth.’” In perilous times, poetry is hope, and hope is awareness. Hope is clarity.” Carolyn Forché. Carolyn also gave us permission to add this link to a reading on March 1 of “Voices for Ukraine–Words together, Worlds apart.”

The reading inspired this little poem:
SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION

When Ilya Kaminsky thanks
Carolyn Forché for her reading
dedicated to the city of Odessa


“where two things were esteemed,
poetry and ships”–in the subtitle
below, his word “reading” appears

aptly as “vineyard”.
Penn Kemp

“Poetry homes right into the heart and soul and this wisdom is essential as the world spins out of alignment. For too long, poetry has been marginalized; it needs to be central to daily living and acting to manifest inclusion, peace and communal care for everyone.” Katerina Fretwell

Gary Snyder, quoted by Kerry Gilbert below.

“You do what you can, as a citizen, and as a poet. Poetry, it seems to me, pushes against the degradation of language, and opens a space for the human.” Robert Girvan

“Poetry, especially when it is read aloud, can stir the most hardened heart to all that is possible. Poetry may well be our (and the Earth’s) most potent hope.” Heidi Greco  

“Poems connect us.
They are ambassadors when grief blinds us, when joy takes our breath away, when memories visit in the night and don’t leave a name.
Poems are rhythms of peace in a world of ancient battles.
They offer refuge from the front lines when there is little to believe or trust.
They offer a map to the heart, a path otherwise lost.
And finally, poems are followed by silence, the space between words, the knowing that cannot be told with language.” Diana Hayes

“A LITTLE NOTHING: POETRY MATTERS
When words fail, war is apt for displaying insanity.
Does matter matter? In wars of words, matter dissembles, lies.
It’s said, meter matters, metrics matter,
think of Fiona Hill: “…he wouldn’t, would he? Well, yes, he would.”
It’s said, maters matter, mother-tongues matter, meaning matters,
sometimes something trumps nothing
sometimes something lies amidst the branches of insulation
sometimes nothing
sometimes something lies
in the valley of its un-making
some times a thing — a too busy grief
some times no thing
for now, better, no thing
a word-less nothing”
Karl Jirgens

“Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, all the arts, including “folk arts” nourish Life itself and celebrate the creativity of the human spirit and address the Why of being alive. War destroys Life. Some arts remind us of that destruction: ‘Guernica,’ war symphonies, and graphic expressions of death. Arts also can evoke Being itself, even capturing the love and mystical sense of harmony that quietly permeate all the energy-events in the Universe. Above all, poetry and its companion arts embody that sense of Presence in our mutual humanity and aspirations of the spirit. To the No of destructive forces, they are the everlasting Yes to Life.” Lee Johnson

Jim Andrews

“As Wislawa Szymborska writes, ‘Poetry isn’t recreation, a respite from life. It is life.’ Poetry is also a hiatus, a lift out of the daily round. Just as we support white Ukraine, may we support all activists against tyranny. May we celebrate peace with freedom.
From FAST POEM for UKRAINE
The dark day we saw
coming. We heard it
coming. But we thought
we could for-
stall war.
Disbelief and shock there.
Disbelief and shock here.
Will new and expanded
sanctions work? Tears
are never enough. As if
poems could help. As
if words would work.
“We now have war in Europe
that is of a scale and type
unparalleled in history.”
“This will not shake Europe.”
But it already has.
May Kyiv keep safe beneath the holy
mantle of Maty Zemlya, Mother Earth
as if prayers are enough. Send money.
‘Prove that you are with us. Prove
that you will not let us go,’ demands
President Volodymyr Zelensky of us.”
Penn Kemp

“My most recent effort is a poem trying to express how crucial battered old trees are for wildlife—the very ones people (including most arborists) would deem hazardous. Every tree matters to something alive, and the dead and dying sometimes most of all. I confess I hope the poem saves trees.” Chris Lowther

“Because poetry’s nothing is so much better than a poetryless nothing. 
Because Auden also wrote “we must love one another or die.” Tanis MacDonald

“Though poetry may change nothing in Auden’s sense, it has the power to transform consciousness. Change for the betterment of the whole is incremental when in the seed state, but capable of blossoming in the fulness of time. Poetry has the power to open hearts and minds to what poet and novelist Joy Kogawa calls “the arc of goodness.” Susan McCaslin

