Sitting Pretty: 9/11/2017

I love how Tuck Magazine publishes topical new political and occasional poems!
News that stays news. Now I can share this piece with you.

AFP photo

September 11, 2017

By

Penn Kemp

So Far Sitting Pretty

 

While Hurricane Harvey harasses Houston

While Earthquake 8.1 devastates Oaxaca

 

While Irma’s Eye widens over Florida Keys

and Trump remarks, “Just get out of its way”

 

While wildfires torch pine forests whole and

crossing continental divide, evacuate towns

 

While Trump’s toddler tantrums go nuclear

to defy Kim Jong-un’s asinine missile taunt

 

While race hatred rages in white supremacists

and America turns her tough back on Dreamers

 

While refugees capsize in unforgiving, fraught seas

While Britain’s Brexit divides ancient allegiances

 

While Buddhists slaughter Muslims in Myanmar

While women are executed in dishonorable killings

 

While nightmares confront war game apocalypse

and brinksmanship totters on the edge of Equinox…

*

Then tomatoes gleam scarlet in the green of harvest

and hummingbirds linger in sun before migrating

 

Caterpillar chrysalis becomes bright new Monarch,

folding and unfolding stiff wet wings for first flight

 

While September long shadows our yard in semi-annual

balance between light and dark. What can we maintain?

 

We have read about that perfect summer of 1914

before the dam burst in bloody floods of war

 

We recall an azure morning behind twin towers,

scorching flame brilliant on vertical pure white

 

We do not know recompense. We prepare equanimity

In a world out of control we are not without hope

 

Hope is left for last after all evils flee Pandora’s box

In calm arising before catastrophe, we sit and wait

 

Sitting ducks, perhaps, yet ducks with luck, imminent

ingenuity, feathers still unruffled by storm impending

 

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A poem for Vimy

“In the slow dream of trees may the men awake / who died here”

This is a line from my poem, ‘The Stand of Oak”,
http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks-poetry/the-stand-of-oak/.
The poem will be read at Vimy on the Centenary, April 9, 2017.

I am so touched that the line has been carved on the Vimy Flute: read its amazing story on http://vimyflute.blogspot.ca/2017/03/introducing-vimy-flute.html.  The flute will be played at Vimy Ridge April 9 and on the battlefields of France throughout April.  What an honour.

The Stand of Oak

Battle’s devastation cut down men and oaks,
leaving Vimy Ridge bare from ’16 till now.
But one veteran sent a few acorns to Canada

and raised a grove memento. Now these trees
will stand as metaphor for endurance, mingled
roots living on in lieu of the soldiers who fell.

Now our Canadian branches will be returning
home to be grafted on European oak saplings.
They’ll respond to wind in the crackling Fall.

These oaks will listen through trembling roots
to news that travels in the near neighbourwood:
subtle climate shiftings from drought to deluge.

The lobed leaves that open to embrace sun, to
soak in rain: they will know a longer time we
can only imagine, knowing history’s record.

This copse you plant now may not remember
a war a century past though it could realize its
own long span to last the whole millennium.

The oaks you plant on Vimy Ridge will not be
thinking of men today or ever: their work is in
attending to the rise from heartwood out to leaf.

These oaks may not thank you personally but
their presence is gratitude enough, is witness.
Thriving, they will return life to Vimy Ridge.

In the slow dream of trees may the men awake
who died here. May they be recalled by name
in their prime, rising as hope from desolation.

Vimy flute 2017

@vimyfoundation @pennkemp Fantastic!

Stephen Rensink has carved the Vimy Flute and Ryan Mullens will play it at Vimy Ridge and on the battlefields of France.

Sir Arthur Currie was my great-uncle: I grew up hearing stories of #Vimy100
An honour to have a poem read @1917Vimy, http://www.vimyfoundation.ca.

On my BC tour for my new book from Quattro Books, Barbaric Cultural Practice, I’ll be reading this poem.  https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/heres-to-spring-and-the-spring-tour/.

You can see the video of my reading on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWNwTXr1FMM&index=3&list=PLlK1FubxTgqpR9NBS_rtPz865021PC2fD.

From the London Free Press: “Verse and sound stir Vimy salute“:

http://www.lfpress.com/2017/04/07/verse-and-sound-stir-vimy-salute

London poet Penn Kemp won’t be at Vimy Ridge Sunday when the 100th anniversary of the historic battle won by Canadian soldiers in 1917 is commemorated.

But she’ll be there in words, music and spirit on the battlefield where her great uncle Sir Arthur Currie led one of the four Canadian divisions to what historians say was a nation-building victory.

A poem by Kemp, A Stand of Oak, will be read at Vimy. Also, retired Canadian army reservist Ryan Mullens will play Amazing Grace at the ridge on a two-pronged drone flute made of Vimy oak with a line from Kemp’s poem — “In the slow dream of trees may the men awake who died here” — engraved on it.

“I was truly, truly honoured,” said Kemp about her poem and the line written on the flute.

“(Mullens) will be playing the flute at all the battlefields this week. I was really moved when they asked me if they could use the line.”


An excerpt from Penn Kemp’s poem A Stand of Oaks is engraved on the flute that will be played on Vimy Ridge on Sunday. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

The “Vimy oak” of the flute comes from a stand of trees grown from acorns collected by Canadian solider Leslie Miller at the end of the battle that he sent home and were planted in Scarborough.

Today, the stand of trees is called Vimy Oaks. Since there are no longer oak trees on the ridge where a memorial was built to commemorate the battle, a group of Canadians, in partnership with the Vimy Foundation, is making plans to plant descendants of the original trees as a memorial to the Canadian soldiers who died there.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917, involved four Canadian divisions victorious against three German divisions and is considered by historians as a major symbol of nationhood.

