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

Penn Poetry New West Barbaric

Reading Barbaric Cultural Practice at Poetry New West, BC

Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Kate Rogers

 

 

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Here’s to Spring, and the Spring Tour!

If you are in BC, I hope you can come and be with dear friends and me!

At each event, I’ll read my poem, ‘The Stand of Oak” in honor of the Vimy centenary,
http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks-poetry/the-stand-of-oak/.
I will be reading from Quattro Books’ BARBARIC CULTUAL PRACTICE (http://quattrobooks.ca/books/barbaric-cultural-practice/) at events sponsored by The League of Canadian Poets and pieces from Sound Opera and my new play (https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/) at events sponsored by the Playwrights’ Guild of Canada.

Thursday, April 6, 2017, 7-9 pm. “After Cézanne”: Ekphrastic reading: Fort Langley Art Gallery with Susan McCaslin. Contact: Edith Krause. http://www.fortgallery.ca/first-thursday-arts-evenings. http://www.langleytimes.com/entertainment/416981724.html. Sponsored by Playwrights Guild of Canada.

Poster Fort Callery April 17

Sunday, April 9, 2-4 pm, 2017. Poetry New West, Heritage Grill Backstage Room, 447 Columbia Avenue, New Westminster BC. Contact: Alan Hill, afjhill@hotmail.com, @poetrynewwest. Reading “A Stand of Oak”, http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks-poetry/the-stand-of-oak/. Sponsored by League of Canadian Poets. https://www.facebook.com/events/1755788391312780/

Vimy flute 2017

Penn April 9 2017

@poetrynewwest Photo: Creighton Studios

Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 2:00 4:00 pm. “An Afternoon of Performance and Paper Works”, with Terry Ann Carter and Penn Kemp. Free. Oak Bay Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, 1442 Monterey Ave. Victoria, BC V8S 4W1. Contact: terryanncarter3@gmail.com or Carl Cavanagh, Public Service Librarian, 250-382-7241 ext. 381ccavanagh@gvpl.ca. Writers Readers & Storytellers. For Adults. Ontario-based poet and playwright Penn Kemp will kick off this program with a performance of her play sponsored by Playwrights Guild of Canada, followed by a paper craft led by artist Terry Ann Carter. Fold paper into a concertina-style, accordion book, using hand-written letters, words and text to decorate the interior pages. Use water colour pencil crayons to add embellishments to your keepsake book. Register at gvpl.ca or email Joy, jhuebert@gvpl.ca. Call 250-940-GVPL (4875) for more information.

Poem On Light Terry Ann CarterSaturday, April 15, 3pm: Reading with Mona Fertig. Salt Spring Island Public Library, 129 McPhillips, Salt Spring Island BC V8K 2T6. Contact: Karen Hudson, Chief Librarian. 250-537-4666, ext. 223, khudson@saltspringlibrary.com. http://saltspring.bc.libraries.coop/. http://saltspring.bc.libraries.coop/event/mona-fertig-and-penn-kemp/?instance_id=96840. Sponsored by League of Canadian Poets.  https://www.facebook.com/events/231320154008905/

SSI Poster 2016 MonaApril 16, 11:30-1:30pm. Reading with Sharon Thesen, Poetic Justice, Boston Pizza, 1045 Columbia St, New Westminster BC V3M 1C4. “two writers who have not been carving but excavating literary history in Canada. Their reputations have already made it to the top-most bookshelf. It’s likely this will be a poetry reading you’ll remember for a while.” Contact: James Felton, james@PoeticJusticeNewWest.org, 604-767-6908. Sponsored by League of Canadian Poets. http://poeticjusticenewwest.org/uncategorized/april-poetry-reading/.

APRIL 2017 Kemp Thesen

James Felton writes;
A Reunion of Sorts

Back in the 70s and early 80s, Vancouver boasted a vibrant poetry scene and next month’s featured poets were no small part of the ‘happening’. Good friends Penn Kemp and Sharon Thesen have sustained a friendship and their prolific writing paths ever since.

Though both now live elsewhere, Poetic Justice is honoured to bring these two exceptional writers back together for our special Easter Sunday reading.  Read more about our fabulous April featured poets on our website.

Happy spring, whenever it arrives! Bring on the Magnolias. Bring on the Cherry Blossoms!