“Poetry is the voice of the spaces between the words, of the heart between the beats, of the caught breath before the long exhale. It’s not a naming of what we feel and perceive and think and imagine, but a net to capture all of those in its evocations and place them in our hands, to weave our own tale. Poetry hums and sings and says what can’t be said.” Susan McMaster

“No one goes to war for a poem. If the world were filled with poets, and those who read poetry, perhaps the only conflict would be the shortage of time in which to appreciate them all.” Sandra Nicholls

“A n d  P o e t r y  S t a r t e d  t o  R u s h  O u t 
A hole opened in the sky
And poetry started to rush out
At first we thought there must be so much poetry
It would take forever to empty the world
But each poem stretched the hole wider
And so now we must get to work again
We must breathe into the word
And let language rise up among us
If there is no poetry left in the world
Our kind will die forever
Without poetry we will not walk
Into the middle of the river
Just to see what’s done
To our reflections by the waves
Quicker than time can drag poetry
Gasping away forever
We must make up the new world
New words new ways”
Robert Priest

“Poetry takes one view of the world and smashes it, giving the writer — and in turn the reader — a way to reassemble it, examine it, reassess it.” R L Raymond

“I’ve always read that Auden quote — “poetry makes nothing happen” — from a somewhat Buddhist perspective. Nothing. Emptiness. The radiant creative void. Poetry makes it happen.” Murray Reiss

“There is a thickening, the moment water seeping from wetness forms a drop, just before it falls as the watering called in shorthand water and another forms from the wet. Thickening is the opening in the world that forms awareness, that tradition calls the self. It is a shell, that gathers life in and then gives it away. Call that the skull, if you like, a shallow bowl, a shawl, and a shaping. There is space that holds memory, that minds it, then pours it out into other cups, from which people drink it down, in repetition of the original thickening. It is good, they say, to the last drop. It can be found in gardens, wells and the sound of feet on shore that is called sand and gravel, after feet call them to the ear. When tamed, and harnessed, it is called the self, and moves into worlds of artifice. In that form, wild things, that shift by the world’s will, avoid its halters. It can, however, be the passing on of breath, formed in lungs, throat, mouth and with tongue and palette and lip, and in that form it carries through air to a listening ear, which reforms its dance as sound. When the eye joins in, this sound becomes the tracks of birds on paper. To be complete, a voice must complete the triad and lift it again into the air, dancing it again in the mouth.”
Harold Rhenisch

“As poet Don McKay writes, ‘poetry makes “nothing” HAPPEN. Gives the mute heart a tongue, awakens somnolent minds, brings memories back to life and life to conscious engagement.’”
“from WHY POETRY?
Why poetry or any art
in this time of planetary crisis?
how can a mere scatter of words
bright strokes of a brush
or melodies loosed to the wind
stay the daily dying off
of species we will never see again?…
Auden on the death of Yeats
bitterly laments in almost tuneless mourning
that poetry ‘makes nothing happen’
but finds the faith to move on
makes bleakness blossom
in measured blank verse
until it blooms in lofty rhyme
affirming art in a ferocious time.”
Peggy Roffey

“Living the last years in my hometown Sarajevo which survived the four years’ long siege, I noticed many of my friends often reached to poetry books dealing with war, rather than to history books that make every single life looks like numbers. Watching on TV the attack on Ukraine, the only thing I can write now, as a survivor, is a short poem:
Warrior, if you come back to your hometown in uniform
Everybody will ask you how many enemies you killed
But once changing your clothes
Nobody will ask you
How many times you were killed
On your way back home.”
Goran Simic

“Poetry connects us through space and time, through, between and beyond the words themselves. ” Christine Smart

“The nothing that poetry makes happen is pure potential. It’s Zen mushin space. It’s chaos in the original sense of the term, the yawning void that precedes matter and order. It’s a charged emptiness, an electric paradox, infinitude which has the wherewithal to (ful)fill itself. Poetry restores the primacy of the unknown, the unknowable, the unnameable. Poetry is for those of us who find meaning not in answers, but in questions.” Richard-Yves Sitoski