The Canadian force of 97,000 men suffered casualties of 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded, with four men later awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

Kemp, London’s first poet laureate, is touring Western Canada promoting her new book of poems, Barbaric Cultural Practice.

But Kemp will read A Stand of Oak at each stop, including Sunday in New Westminster.

“It’s very stirring to me, the music of the two-pronged flute because it has a very mournful sound with the melody played on one side and a drone on the other like a bagpipe,” Kemp said. “But also because I have Celtic heritage.”

The flute was crafted by retired teacher Stephen Rensink, who lives in the tiny hamlet of Greenbank, north of Oshawa.

“It was Ryan’s idea to make the flute and we originally thought of using maple,” said Rensink, who carved three flutes from the oak, a hobby that’s produced more than 600 instruments over the years.

“But then Ryan came across this story about the Vimy Oaks, a woodlot I’d driven by many times.

“Then we started talking about putting some kind of symbol on the flute, something like Lest We Forget, and I started researching and came across this poem by Penn on the Vimy Foundation website.

“When I read that line, I thought, ‘Holy cow, this is it. This is the one.’ It just hit me. It was so crystal clear to me.”

Wrote Mullens in an email: “It’s a very beautiful sentence and a beautiful poem, which I fall in love with more and more every time I read it. It will add a lot to the Vimy flute.”

Joe Belanger, jbelanger@postmedia.com

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A Year of Reading Dangerously: Memorial

Notes on Alice Oswald’s Memorial: a version of Homer’s Iliad
with an afterword by Eavan Boland.  W.W. Norton & Company.

“Like fire with its loose hair flying rushes through a city
The look of unmasked light shocks everything to rubble”

Alice Oswald’s Memorial: a version of Homer’s Iliad is a merciless, fully compassionate and all too relevant reading of The Illiad. This short, immensely weighted book drops the unresponsive body of narrative to reveal a poetry of pure heart: “I write through the Greek, not from it— aiming for translucence rather than translation.” Memorial is heart-rending into its specificity, enumerating the names of the dead in a litany reminiscent of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans  Memorial. I almost wrote ‘fallen’, the word of memorialists since the Great War.

Oswald enlists “‘enargeia’, which means something like ‘bright unbearable reality’. It’s the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves. This version, trying to retrieve the poem’s enargeia, takes away superfluous narrative. Instead, Oswald evokes through similes traditional Greek pastoral and lament. But why or why does she not use the more assuaging and mellifluous ‘as’ instead of the obstreperous ‘like’ when introducing her similes… Perhaps she prefers the bluntness of ‘like’.

I misspelled history as ‘histroy’ and Spell Checker suggested, appropriately, his Troy. “The Iliad is a vocative poem. Perhaps even (in common with lament) it is invocative. It always addresses Patroculus as ‘you’, as if speaking directly to the dead… a kind of oral cemetery”. The poem presents in a phrase or epithet a man’s whole history as well as the manner of his death.  The olive tree is granted slightly more space in Oswald’s astonishing simile of life’s cycle:

“Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
And watered it and that wand became a wave
It became a whip a spine a crown
It became a wind-dictionary
It could speak in tongues
It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers
And then a storm came spinning by
And it became a broken tree uprooted
It became a wood pile in a lonely field.”

Another Alice Oswald was my English teacher at Medway High School: a dry stick we considered ancient. A dry stick who would burst to flame when reciting Keats’s ode. The image on the cover of PERFORMING WOMEN honours that flame as well.

performing-women-2016

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Poem for Vimy Ridge

April 9th is Vimy Ridge Day, an official National Day of Remembrance of the Battle.
Vimy is also Canada’s symbol of commemoration for the First World War: 1914-1918.

“Poets and Poet Laureates from British Columbia to the Maritimes wrote heart‐felt poems expressing the thoughts and feelings of Canadians toward the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers. For many, their poem was a personal tribute to a father, grandfather, uncle… or to a more recent fallen soldier.Their poems communicate the belief that the soldiers’ spirits will live on through the planting of the Vimy Oaks and that each tree will be a silent requiem for the past and a symbol of Canadians’ commitment to still stand on guard in the future.”

The poem below is dedicated to Sir Arthur Currie, my great-uncle.
After storming Vimy Ridge, he was appointed head of the Canadian Corps in June, 1917.

The Stand of Oak

Battle’s devastation cut down men and oaks,
leaving Vimy Ridge bare from ’16 till now.
But one veteran sent a few acorns to Canada

and raised a grove memento. Now these trees
will stand as metaphor for endurance, mingled
roots living on in lieu of the soldiers who fell.

Now our Canadian branches will be returning
home to be grafted on European oak saplings.
They’ll respond to wind in the crackling Fall.

These oaks will listen through trembling roots
to news that travels in the near neighbourwood:
subtle climate shiftings from drought to deluge.

The lobed leaves that open to embrace sun, to
soak in rain: they will know a longer time we
can only imagine, knowing history’s record.

This copse you plant now may not remember
a war a century past though it could realize its
own long span to last the whole millennium.

The oaks you plant on Vimy Ridge will not be
thinking of men today or ever: their work is in
attending to the rise from heartwood out to leaf.

These oaks may not thank you personally but
their presence is gratitude enough, is witness.
Thriving, they will return life to Vimy Ridge.

In the slow dream of trees may the men awake
who died here. May they be recalled by name
in their prime, rising as hope from desolation.

By Penn Kemp, London ON
 

http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-oaks-poetry/
http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks-poetry/the-stand-of-oak/
http://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/people/generals/sir-arthur-currie/

Sir Arthur Currie

 http://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/objects-and-photos/photographs/photographs-of-prominent-people/sir-arthur-currie/?back=471