Penn Kemp ~ Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

DM du Jour

A wormhole, ribbed in smooth spiral
toward Light’s round orb. Is it Sun
to which we aspire, scrambling upward?

Foothold on red rib, hand on another, we
climb. Distractions abound: dimensions
we could spend lifetimes wandering along,

sideways mirrors where images always
appear larger than they are in the reality
that quickly solidifies if we lose our way.

Reams of Bardo realms reflect reality but
do not release us. Dreams do not grant
deliverance but start us along the corridor.

If we listen, passage doors open a crack.
Finally, my hands reach solid surface and
head popping out of the burrow, I look

about the expanse of blue to the Sun, orange
rimmed in red. Pulsing rays draw me up
along spider web of filigreed light. Home.

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Upcoming Poetry Launches!

Happy to be launching 2018 collections, Local Heroes (Insomniac Press) and Fox Haunts (Aeolus House). I’ll also read from Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books)


Saturday August 25, 5:00-6:00 pm. Reading from Fox Haunts for Synaeresis #3 launch, The Black Walnut’s back room, 134 Wortley at Askin St., London ON) Contact:

Sunday, September 9, 2018, 4-6 pm. Launch of Fox Haunts, with 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,**

Monday, Sept. 10, 7 pm. Launch, Local Heroes and Fox Haunts. Novel Idea, 156 Princess St, Kingston, ON K7L 1B1. Introduced by Elizabeth Greene. Contact: (613) 546-9799, Bruce Kauffman’s radio show “finding a voice”—a showcase of spoken-word events  broadcast weekly, Friday 4pm-6pm EST on CFRC 101.9FM.

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 7-9 pm. Launch of Fox Haunts, with Aeolus House poets: Ariane Blackman, Brian Cameron, Tom Hamilton, Penn Kemp and Sydney White. Supermarket Restaurant, 268 Augusta Ave., Toronto. Contact: Allan,*

Sunday, September 23, 2018, 1pm. Launch of Out of Line by Tanis MacDonald with Tom Cull. Reading from Local Heroes and Fox Haunts. Oxford Book Shop, 262 Piccadilly St, London, N6A 1S4. Contact: Hilary  519-438-8336,

October 1-31, 2018.  Kalamaka Press Writer-in-Residence, Caetani Cultural Centre, Vernon, BC.  Readings TBA.,

Sunday October 14th.  Reading with Daphne Marlatt. Co-op People’s Bookstore. 1391 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X5. Contact: Rolf (604) 253-6442,

Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 8:00 pm. Launch and reading with Susan McCaslin. Spoken Ink Reading Series, Burnaby Arts Council, Deer Lake Gallery, 6584 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby, BC. Host Lara Varasi, (604)240-8903.*

Wednesday, October 17, 2018. Launch and reading with Sharon Thesen. Poets’ Corner, Massy Books, 229 E. Georgia, Vancouver BC. Sponsored by the Canada Council.
Contact: James Felton,  (604) 767-6908***

Thursday, October 18, 2018. Launch and reading with Damian Rogers at Milkcrate Records. Kelowna, BC. Contact: Matthew Rader,

Saturday, October 20, 2018. Nelson, BC.  Launch, Local Heroes and Fox Haunts.  TBA. Contact: Elizabeth Cunningham,

November 2-4, Museum London theatre, 421 Ridout St N, London, ON N6A 5H4. Time TBA. Mary McDonald and I are presenting new poems and augmented reality for as part of Poet Laureate Presents: River of Words.  Sponsored by the London Arts Council and the City of London.

* The launches in Ottawa and Burnaby are sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets and the Canada Council for the Arts. Thanks for their continued support!
** The launch in Toronto is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, Metro Readings in Public Places.
***The launch in Vancouver is sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts.