“Poetry is our body’s knowledge. Seeping from blood to ink, where the senses meet soul. Poetry creates bridges from the invisible to visible, crossing all borders. It writes us anew in the midst of hardship and companions us as a lover.” Celeste Snowber

“THIS VAST ROBE
We will,
Wear this vast robe together
Repair the vast robe together
We will
Share ‘this’ – our one Vast Robe
Together”
Roberta Pyx Sutherland

“Poetry reminds us of our deepest humanity. It is the human spirit expressed in language, pulling us back to what inspires and lightens the soul: hope, empathy, faith in the possibility of a future despite history’s continual attempts to eradicate it.” Eva Tihanyi

Here, in the cemetery,
you see the oddest people
with flowers, all searching
for a place they know
and bruised over the place
where the heart is.
When I come here–which I do
only in words–I tell them to walk
slowly, to look for every bit of death
they can find in the works of art
around them:  life is buried there,
where we go.
MTC Cronin, quoted by Sharon Thesen

“Poetry can go beyond prose, bypass intellectualization, and enter an intuitional realm that connects with each of us on a deep emotional and spiritual level.  When this happens there is an extraordinary resonance and true transformation becomes possible, indeed almost inevitable.” Jennifer Wenn

“Sometimes poetry is the invisible thread, the line, that connects us to our own humanity, humility. Realms open – hearts, bodies, spirits, minds. The poem flies into our beings – to unravel the unravelling world.” Sheri-D Wilson

“Poetry as the voice of the heart strings is how it matters.” Elana Wolff

🌻

Poet standing for Ukraine

Two Poems for Ukraine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqEczOl0OyQ. Video: Mike Hensen

2020 Holiday Recommendations

Curling Up

with a Great Book!

Superb Canadian writing highly recommended, grouped idiosyncratically

First, by women

Pairing books by Indigenous Writers: Michelle Good, Five Little Indians; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost, Islands of Decolonial Love and Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies.

Pairing pandemic novels: Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars; Saleema Nawaz’s Songs for the End of the World and Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu.

Pairing BC novelists: Shaena Lambert’s Petra Maria Reva; Good Citizens Need Not Fear; Caroline Adderson’s A Russian Sister and Anakana Schofield’s Bina.

Pairing books on relationship: Christy Ann Conlon’s Watermark; Annabel Lyon, Consent; Lynn Coady, Watching You Without Me; Shani Mootoo, Polar Vortex; Vivek Shraya, The Subtweet; Frances Itani, The Company We Keep.

Pairing Westerns: Gil Adamson’s Ridgerunner; Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel; Helen Humphreys’s Rabbit Foot Bill and Kate Pullinger’s Forest Green.

Pairing fiction set abroad:  Aislinn Hunter’s The Certainties. Janie Chang’s The Library of Legends; Sarah Leipciger’s Coming Up For Air; Marianne Micros’s Eye; Louise Penny’s All the Devils Are Here; Lisa Robertson’s Baudelaire Fractals. Anne Simpson’s Speechless AND Farzana Doctor’s magnificent Seven.

Non-Fiction
Carol Bishop-Gwyn, Art and Rivalry: The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt
Lorna Crozier, Through the Garden: A Love Story (with Cats)
Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
Theresa Kishkan, Euclid’s Orchard & Other Essays
Amanda Leduc, Disfigured
Susan McCaslin & J.S. Porter, Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine
Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Lynne (E.F.) McKechnie, and Paulette M. Rothbauer, Reading still matters: what the research reveals about reading, libraries, and community
Susan Vande Griek and Mark Hoffmann, Hawks Kettle, Puffins Wheel
Elizabeth Waterston, Railway Ties 1888-1920
Jody Wilson-Raybould, From where I stand: rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a stronger Canada

Awards
The Writers’ Trust Award goes to Gil Adamson for Ridgerunner!
The Giller goes to Souvankham Thammavongsa for How to Pronounce Knife
The Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize goes to Armand Garnet Ruffo

Reading Canadian men
Billy-Ray Belcourt, A history of my brief body
Dennis Bock, The Good German
Michael Christie, Greenwood: A Novel of a Family Tree in a Dying Forest
Desmond Cole, The Skin We’re In
David Frum, Trumpocalypse
William Gibson, Agency
Rawi Hage, Beirut Hellfire Society
Thomas King, Indians on Vacation
Thomas King, Obsidian: A DreadfulWater Mystery
Kurt Palka, The hour of the fox: a novel
Andrew Pyper, The residence
Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Robin Robertson, The long take: a Noir Narrative
Jesse Thistle, From the Ashes
Clive Thompson, Coders
Richard Wagamese, Keeper’n Me

Back to Poetry, Canadian and Beyond
Madhur Anand, A new index for predicting catastrophes: poems
Margaret Atwood, Dearly
Adèle Barclay, Renaissance normcore
Gary Barwin, For it is a PLEASURE and a SURPRISE to Breathe: new & selected Poems
Heather Birrell, Float and scurry
Jericho Brown, The Tradition 
Lucas Crawford, The high line scavenger hunt
Amber Dawn, My Art is Killing Me
Dom Domanski, Bite down little whisper
Klara du Plessis, Ekke
Nathan Dueck, A very special episode / brought to you by Nathan Dueck
Chantal Gibson, How She Read
Julie Hartley, Deboning a dragon
Karen Houle, The Grand River Watershed: a folk ecology
Patricia Keeney, Orpheus in Our World
Kaie Kellough, Magnetic equator 
Canisia Lubrin, The Dyzgraph*st
Daphne Marlatt, Intertidal: The Collected Earlier Poems, 1968 – 2008
Jane Munro, Glass Float
Harold Rhenisch, The Spoken World 
Robin Richardson, Knife throwing through self-hypnosis: poems
Anne Simpson, Strange attractor: poems
John Elizabeth Stintzi, Junebat
Moez Surani, Are the Rivers in Your Poems Real?

See more recommendations on https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2020/08/31/31booksinaugust/ , https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/reading-and-recommending-poems-for-national-poetry-month-2020/ and https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2020/11/06/on-reading-new-work-by-canadian-women-novelists/On reading new work by Canadian women novelists.

Anthologies
Best Canadian poetry 2019   
Measures of astonishment: poets on poetry / presented by the League of Canadian Poets
Caroline Adderson, editor. The Journey prize stories: the best of Canada’s new writers
Nyla Matuk, editor. Resisting Canada: an anthology of poetry
Adam Sol, How a poem moves: a field guide for readers of poetry

Beloved Books on Spiritual Ecology
Tim Dee, Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Diana Beresford-Kroeger, To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest
Robert Macfarlane, Underland
Richard Powers, The Overstory
Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life

Deepest, Longest and most Transformative Read of 2020
Peter Kingsley, Reality, Catafalque Press, 2020
(and Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom)

International Reads
John Banville, Snow
Neil Gaiman, American Gods: The moment of the storm. 3
Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings
Lily King, Writers and Lovers
Natsuo Kirino, The goddess chronicle
E. J Koh, The magical language of others: A memoir
Raven Leilani, Luster
Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights
William Maxwell, So long, see you tomorrow
Ian McEwan, Machines like me: and people like you
Ian McEwan, Cockroach
Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: the revolution
David Mitchell, Utopia
Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
Naomi Shihab Nye, Cast away: poems for our time
Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet and Judith
Tommy Pico, Feed
Samantha Power, The Education of an Idealist
Omid Safi, Radical love: teachings from the Islamic mystical tradition
Jake Skeets, Eyes bottle dark with a mouthful of flowers / poems by Jake Skeets
Mirabai Starr, Wild mercy: living the fierce and tender wisdom of the women mystics
Natasha Trethewey, Memorial Drive
Mary L. Trump, Too Much and Never Enough
Ruth Ware, The Turn of the Key
Jennifer Weiner, Big Summer
Niall Williams, This is Happiness
Bob Woodward, Rage

About to read (sometime, soon-ish)
Madhur Anand, This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart
Marianne Apostolides, I can’t get you out of my mind: a novel
Nina Berkhout, Why Birds Sing
Carol Bruneau, Brighten the Corner Where You Are: A Novel Inspired by the Life of Maud Lewis
Cathy Marie Buchanan, Daughter of Black Lake
Catherine Bush, Blaze Island
Louise Carson, The Cat Possessed
Dede Crane, Madder Woman
Lorna Crozier, The House the Spirit Builds
Francesca Ekwuyasi, Butter Honey Pig Bread
Heather Haley, Skookum Raven
Catherine Hernandez, Crosshairs
Natalie Jenner, The Jane Austen Society
Shari Lapena, The End of Her
Jessica J. Lee, Two trees make a forest: travels among Taiwan’s mountains & coasts in search of my family’s past
Tanis MacDonald, Mobile
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic
Noor Naga, Washes, Prays
C.L. Polk, The Midnight Bargain
Damian Rogers, An Alphabet for Joanna: A Portrait of My Mother in 26 Fragments
Johanna Skibsrud, Island
Susan Swan, The Dead Celebrities Club
Emily Urquhart, The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father, and Me
Natalie Zina Walschots, Hench: a novel

AND…
Jordan Abel, Nishga
André Alexis, The Night Piece: Collected Short Fiction
Bill Arnott, Gone Viking
John Barton, Lost Family 
David Bergen, Here the Dark
Wade Davis, Magdalena: river of dreams 
Cory Doctorow, Radicalized
Cory Doctorow, Attack Surface
Gary Geddes, Out of the ordinary: politics, poetry and narrative
Steven Heighton, Reaching Mithymna: among the volunteers and refugees on Lesvos
Kaie Kellough, Dominoes at the Crossroads
David A. Robertson, Black Water
Mark Sampson, All the Animals on Earth
J.R. (Tim) Struthers (Editor), Alice Munro Everlasting: Essays on Her Works II
Mark Truscott, Branches
Ian Williams, Reproduction

Most of these books have come to me through London Public Library, now celebrating 125 years! Thank you!
Others came from Indie bookstores and friends. None from Amazon.

Check out my own books on http://pennkemp.weebly.com/works.html.

Read on ! Read often:)

Poem for the Fourteen

Invocation: for all those missing and murdered

Come say hello, women. While the veils are still

thin, we welcome your presence, no longer missed

but present, with all the disappeared you stand for.

As if you were in the prime of life now. As if

your daughters bloomed full-grown around you.

As if your mothers were crying delighted tears.

And if you were here to see what has changed

and what has not, would you hide your eyes in

shame for what has been done, what has not?

Come into the light and tell us how you are. As

if you have life beyond what we recall or remember

before this dark December claims its own again.

https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/another-invocation/?fbclid=IwAR04DnqiyRBbiV3Nc2ZTENGNsU92OxBkduVP4a-wQxn34ANvJqztAgWcU8Q

http://tuckmagazine.com/2017/12/01/poetry-1150/

Sounds of Trance Formation

“For Penn Kemp, poetry is magic made manifest. While her subjects are varied, and her interests and approaches have evolved over the years, Kemp has always understood the power of spoken word to evoke emotion, shift consciousness, and shape the world. Drawing on a syncretic blend of spiritual philosophy informed by Alchemy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other wisdom traditions, Kemp’s work is imminent and transcendent, embodied and cerebral. The words on the page produce certain effects, while the voices in the air produce others altogether.”
The Sounds of Trance Formation: An Interview with Penn Kemp”
Nick Beauchesne, Spoken Web Canada. To be podcast in December 2020.

“Refining the Alchemical Ear: Adept Listening Practices and the Poetry of George Bowering, Margaret Atwood, and Penn Kemp”
Nick Beauchesne, https://spokenweb.ca/events/virtual-listening-practice-guided-by-nick-beauchesne/
This workshop is a brief foray toward an “adept” listening practice; that is, to listen to poetry from the perspective of an aspiring adept, a seeker of spiritual and poetic truths. What can we learn about the seeker’s path, and about poetry, from the Masters? What is the relationship between magic, word, and sound? How does the experience change when encountering these verses visually vs. orally? Analog vs. digital? This week, Nick Beauchesne curates three poems selected from the University of Alberta’s SpokenWeb collection. These poems have been digitized from reel-to-reel recordings of poetry readings captured at the U of A in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and delivered by some heavy-hitters of Canadian literature. These readings touch on themes and practices derived from Alchemy, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age philosophy. George Bowering, Margaret Atwood, and Penn Kemp (formerly Penny Chalmers) are the magical Masters from whom we will learn some new “tricks” of the poetic (and magical) trade. Research project with an interest in the study, preservation and creative use of literary and humanities-oriented audio recordings.”

