Launch of LOCAL HEROES

Launch of Local Heroes (Insomniac Press) by Penn Kemp

April 19,2018, Lecture Theatre
Museum London, 421 Ridout St N.

6:30-7:15. Curator Tour: Women’s Lives in Canada: A History, 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 artists from Greg Curnoe and James Kemp to writers Alice Munro, Colleen Thibaudeau and Bonnie Burnard.  New poems about explorer Teresa Harris are featured.

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, info@museumlondon.ca
http://museumlondon.ca/programs-events/event/2458/2018/04/19
promo video: https://youtu.be/x-edwKodu0s
https://www.facebook.com/events/181506832475203/

For more about LOCAL HEROES, please see http://poetryminiinterviews.blogspot.ca/2018/03/penn-kemp-part-one.html.

https://www.amazon.ca/Local-Heroes-Penn-Kemp/dp/1554832063

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Cover photo courtesy Harris Fonds, Western Archives, Western University

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Poetry Mini Interview

What are you working on?
 
My next project, LOCAL HEROES, Insomniac Press, 2018, celebrates legendary cultural heroes from London, Ontario. These poems evoke a specific city in its particular landscape and history. London’s literary and artistic heritage is documented, honouring artists in fields ranging from visual and language arts to figure skating. Presented as an overview, the collection stretches from Victoria explorer Teresa Harris to the contemporary arts scene. Local Heroes acknowledges the Indigenous peoples here, and the ongoing waves of settlers who have called the area home, as London grew from colonial outpost to vibrant cultural centre. Local Heroes spans time but remains in place.
 
Landscape shapes us by its distinctive atmosphere. Southwestern Ontario (Souwesto) is a peninsula bordered by two Great Lakes and by the United States. Local Heroes examines the works of artists who have been influenced by the pervading spirit of Souwesto. In classical Rome, a genius loci was the protective spirit of the local, depicted as a figure holding a libation bowl. London is situated in a bowl scraped out from receding glaciers. This bowl teems over with the productions of its arts through time. Why? What has made London a creative centre? As a mid-sized county seat set in the fertile farmland of Middlesex County, London is in the middle, entre lacs, between two metropolises, Toronto and Detroit, at the edge of the Snow Belt. Because it is so surrounded, London began as a garrison, a fiercely conservative British enclave that held tight to tradition and conventional mores. Artists who lived here could rebel, conform or leave.
 
The collection present three sections, in historical order. It opens with an exploration of the exploits of Teresa Harris, who escaped her corsets along with her colonial upbringing in London’s Eldon House. Like me, this explorer travelled widely for decades before returning home with memories and mementoes. The poems devoted to Teresa consist of outtakes from my play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, that were best expressed as poetry. The middle section is What the Heart Parts, also produced as a play and a Sound Opera.When the Heart Parts is based on the life and death of her father, Jim Kemp, London artist and mentor of artists in the 1950s. In my work, poetry and drama intersect, the way two branches of the Thames meet at the Forks.
 
The second half of the book is a tribute to local London creators. I was lucky enough to grow up in an artistic household and so was introduced to many of London’s cultural icons. Anecdotes abound. “London Local Heroes” recognizes several of those artists who broke through conservative conventions to create and celebrate their own community. Cultural activists had to develop their own vibrant and exciting arts scene or be pulled away to the larger metropolis east or west of London. Transformation happens in the local, through the intersection of culture, art and geography that defines the regional. Local Heroes offers an empowering vision of regionalism: we are at our own centre, our own gravitational field, where activism is most effective. We are at the centre of a cultural cauldron where opposites mingle and mix. Here the arts are cultivated and emerge as rich as the farmland surrounding London. The centre not only holds but opens up to the world, rippling out in concentric circles.
Penn Kemp
For more, please see
by Thomas Whyte.

 

from Goddess Pages

Calling on Persephone

by Penn Kemp

A little early for Persephone to return
but how enticing is this pomegranate!
No wonder she was tempted to indulge!

https://www.goddess-pages.co.uk/calling-on-persephone-by-penn-kemp/

Pomegranate

Blessed be the lost ones, those who
left, in our opinion, too soon, whose
time, they say, had come. Blessed

be those whose lives have stopped
in their current form, the bodies we
know and miss. For it’s we who are

lacking, not they. Either they don’t
know any more or their essence has
dissolved to some fuller| plenitude

we too will come upon in our time.
Only the Goddess knows for sure
if we listen, if we reach out to Her.

Calling on Persephone, as seasons
darken, as night falls into autumn:
Take care of those we have lost.

*

As we age, the living dead increase,
surround us with presence, with gifts
of their kind, on offer if we realize

they are ongoing, just out of earshot,
beyond tangential vision. Out there,
behind you to one side, they linger

friendly—don’t worry— and ready
to offer advice, offer warning, offer
remarks that reflect a wider gnosis:

Archetypes of what they could have
become, given time or opportunity.
My friends, our dead are listening.

May be as memories fleshed real or
may be as hallucinatory flashes from
some other realm: does it matter?