Local Heroes cover

LOCAL HEROES: Poetry  ·  Canada $19.95  ·  US $19.95  ·  Trade paperback  ·  ISBN 978-1-55483-206-4 ·  154 pages  ·  5″ x 8”

“It is an excellent collection of poems which celebrate London cultural pioneers. It is full of Penn’s humour and wordplay. These poems evoke the city in its particular landscape and history.
And as anyone who knows Penn, a launch is never merely a launch. It is more like an evening with Penn and friends.
The evening began with a curator tour: Women’s Lives in Canada: A History, 1875-2000. Then Penn read from the book. They also showed several short videos on Local Heroes by Dennis Siren, Mary McDonald and Western’s Community Engaged Learning.
Dennis Siren recorded much of the evening at
You can also keep up to date with Penn at her blog
She is a poetic El Nino.”  Mike O’Connor, Insomniac Press

The LOCAL HEROES event held on July 22 at Eldon House in London, was a great success.  It featured poems from “Teresa Harris Rides Again”. Mary McDonald created several augmented reality videos which were shown and displayed as qr markers in the house all week.  You can see them on


Published Works by Penn Kemp


Publication History


BEARING DOWN (1972) poetry.  Coach House Press, 401 Huron St. Toronto ON

TRANCEFORM  (1976) poetry.  Soft Press, Victoria BC. Reprinted 2006, Pendas

THE EPIC OF TOAD AND HERON (1977) play.  Black Moss Press, Windsor ON

Reprinted 1985 by Playwrights Union, Toronto

CLEARING (1977) poetry. B.C. Monthly, Vancouver  BC

CHANGING PLACE (1978) poetry/prose.  Fiddlehead, U.N.B., Fredericton NB

ANGEL MAKERS (1978) play. Playwrights Union, Toronto

TOAD TALES(1981) poetry. White Pine Press 76 Center St. Fredonia NY 14063

CVii: Spiritual Poetry in Canada (1982), ed. Box 3062, Winnipeg R3C 4E5

ANIMUS (1984) poetry.  Caitlin Press. Reprinted, 2005, Pendas Productions, London

BINDING TWINE (1984) poetry. Ragweed Press, Charlottetown PEI

SOME TALK MAGIC (1986) Ergo Productions, Box 4460 London ON N5W 5J2

TRAVELLING LIGHT (1986) poetry. Moonstone Press, London ON

EIDOLONS (1988) poetry. White Pine Press, 76 Center St. Fredonia NY 14063

THROO (1989) poetry.  Moonstone Press, Book. CD, Pendas Productions, London


WHAT WHAT THE EAR HEARS LAST (1994) play. Playwrights Union, Toronto

FOUR WOMEN (1999) poetry. Red Kite Press, Guelph ON

INCREMENTALLY (2000) poetry Pendas Productions, London.  Book and CD combo

TIME LESS TIME (2000) poetry. Pendas Productions

SUITE ANCIENT EGYPT (2001) poetry. Mothertongue Press, BC

VOCAL BRAIDINGS (2001) with Patricia Keeney, poetry. Pendas Productions

WHAT SPRINGS TO MIND (2001), Pendas Productions

Poem for Peace in Many Voices, ed., Vol. 1 & 2 (2002), book and CD

SARASVATI SCAPES (2002) with Angela Hryniuk, Pendas Productions

C’LOUD (2003) poetry, Pendas Productions. Book and CD combo

SARASVATI SCAPES: a sound opera, CD, Pendas Productions

MELISMA, CD (2002) with Angela Hryniuk and Penn Kemp

GATHERING VOICES (2002) with Gloria Mulcahy, Pendas. Book and CD combo


PINCELADAS (2005, 2011) with Gloria Mulcahy, Pendas Productions

RE:ANIMATING ANIMUS (2006) Pendas Productions.  Book and CD combo.  London ON

HELWA1 (2011), PigeonBike Press. London ON. CD forthcoming with Light of East Ensemble

FROM DREAM SEQUINS (2012), Lyrical Myrical Press, Toronto ON
THE EPIC OF TOAD AND HERON (2012), reprint. Pendas Productions, London ON
JACK LAYTON: ART IN ACTION (2013), editor, Quattro Books, Toronto

WHAT SPRINGS TO MIND (2016), second edition, forthcoming. Pendas Productions
WOMEN & MEDIA, editor and contributor, Living Archive Series, Feminist Caucus, League of Canadian Poets, Launched June 17, 2016.
WOMEN & PERFORMANCE, editor and contributor, Living Archive Series. June 18, 2016.