On reading new work by Canadian women writers

And the Giller goes to Souvankham Thammavongsa for How to Pronounce Knife! Congratulations! And Congratulations as well to the other finalists!

Superb writing that I highly recommend, grouped here idiosyncratically.

Pairing Westerns: Gil Adamson’s Ridgerunner; Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel; Helen Humphreys’s Rabbit Foot Bill and Kate Pullinger’s Forest Green.

Pairing work set abroad: Shaena Lambert’s Petra; Janie Chang’s The Library of Legends; Louise Penny’s All the Devils Are Here. Lisa Robertson, Baudelaire Fractals. Pairing Caroline Adderson’s A Russian Sister and Sarah Leipciger, Coming Up For Air. AND Farzana Doctor’s Seven.

Pairing pandemic novels: Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars; Saleema Nawaz’s Songs for the End of the World and Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu.

Pairing books on relationship by Annabel Lyon, Consent; Lynn Coady, Watching You Without Me; Shani Mootoo, Polar Vortex;  Frances Itani, The Company We Keep.

Pairing books by Indigenous Writers: Michelle Good, Five Little Indians; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost

Memoir: Lorna Crozier, Through the Garden: A Love Story (with Cats)

Sans pareil: Naomi Klein, On Fire. Not a novel: I wish it were!

About to read (sometime, soon-ish):

Marianne Apostolides, I can’t get you out of my mind: a novel
Carol Bruneau, Brighten the Corner Where You Are: A Novel Inspired by the Life of Maud Lewis
Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Day the Falls Stood Still
Cathy Marie Buchanan, Daughter of Black Lake
Catherine Bush, Blaze Island
Catherine Hernandez, Crosshairs
Maria Reva, Good Citizens Need Not Fear 
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies
Elizabeth Waterston,  Railway Ties 1888-1920

Hoping to read:
(Attention, London Library! Every other book listed here is in your collection. Please take the hint…)
Dede Crane, Madder Woman
Lorna Crozier, The House the Spirit Builds

Celebrating Wordsfest, tuning in to MORE Literary Arts!


Then back to new poetry. And back to writing…

Feature image: Daniela Sneppova
Photo of me age 7: Jim Kemp

Penn Letter for October 2020

How to reach out in these pandemic times? Poetry will see us through.
I’ve been publishing, perhaps in compensation for social isolation.

New Published Work

Choice, for Harold Rhenish, Train Poetry Journal. http://trainpoetryjournal.blogspot.com/

For bpNichol

Shaking his mane,
holding his pain, he
roars with yellow
toothed laughter so
large it spills over
into song; birds

catch the drift and
carry on all measure
beyond any known
syntax into currents
contemporary all
ways.

Echolocations Magazine #18, October 2020.  And for the strangest tribute to bpNichol ever:  https://www.instagram.com/tv/CF0fI3tA1ef/?igshid=5unlmzn1xl97 @ 52.15. https://www.echolocationmagazine.com/

A Short History of Epiphany            

And what might the difference have been
if Three Queens came bearing gifts…“An
evolutionary epiphany,” Susan declares.

Imagine if the Queens came first, only to be
superseded by three patriarchs bearing gold
(the capitalists); frankincense (down a long
church history of swinging censors); sticky
myrrh (more generally used in embalming.)

Imagine what the Queens would deliver.
Hot water, hot soup, clean clothes, diapers.
Compassion, blankets, a room key to the Inn.

for Susan McCaslin and Katerina Fretwell

The Choice to Take… or to Receive: Bounty

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">                                <em> For Lynne and for our beloved Elders</em>                                 For Lynne and for our beloved Elders

Having found the elderberry bush at the time of ripening berries, you
and I return with buckets and scissors, even a step ladder. Round and
round the bush we go, stripping the tendrils of the tender black globes.

What jelly or cordial or jam they’ll make! I pull down higher branches
for you, till one lashes you in the face. Berries at the crown are the most
luscious, gleaming inaccessibly in full sun. How to reach the unreachable?

In our haste to collect as many umbels as we can, we trample surrounding
Jerusalem artichokes, goldenrod and jewelweed despite their sweet blooms.
Transgressing, we snatch the fruit rather than asking the bush’s permission.

That night, we spend hours separating poisonous stems and leaves from precious
fruit. You make jelly; I an elderberry crumble, both exquisite. But when we meet
next day, we realize our greed in grabbing rather than receiving such abundance.

So we return with sage and sweetgrass to smudge the bush and recite Green Tara
mantras, asking forgiveness. Elder has recovered overnight from our ravishment—
unripe umbrellas are fully ripe. The bush appears to offer them freely this time.

“List List”, Sad Girl Review, Issue 5, www.sadgirlreview.com.

Forthcoming

“Wishing Well” has been selected from nearly 2000 submissions by the programme commission to be a part of the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival. The ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival will be taking place from 19 to 22 November 2020 in the Kino in der KulturBrauerei in Berlin. You can see Mary McDonald’s animation and my text on https://riverrevery.ca/text-of-river-revery/wishing-well/!

News

Here’s the update of my work of Playwright Biography Project: https://cwrc.ca/islandora/object/cwrc%3A53bf983f-2025-4c27-ae1e-86ddb0e11645, August  2020.

I invite you to my Page, http://www.facebook.com/pennkemppoet. Please do join my Facebook groups, Support & Promote Canadian Arts & Culture http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=27449691026, where you can post Canadian events! & Gathering Voices, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=3992303404. Also we can connect on http://www.twitter.com/pennkemp and http://www.linkedin.com/pennkemp.

A panacea of poems in the pandemic

I’m so grateful to Joe Belanger and the Free Press for supporting the arts and local artists.
Poetry really can console and articulate our emotions in the pandemonium of pandemic. But imagine, a local newspaper publishing new poems!  and these three of mine are so beautifully laid out with room for the poems to breathe! But, hey, embrace me from 6 feet away, okay? 🙂

BELANGER: It’s time to embrace London’s poet laureate, Penn Kemp, and all artists

It’s funny the things you think of when the going gets tough.

London poet Penn Kemp explores the pandemic in her writing as the country has a muted celebration of Poetry Month. JOE BELANGER

It’s funny the things you think of when the going gets tough.

Like everyone else in recent weeks, I could feel the sun’s warmth, see the green tips coming through the garden soil and welcome the crocuses.

It’s spring arriving, yet there wasn’t a big smile on my face; no, just the tension of uncertainty and foreboding that goes hand-in-hand with the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then I heard Penn Kemp’s voice on the telephone and a smile arrived.

I can’t help it. London’s first poet laureate and one of this country’s great writing talents always offers up some delightful word treats that usually provoke a smile, sometimes laughter and even tears that eventually give way to serious pondering of the words, ideas and observations she so expertly writes on paper.

I should have anticipated the phone call because April is poetry month and, more often than not, a chance for me to reconnect with Kemp, who has written more than 30 books of poetry and drama and is renowned as a spoken word performer.

Penn Kemp is a perpetual reminder to me of why we need our artists and I couldn’t wait to find out how she’s been keeping, but even more excited to find out what she’s doing.

“Life as usual for a writer, I’m at home,” said Kemp, for whom a degree of isolation is a natural consequence of her art.

“But we feel it all so deeply. The irony and the consolation or disparity in it all is spring’s arrival – the return of warmth against the depths of sadness and sorrow of so many people passing. There’s so much information coming at us, we’re inundated with so much grief. For me, poetry can console.”

And then I read her new words, in her new poem titled, What We Remember, words this horror has provoked that grabbed my heart and told me I am not alone. The opening stanza drawing tears . . .

So many are leaving the planet and yet

are with us, still and still.

How they hover,

the lost, the bewildered, the wild ones!

Clearly life during a pandemic hasn’t escaped Kemp’s gaze or understanding; it has provoked her muse to sing.

There are two more poems, each with compelling observations, perhaps even provocations. It is what Kemp must do, even though she won’t get paid this month when she is often on tour to celebrate her art. It is why I feel so compelled to write about our artists.

“I so believe in the power of community yet everything we relied upon has shifted — to ‘host’ has become a negative and even ‘positive’ (test) has become a negative,” said Kemp.