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The Triumph of Teresa Harris March 22-25 at The Palace

http://www.palacetheatre.ca/shows-and-events/2016/9/8/the-triumph-of-teresa-harris

www.eldonhouse.ca

The Palace Theatre and Eldon House present The Triumph of Teresa Harris
Procunier Hall, The Palace Theatre, 710 Dundas St., London ON. 519-432 1029.

The indomitable explorer Teresa Harris returns to London in Penn Kemp’s new play

The Triumph of Teresa Harris!

Her adventures are on stage in 5 Performances…

Procunier Hall @ The Palace Theatre 710 Dundas Street London, ON, N5W 2Z4 Canada

Press

“From the pen of Penn Kemp”, http://www.thelondoner.ca/2017/03/08/from-the-pen-of-penn-kemp

“Writer revisits adventures of heroine Teresa Harris” https://www.ourlondon.ca/community-story/7165300-writer-revisits-adventures-of-heroine-teresa-harris/ by Mike Maloney

“Two productions by poet Penn Kemp celebrate 19th-century London woman who ‘untied the corset strings’” by Joe Belanger
http://www.lfpress.com/2017/03/03/two-productions-by-poet-penn-kemp-celebrate-19th-century-london-woman-who-untied-the-corset-strings

Bob Smith interviews Penn about March events celebrating Teresa Harris: http://www.rogerstv.com/daytimelondon
The video is up on http://rogerstv.com/show?lid=12&rid=9&sid=3268&gid=271401

“Play stands as tribute to one woman’s Triumph”,
http://news.westernu.ca/2017/01/play-stands-tribute-one-womans-triumph/

A scene from our March 4 performance of The Dream Life of Teresa Harris:interactive video by Mary McDonald:
http://touchcast.com/…/dream_life_of_teresa_harris_march_20….

“A marvelous performance, blending music and words to bring an amazing woman to life. Can’t wait to see the pla based on this story at the Procunier Hall, at the Palace Theater. We have our tickets already. They are going fast!” Susan Cassan

“I almost checked my passport on returning home for extra stamps (such was the journey we were on today)” John Hassan

Publications

The script of the complete play, THE TRIUMPH OF TERESA HARRIS is now available, on line & in print!
https://www.playwrightsguild.ca/triumph-teresa-harris-0.

The Eldon House version, THE DREAM LIFE OF TERESA HARRIS is also now available, on line, in print & in London Public Library!
http://www.playwrightsguild.ca/dream-life-teresa-harris

See http://www.playwrightsguild.ca/playwright/penn-kemp.

Upcoming

“I believe I have a little of the Bedouin Arab in me.”-Teresa Harris

March 22-25, The Triumph of Teresa Harris: a play in two acts

Performances

March 22, 2017 – 8:00 PM

March 23, 2017 – 8:00 PM

March 24, 2017 – 8:00 PM

March 25, 2017 – 2:00 PM ** Matinee

March 25, 2017 – 8:00 PM

Tickets:  $23 seniors/students. $25 adults. Online: an additional $1.00.
Preview, March 27: $15

The Triumph of Teresa Harris is written by Penn Kemp and directed by Diane Haggerty <info@londoncommunityplayers.com>

Performed by a cast of 16 with 2 musicians!

The Cast for The Palace Production, March 2017

DIRECTOR: Diane Haggerty

MUSICIANS: Mary Ashton and Panayiotis Giannarapis

ACTORS

Ammar Abraham: Lieutenant/Tenzin

Dean Andrews: Scott

Bridget Corbett: Sister

Grace Ginty:  Sister

Maya Gupta: Mid-Teresa

Brenda Hamilton: Amelia 2

Afia Kyei: Chris

Kassia Mobbayal: John

Christopher Noble: St. George

Irene Paibulsinjit: Annie

Karina Redick: Sister

Kendall Robertson: Sister

Jan Sims: Amelia 1

Old Teresa: Maureen Spencer Golovchenko

Passing Stranger/Cook: Heather Weitzel

Young Teresa: Jordyn Taylor

With thanks to London Community Players at the Palace Theatre.

https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com

The main character is Teresa Harris, b.1839, Eldon House,
London. She tells her amazing life story from her home in
Eldon House. Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer
family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish
military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts
she had dreamed of all her life. Teresa’s story emerges
through her own voice and that of her protective mother
and her two husbands. Both men offered Teresa escape
from the ordinary domestic constraint for a woman of her
time and position in colonial London society.
Young Teresa 2017
Young Teresa: Jordyn Taylor
(Photo Credits: Harris Family Fonds, Teresa on Camel Photo, Western Archives, Western University)
The Triumph of Teresa Harris
Previously…
March4 Penn Panayiotis Teresa
Penn and Panayiotis Giannarapis performing The Dream Life with Mary Ashton.
Photo: Mary McDonald

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Poem for an Awful Inauguration

January 20, 2017

This Awful Inauguration day augurs so
dimly for us all, and we aren’t even in
the United States. The world awaits

uncertain of outcome, certain only that
meanness prevails of heart and intent.
We’ve dropped into the well of offal.

An Awful Inauguration day augurs well
for the unduly rich but poorly for poor
and dispossessed, for poor middle class.

This Awful Inauguration day augurs ill
for Obamacare, for the health of a nation,
for all illegal aliens and for alienated arts.

This Awful Inauguration day augurs dimly
for us all, and we aren’t even in the Year
of the vain Fire Rooster till January 28.

O weather vane, you parade your lies as
truth. You spin with the wind. You turn.
You twitter and trumpet trust topsy-turvy.

This Awful Inauguration day crows triumph
for the cock of the walk, king for a day, or
another four years. We withhold, withstand

his very dangerous flash in a very wide pan.
But we don’t withdraw. We march, we hold
on, hold to, truth as we know it. We refuse.

We are other. We are alien. We protest: these
Auguries of Inauguration are not innocent.

Penn Kemp

Love Hope Opt 11779840_10152952905252051_2078125788695655817_o

1/1/17 Re:Solution

May your 2017 writing be inspired!

This poem is in my book, INCREMENTALS, Pendas Productions.

Re:Solution

we

weir

Virgo

weird gong

we’re going too

we’re going to be

we’re going to begin

we’re going to begin right

we’re going to begin writing and

we’re going to begin writing and purr

we’re going to begin writing and purr form

we’re going to begin writing and performing

we’re going to begin writing and performing some

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time

we’re going to begin writing and performing some diamond

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time whinney

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time whinney lick

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time whinney lick trick

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time whinney lick trick light

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time whinney lick trick light D

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time when electric light decent

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time when electric light descend through

we’re going to begin writing and performing some time when electric light descend through

fin

fin grr

finger tip

finger tip on

finger tip off

onoffonoffonoff

finger tip om

finger tip onto

finger tip onto calm

finger tip onto calm phew

finger tip onto calm pew tore

finger tip onto calm pew turkey

finger tip onto calm pew turkey bored

finger tip onto calm pew turkey bord and

finger tip onto computer board hand set

finger tip onto computer board and set us

finger tip onto computer board and set us free

we’re going to begin writing some time when electric light descend through finger tip onto computer board and set us free

maybe

Penn Kemp

penn-sound-performing-women-2016-monique-renaud

Photo credit: Playwrights Guild, at our Women and Media panel, Harbourfront,
Canadian Writers’ Summit, June 2016

Poem for Solstice Night

All Things Considered

On the shelf inside the storm, an empty
pitcher of light awaits sage and summer
savory.  All puns are planted to present
these things as if saying were enough
to conjure the perfect illusion illuminated.
Now.  At the turning of the year after
nadir of deepest darkness, the small
Moon of Long Night turns to beam
over the orchard above the frozen lake.
The sun stands Solstice still, holding
its breath, biding its time until released
to start once more in utter clarity of cold.

 

In that perilous moment before cycles
start up again, we all can fall through
cracks.  Interstices of ice drag us down.

We grope from dusk to dark to light.
We slip between stars, drawn out
beyond what we know, considering,
considere, to be with the luminary.

Night rustles outside our window, murmurs
and squeaks.  Whimpers follow outraged
raccoon yowl.  Orange and black streak

across the dark pane I can’t see through
conjuring night creatures’ obscured world,

Scent leads a trail to territorial war, deep
enmities nurtured throughout the long wee

hours before dawn lifts that velvet cloth to
reveal grey, seeping shade back to clarity.

Penn Kemp

*

The last lines of this poem were first published in from Dream Sequins, Lyrical Myrical Press, with drawings by the brilliant Steven McCabe. See his gorgeous https://poemimage.wordpress.com/.

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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