BARBARIC CULTURAL PRACTICE (2016), Quattro Books, Toronto
THE TRIUMPH OF TERESA HARRIS (2017), Playwrights Guild of Canada, Toronto
LOCAL HEROES (2018), Insomniac Press
FOX HAUNTS (2018), Aeolus House

FoxHaunts-CoverPenn Local Heroes LFP

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:!

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

This poem is in my forthcoming FOX HAUNTS which can now be ordered!

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,

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,


Launch of The Dream Life of Teresa Harris, CD, with Augmented Reality!

Summer Blessings!

SUNDAY, JULY 22, 1:00 P.M.

Join local poet and playwright Penn Kemp for an afternoon of readings from The Dream Life of Teresa Harris and Local Heroes, paired with a viewing of ‘Augmented Reality’ exhibits by artist Mary McDonald.  Books and CD’s will be available for purchase.

Mary’s visual art and animation of my play will run for a week in Eldon House following the tea.

Details on and

Eldon House
481 Ridout Street North
London, Ontario




Registration required through Eldon House.

Video by Mary McDonald

Local Heroes, Insomniac Press

Here’s celebrating The London Free Press for supporting poetry and our local cultural heroes!

it’s not often a poet hits above the fold, the front page of TODAY, and a poem to Greg Curnoe on the next:)

Poet celebrates London's cultural heroes in new book

Penn Local Heroes LFP

Celebrating our champions of art: Penn Kemp pays tribute to London’s cultural heroes in her new book.

Penn Kemp invented her own word to describe London adventurer Teresa Harris.

“I call her my s/hero,” said Kemp, London’s best-known contemporary poet, performance artist, novelist, playwright and sound poet.

Kemp has written two plays about Harris, the youngest of 12 children born to John and Amelia Harris, who built what remains today as London’s oldest and most historic home, Eldon House, which the family donated to the city along with the land that is now Harris Park.

Now, Kemp has released a new book of poetry, Local Heroes (Insomniac Press, $19.95 at local book stores), that pays tribute to several of London’s cultural heroes, including Harris.

Others featured in the book include her own father, artist Jim Kemp, an advertising and publicity executive at London Life who introduced Kemp to many luminaries of the London arts scene; Nobel Prize laureate and short story writer Alice Munro; Giller Prize-winning writer Bonnie Burnard; the late artist Greg Curnoe; and, the Reaney family, including the late three-time Governor General Award winning poet, playwright and Western University English professor James Reaney, his wife and acclaimed poet Colleen Thibaudeau and their son, James Stewart Reaney, a retired Free Press journalist.

“It grieves me that so many of the poems are eulogies,” Kemp writes in her introduction.

“Their commonality is a sense of adventure and exploration. The poems of Local Heroes are dear to my heart as a response to the lifelong contributions of such champions of Southwesto, such as Greg Curnoe and James Reaney, who popularized this term.”

Just back from a tour of Western Canada where she performed at the Edmonton Poetry Festival and in Victoria and Vancouver in celebration of Poetry Month, Kemp said she was inspired to produce the book by a number of experiences, including being asked to write a poem to commemorate the retirement of Reaney, titled James Stewart Reaney, Local Hero.

“That’s what gave me the idea for a book of poetry of the same name,” said Kemp.

“It was that and other circumstances, such as working with (third-year) Western University English students on Community Engaged Learning. I grew up in London in a cultural milieu where I met many of London’s artists and writers.”

The first section of the book continues with Kemp’s celebration of Harris, who spurned the Victorian era norms, choosing a nontraditional life that saw her twice married to wealthy men (John Scott, 1859; St. George Littledale, 1877) with whom she traveled across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Asia.

“What I’ve done is included outtakes from my plays about Harris (The Dream Life of Teresa Harris and The Triumph of Teresa Harris) that didn’t fit within the play structure but extend the story about her life,” said Kemp, named London’s first poet laureate in 2010.

The middle section is a tribute to her father.

“He was sort of a bridge between the old school — he called himself a painter, not an artist — and the young Turks, such as Greg (Curnoe) and Jack (Chambers),” said Kemp.

The last section brings focus to her other cultural icons, including a section titled Dream Sequins for Alice Munro and a poem to celebrate the 40th anniversary of London-based Brick Books, which has helped launch the careers of several Canadian poets.

“It’s an unusual book for me in that it is so specific to London and each poem is dedicated to a different person,” said Kemp, who will give a reading from the book May 28 at London Public Library.