Now that they are really no longer
matter but transcorporeal illusion,
their words, their nudges and sighs,

they still comfort us, familiar whiff,
where the senses condense off-stage
then expand beyond the peripheral.

*

May we bring their attributes to life
within us. For Persephone’s love
of flower, to surround Her in kind.

She will return; She always does, to
turn the wheel, to begin once more,
speaking the words of consolation.

May we live that gentle beauty for
her, ongoing. May She who loves
blossoms bloom again in our eyes

as we admire a purple pride of fall
garden. May Her essence enter us.
May we become what we might.

May She remember and remind us,
Mnemosyne, Goddess of memory,
inventor of the language we need

now more than ever. Speak to us.
Tell us the news in the old way we
once knew. Keep in touch, please.

©Penn Kemp

The Call of the Forest

Here’s to the Creative Aging Festival!  I’m delighted to be opening this showcase tonight with a paean of praise to an elder who most exemplifies creative aging!

Diana Beresford Krueger lives on a farm near Lanark, Ontario, but she grew up in Ireland. Diana is a seventy-two year old Leo, appropriately born in the Year of the Wood Monkey, and a proponent/gardener of native species par excellence. Her film, The Call of the Forest, exudes an astute vitality and a whole-hearted commitment to environmental activism. The glory of the film is its in-depth appreciation of trees: a documentary “driven by beauty”*! It is showing at The Hyland Cinema till June 1, and I truly recommend it.

In this film, The Call of the Forest, and in her books like The Global Forest, Diana interprets the nature of trees from both profoundly scientific and spiritual perspectives. Certainly, she emphasizes the healing benefits of specific trees as well as the forest as a whole. Care to go forest bathing to enhance your immune system? Try wandering among the deodar pines of Elsie Perrin Williams estate. Open your lungs and breathe in the powerful antioxidants that will lift your spirits for days.

How to articulate the invisible, the spirit of tree, for example… why, that’s my aim as a poet.  My childhood desire was to understand the language of trees, plants and birds. Diana translates for me, even in this dream poem:

Visit In Tune, In Time

Diana Beresford Kroeger benignly surveys my wild garden.
As I explain that I like to let things grow naturally, to pop up
where they will, she sniffs. “This garden needs more tending,”

she proclaims. Singing along, I set to work weeding. Waving
a hand, she encourages my rhythm to tune in with the plants’
own. So the cardinal colours deepen, burnished lilies bronze

exuberant in sunlight. Impossible Echinacea record no clash
of purple/orange but blare triumph. Songbirds gather, a lilt of
goldfinch, a trill of Carolina wren. Cardinals respond in chords.

Brilliance resounds all around. Redbud, mock-orange boughs
bow in the heightened breeze. Resonance ripples and whirls
to restore, re-story this walled garden, her flowers telling, told.

How do plants communicate to each other… and to us? As botanist and biochemist raised in Ireland’s woodland lore, Diana bridges the false gap between science and the arts, between science and spirituality. Her roots are manifold, both as botanical researcher with a doctorate in medical biochemistry, and as hereditary lineage-holder, steeped in the Celtic tradition that has revered woodlands for centuries. Diana vividly and empathetically expresses the urgency in protecting the forest, especially our northern boreal forest that is so essential for global carbon storage.

She continues to beam a sense of wonder, joy and curiosity grounded in intellectual acuity. And in those traits alone, Diana Beresford Krueger is a triumphantly engaged guide to very creative aging. We can only aspire to learn from such an inspirational mentor. Her message is simple: go plant a native tree every year, and watch it grow! Let’s create our Forest City in reality as well as name!

*A quote in a email from the film’s director, Jeff McKay. Thanks to him for exquisite photography, editing and commentary.
Diana 2017

Hear Diana’s CBC interview about the benefits of forest bathing!

Call of the Forest
248 Princess Street, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Winnipeg, MB R3B Canada

CalloftheForest.ca
Twitter @DBKTrees
Facebook.com/CallOfTheForest/

Creative Aging Wolf Hall 2017

 

London, Ontario

Thinking of this poem on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, April 26, 1986.
Painting by Jim Kemp.

Smog Alert

Throughout our listening areajimkemppaintingfigureblueskirtseatedbraque
light pollution. Evening haze

drifts down from some secret smelter
depending on which wind blows. Small

particulate matter fills the air, fills our lungs
with tiny lumps that hang there undetected
except we can no longer fully breathe.

Cosmic clouds descend upon us. Below
breath. Below thought. Below bellow.

Probability of precipitation. Mixed rain
and thunder showers. Severe weather

warning. War in heaven, warming
torrents into twisters. Forecast unforeseen.

The radio calls for showers.  Fog patches.
Clouds clog the mind, crowding thought.

Now calm come… clear of cloud…
I’m thinking stars. Or stars are thinking me.

Where are they? Beyond the veil, still
twinkling, emitting their own dust trails.

Sound/performance poet Penn Kemp lives in London, Ontario.  UWO has asked her to be writer-in-residence for 2009-2010.  Among her publications are more than twenty-five books of poetry and drama, ten CDs of Sound Opera and…

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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

 

 

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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