“What the arts really does is offer a vehicle for the expression of emotion, whether we’re creating or we’re a recipient, you can share in the collective expression of sorrow and suffering and sense that we are together, that humanity is facing this together.”

And I smile again because I don’t feel so alone.

I’m feeling hopeful again because the power of the arts continues to churn, inspiring and, yes, comforting.

jbelanger@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JoeBatLFPress


The Big Ask

In times of crises we count on the arts for respite,
relief, relaxation and articulation of our response
and reaction to a compounded new normal. As if

unknowns have not always been nearby, hovering
at edge of sight, beyond reach but closing in now,
still unknown. All our questions rise without reply.

How long.

The difference is now we know for once what we
did not know, can’t know, don’t want to face, hid
under cover. But special masks hand-sewn as if to

protect let us feel we are doing our bit, let us act in
dispelling disconnect, overwhelm of circumstance.
Art helps us stitch together disparity or discontent.

This poem will not reveal statistics, won’t describe
missing medical gear, what remains undelivered,
how many gravesites prepared, how much suffering—

how many gone. We have aps for that, as numbers
grow beyond belief but not beyond hope nor help.

Frontline workers, be praised. May all you need be
yours now. May salaries be raised. May you rest
till the rest is easy. May your harvest be in health

not death, not calculated statistics of raised risk.
Do care for yourselves just as you care for others.

We wait, sequestered, connected, isolated, missing
touch, missing what we used to call normal, what
we used to do long ago just last month. We wait for

the weight to lift, to remember we are safe at home,
not stuck. We also serve who stay indoors and wait.

May home be our haven. May we shelter in place,
in peace of mind. Confinement’s just fine for now,
home stead, home stayed and schooled in the new.

Mind the gap, the gulf between then and now as
broadcasts sweep over: they are not forever. Turn
off the hourly news. Tune in to spring joys instead.

We can gather in the power of dandelion greens.
Warmer weather is not another postponed elective.

Even though last night, lightning and hail the size
of loonies lit up the sky at the pink full moon, no
frogs are raining and forsythia has not forsaken us.

Toads are peeping, myrtle is purpling and the sun,
sweet sun, is warming our faces as forget-me-nots
pop their determined way up through damp earth.

What is essential, what urgent when baselines shift?
Spontaneous dance parties and web performance
lighten fatigue, the philosopher’s moral dilemma.

The consolation of poetry is the resilience of words
given to comfort or challenge, compare and contrast.

What is grief but love unexpressed? What is love but
expression? Giving, not in, not out, but forth, giving
over to you. The game’s a match. Love won. Love all.

Penn Kemp
April 8, 2020

What We’ll Remember

How first scylla sky shimmers
against the tundra swan’s flight
west and north, north north west.

How many are leaving the planet and yet
are with us, still and still forever.

How they linger,
the lost, the bewildered, the wild ones!

Though tears come easily these days,
we too hover over the greening land

as spring springs brighter than ever
since stacks are stilled and the pipe
lines piping down.

When the peace pipe is lit
and sweetgrass replaces
smog— when the fog of pollution
lifts and channels clear—

Earth take a long breath
and stretches over aeons to come
and aeons past.

Penn Kemp

No Reruns, No Returns

for les revenants

Those who died once from influenza
a century ago, who now are pulled to

a hell realm of eternal return—are you
repeating, reliving the hex of time as if

doomed to replicate the old story you
already lived through? Once is enough.

No need to hover. You have suffered
plenty. You’ve loved and lost all there

is to lose. You have won. You’re one
with all that is. Retreat now to your own

abode. Return home, spirits. You’re no
longer needed here. You are no longer.

Although we honour you and thank
you and remember you each and all,

all those who’ve been called back, called
up from dimensions we can only guess at—

caught in the Great War and carried away
or carried off in the aftermath of influenza—

by this spell, we tell you to go back to
your own time, out of time. Just in time.

May you depart. We don’t know, how can
we tell? where your home is. It’s not here.

Know this virus is not yours. Know this
war is not yours. You are here in our era

by error, by slippage, a rip. You’ve mis-
taken the signage, the spelling in wrong

turns. Now return, by this charm, retreat.
You are dispelled, dismissed, dismantled,

released to soar free from the trance of time.
May you travel well. May you fly free.

Penn Kemp

The poems have been slightly revised.