“It’s a lot more narrative than my previous works.”

Kemp will give a reading from Local Heroes May 28 at London Public Library’s Stevenson Hunt Room as part of the series, Women Trailblazers: Writers and Voices for Change, a reading and lecture series celebrating Canadian women writers.

The event will include a reading by journalist, activist and feminist Judy Rebick reading from her new book, Heroes in My Head.

Kemp, who has published more than two dozens books over the years, along with recordings of her works, is already in the final stages of another book, this one titled Fox Haunts, expected to be released in the summer.

“A book is like a birth of a child for me,” said Kemp. “It’s such an enormous joy. In many way, this book, Local Heroes, brings my experiences of the London community together.”

Joe Belanger,

Many thanks to Joe Belanger, Arts Editor Barbara Taylor and photographer Mike Hensen!   

Thanks as well to a CAIP grant from London Arts Council that allowed me time to write Local Heroes! 

And to Insomniac Press for a beautiful book! 

Here’s a tribute from Local Heroes:

Travelling Lights

For Greg CurnoeNovember 9, 1936-November 14, 1992

After there’ll be no more, odd
characters invade the painting.

Lurching out of mother lode
they slide off smooth banks

to the open pond white paper makes,
cavorting seal-slick in breakers

between home and hold. Scrolled
letters sparkle currents of glyph.

Fantasy floats in layered brightness,
breathing bands in and out and then

not. The travelling light of attention
shines on disparate objects lit by his

restless, roaming curiosity even after
his own bike reflector is put out.

Polished obsessions unravel on shelves
for whoever is there where he was.

Greg would be over eighty now.

Imagine him, still holding forth,
holding on, staying put.

Eccentric, Greg created his own
centre, devoted to place, his place.

The wheels of his bike are still
spinning orange and complementary
blue onto the page, the pavement.

And pigment on canvas, vivid as
his tattered sweater, his legacy
our heritage in old deeds, in

stuff whose singularity he chose
to honor and display as serious

games of play, series whose choices
make room for us
to see here.


What remains is the reach from pen
to paper to record the procession

of cyclists, Greg riding herd, along
a field flooded in light, gray barn rising

from the mist and mesmerizing
the driver who followed the illusion

of art turned against itself

Convinced of no louder verge
beyond shaping the dark space

where sound stops hollow and
is not yet silence ringing back.
Penn Kemp

Late London artist Greg Curnoe, 1986.



National Poetry Month Readings

Celebrating with Penn Kemp

Wednesday, April 25, 8 pm. ‘ALT’ show, Victoria Poetry Project, Caffè Fantastico, 965 Kings Road, Victoria, British Columbia V8T 1W7. * Contact shayne avec i grec

Friday, April 27, 2018. 8pm, The Matrix Hotel. Feature, Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths, The Edmonton Poetry Festival. Contact: Rayanne Haines, ED. @edmpoetryfest.  #PoFest18. *


Thursday, April 19,2018, Launch of Local Heroes (Insomniac Press) by Penn Kemp. Lecture Theatre, Museum London, 421 Ridout St
6:30-7:15. Curator Tour: Women’s Lives in Canada: 1875-2000
7:30-8:30. Penn’s reading
8:30-9 pm. Book signing

Join London poet and playwright Penn Kemp for the launch of her book
Local Heroes (Insomniac Press). Local Heroes is a celebration of regional heroes.  New poems about explorer Teresa Harris are featured.

Mary McDonald will be displaying the first Augmented Reality markers based on “The Dream Life” poems and her photos of Eldon House as qr codes.  Very exciting and innovative technology!

The evening includes an exhibition tour with curator Amber Lloydlangston, followed by Insomniac Press publisher Mike O’Connor and Penn’s reading.

The theatre will show several short videos on Local Heroes by Dennis Siren, Mary McDonald and Western’s Community Engaged Learning. The poet will then sign books.

Contact: Museum London, 519 661-0333,
promo video:

For more about LOCAL HEROES, please see  

Five of Jim Kemp’s paintings from the Museum Collection will be exhibited. Here’s one:

'82 Museum Blue shot RedThe cover of Local Heroes:Local Heroes cover

*Penn’s readings are sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets.