Resistance: an Anthology

Resistance Anthology: Righteous Rage in the Age of  #METOO. Sue Goyette, editor. University of Regina Press, spring 2021, https://uofrpress.ca/Books/R/Resistance. “

“Writers across the globe speak out against sexual assault and abuse in this powerful new poetry anthology, edited by Sue Goyette. These collected poems from writers across the globe declare one common theme: resistance. By exploring sexual assault and violence in their work, each writer resists the patriarchal systems of power that continue to support a misogynist justice system that supports abusers. In doing so, they reclaim their power and their voice…  
The collection could not be more timely. The work adds a new layer to the ever-growing #MeToo movement.   
 Resistance underscores the validity of all women’s experiences, and the importance of dignifying such experiences in voice, however that may sound. Because once survivors speak out and disrupt their pain, there is no telling what else they can do.”

“What we did not know in 1972. What has changed.”

It’s too late. He has jumped me, fallen on me, almost as
in love, catching his weight in his hands as they smack
against the grungy linoleum tiles I’ve wanted to replace.

The kitchen wall is rippling. The chalky ceiling bulges
as if it needs new plastering; as if something is trying
to pound through, something that can’t be contained.

A flash flood, a fire? My spine slams against the door.
My skull is permeable. I know what’s going to happen.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Time expands to
include all the random possibilities of thought, of world.

Tectonic plates collide. I know that he erupts explosively,
a system under great pressure from without, from below.

His face balloons massively through the mist. I know him.
I know that drawn-down mouth, mask of Greek tragedy.

How often I have traced the dimple in his chin, a line from
nose to mouth where God pressed His finger: the philtrum.

His fingers close, blunt tips touching, the heels of palms
meeting as if in prayer. Relentless hands ring my throat.

Gold wedding ring presses deep into my gullet. Even in
absolute panic, my body responds to his closeness, dearly

familiar and almost kind. My breath stops, is stopped. My
breath holds itself, forgets itself under his thumbs, then

gasps. And is forced quiescent.

I have already disappeared up the smoky trail, out the top
of head into wide blue sky. A buzz as of bees in the cool

expanse of air. Strange croaks seem to start in my gullet
and travel up with me into the vast and empty. I am flying.

Mewling, I hover, open my new eyes to glimpse our roof, so
puny from this height. Beyond him, beyond myself, above.

*

Violent shaking startles me out of freedom: a sudden updraft.
I’m being pulled down the vortex of consciousness back into

a body I thought I’d surrendered. The sound in my ear, carol,
carol, and no song but choking, roaring. Nothing but his voice,
loud as Poseidon in a seashell in my ear. He’s really done it now.

I swim in an ocean of blood. Swirling red currents fill each cranny
of consciousness and this time I go under, diving, divining down.

When I emerge, he is gone but the room is swirling around me
in colours of other travels. Turkish scarlet cushions. Moroccan

striped curtains dance a jig of molecules that confuse my senses.
I am lying on the couch. I shut my eyes again, not to see. Not

to hear. His footsteps, running closer. Water, soaking my head.
I look at him. A yellow cast of fear lies over last red flares of rage

on his face. But the hands that hold the basin barely tremble. “If
you’ve quite recovered,” he announces, his voice oddly strangled.

“I’m off to town. Just take it easy. You’ll be all right!” He commands.
Irony of statement, concern of question or relief: it doesn’t matter.

Pain neatly divides head from shoulders. Voice creaks like something
inanimate outside its box. Words, the ability to make words— gone.

Phrases flutter and dissolve. “I’ll be all right.” Something automatic,
something ancient in me, is attempting re-entry. “All right. Just go.”

He is already gone, a flash of yellow bike. Silence except for
that buzz of wasps in my head. Wasp-words ring in my ears.

*

Can either of us remember what it had been about this time?
His jealousy of my phantom lover, the one that got away…

Who knew for sure what happened. What is this complicity
between us?  Already it’s as if nothing at all had happened.

We can talk to no one, certainly not each other, about
the sudden black holes, the mine-fields in ordinary
conversation that suddenly erupt. Because most often,

they are not there. The house is simply a house, the scene
domestic with cat and kids, and cauliflower on the stove.

I can talk to no one. I cannot talk. When I tried—family or
friends—all told me that it was none of their business. Not
to interfere. Not to know. I made my bed. Now lie in it. Lie.

When I did call the police, they listened intently to my story.
“Is the perpetrator your husband, ma’am?” “Yes.” “I’m sorry.

We do not interfere in cases of domestic assault. Thank you
for calling the Precinct.” The dial tone still rings in my ears.

And where could I go anyway, on my own with two kids
and no money and a body that will not move. Shame— I

wrap it around me to keep warm as if it were my own,
protecting me from the eyes of neighbours, hiding black

and yellowing bruises under sleeves and stockings. What
have I done? Dishes, drying in the sink. What has he done?

The fingers I’ve studied so closely, bald sentinels drumming
action. Beating to their own rhythm, the jazz that syncopates

sudden movement. My glasses hang by a wire arm, frame twisted.
Retribution, then contrition. Pain is finite after all. He comes back

begging. I pride myself on the ability to forgive that’s been bred
into me. A flip of power and I get whatever I want; he does what-
ever I want. Until resentment steams over again. Next time. No.

*

There will be no next time. There’s never going to be a next time.
This I believe on faith. This he believes on faith. When he returns

after the kids are asleep, he knows he has changed, knows his ire
has disappeared forever, as if it never was. I know there is no more

fear. I pray there is no more fear. We hold onto each other all night.
without a word. Stealthily, while his breathing deepens, I practice

opening and closing my throat for when the words come. If I could
speak. For when I will speak. My jaw creaks on its wrenched hinge.

*

His thumbs are imprinted on either side of my windpipe like black
sentinels. For days, I wear a long turquoise scarf and go around

pretending I am Isadora Duncan. Pretending I could fly. Secretly,
unwinding my scarf, I inspect the delicate progression of bruises.

A circle of yellow surrounds the thumbprint. I think I can make out
the actual whorls that are the perimeter. Black fades to purple, then

softens to a yellowish centre. In the mirror, that face that is not mine
looks out at me from the telescoped distance of time, wrinkled thin

with the patience of years. Her eyes clear and almost wise, assuring—
she is somebody I will become, the face I will grow into someday.

PK

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

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.

April 9, Vimy Ridge Day

The anniversary of Vimy Ridge calls up the ghosts of all those lost then…  and now.

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

 

Sir Arthur Currie

Sir Arthur Currie.

And my poem for Vimy Ridge, “The Stand of Oak”:
https://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks-poetry/the-stand-of-oak/

Reading and Recommending Poems for National Poetry Month 2020

Both books and isolated poems, with some quotes, as they happen.  I include the publishers as well, to thank them for their insistence on publishing poetry~! And the Library for fulfilling my requests for titles!

*

Margaret Atwood’s “Six Poems”, Cutting edge: new stories of mystery and crime by women writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
Gary Barwin, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems (Wolsak & Wynn)
Jay Bernard, Surge (Penguin Random House)
Frank Bidart, Half-light: collected poems 1965-2016  (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Heather Cadsby, Standing in the flock of connections (Brick Books)
Tina Chang, Hybrida: poems (Norton)
Leonard Cohen, The Flame
Marlene Cookshaw, Mowing (Brick Books)
Lorna Crozier, What the soul doesn’t want: poems (Freehand Books)
Carol Ann Duffy, The Bees (Picador)
Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, We Are Malala (Inanna Publications)
Matthew Gwathmey, Our latest in folktales (Brick Books)
Joy Harjo, An American sunrise: poems
Stevie Howell, I left nothing inside on purpose: poems (M & S)
Maureen Hynes, Sotto Voce (Brick Books)
Monika Hope Lee, If water breathes  (Resource Publications))
Michael Lista, Bloom: poems (House of Anansi)
Erin Moure, The Elements (House of Anansi)
Harold Rhenisch, The Spoken World (Hagios)
Jane Urquhart; photographs by Jennifer Dickson, Some other garden: The little flowers of   Madame de Montespan and I am walking in the garden of his imaginary palace (M & S)
David White, Local Haunts (Pedlar Press)
Howard White, A mysterious humming noise / new poems by Howard White (Anvil Press)
Sheri-D. Wilson, A Love Letter to Emily C. (Frontenac House)

*

from Margaret Atwood’s “Spider Signatures” Six Poems in Cutting edge: new stories of mystery and crime by women writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates

“and while you sleep
I hover, the first grandmother.
I trap your nightmares in my net,
eat the seeds of your fears for you,
suck out their ink

and scribble on your windowsill
these tiny glosses on Is, Is, Is,
white lullabies.”

*

Gary Barwin, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems

About to read For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe! I know it will be a Pleasure and a Surprise:)!!

*

Jay Bernard, Surge

The ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire, a racist attack?

*

Heather Cadsby, Standing in the flock of connections 

I spend all
this energy fending off cures when I could be enjoying boring times;
guarding my secrets and incessant thoughts. I tell you, my supply is
dwindling.”

*

Tina Chang, Hybrida: poems

A terrifying, brilliant book confronting the poet’s terror

“Somewhere, glass breaks
and the one who shatters it
wears a mask of God’s many faces.

*

Leonard Cohen, The Flame. Recommending the audiobook, read by Atwood, Seth Rogen, etc, a company of fine readers. Listen again and again till the rhymes chime. They already resonate.

Great to hear the exchange between Leonard and Peter Dale Scott, Frank’s son and Cohen’s mentor at McGill: “You want it darker?”

I published a book of poems called Travelling Light with Soft Press (1976), decades before Cohen’s. But his poem here is the more inspiriting, I mean inspiring.  Surprised?  I think notJ. And titles are open game.

*

Lorna Crozier, What the soul doesn’t want: poems

Up to snuff.  Deeply engaged and engaging.

*

Carol Ann Duffy, The Bees

My fave: the sweetest of all these books.

“alchemical, nectar-slurred, pollen-furred,
the world’s mantra us, our blurry sound
along the thousand scented miles to the hive…
the hive, alive, us—how we behave.

*

Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, We Are Malala (Inanna Publications)

Some of Fretwell’s phrases will ring in your head long after you have put the book down. My favourite lines in the book link spirit and the natural world:

Once all women could talk to trees.
*
I still chant to forests, seeing chi—
silvery energy—pulsing around twig,

leaf, branch, bole. The whole.

The last lines of this book are a rallying call:

United we thrive, divided we die.
All souls. All sentience.

Sentenced to prescience, We Are Malala.

*

Stevie Howell’s text, I left nothing inside on purpose: poems

How I love Stevie Howell’s text, I left nothing inside on purpose: poems. Like this:

“Anonymous,
the one who sands the edges of sorrow.”

Magic!

*

Maureen Hynes, Sotto Voce

“We’re always
looking backwards in galleries and books
to find women like ourselves.”

Maureen Hynes, “Keep It Dark”

*

Monika Hope Lee, If water breathes

We’ve both made poetry of experiences like the Kalachakra, like Jaipur!

“Talking to the Unknown”

Tomorrow a gain or loss or truce
will alter the past

and we will reach for signs, particulars
a keyhole to the future’s largesse”

Penn Novel Idea Kingston 2018

Reading at Novel Idea, Kingston. Photo by Andrew Simms.

Poets logo

 

Equinox Blessing for Balance

Penn magnolia magnificentAt the Moment of Equinox

I enter the garden, the ground
still held by winter, spring
almost released. I stand
at the centre into which all
flow, from which all emerge.

Wind in the upper birch stills.
The garden’s breath is so long
it is immeasurable. But I wait,
offering awareness as witness.

Pivoting, I pray. North, grant us
your clarity and strength. West,
your surrender and acceptance.
South, your joy and creativity.

East, your initiation, inspiration.
Sky, your broad view. Earth,
your ground, your holy round.

The moment is held in a bowl
beyond comprehension, beyond
belief. May we carry balance

lightly on each step of the way
till it recurs six months off. May
we find a way to become whole.

May the earth find her stability.
May the equanimity of equinox
be yours, be ours, the way animals
holds their ground without belief

in beyond.

This poem will appear in P.S., a chapbook written with Sharon Thesen. Kalamalka Press, 2020.

Penn Sharon Pyx (2)

March is for Women

Celebrating Women’s Day 2020

For Women’s History Month, I’m reading:

Gish Jen, The Resisters
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge                                   and the Teachings of Plants
Marianne Micros, Eye
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
Sally Rooney, Conversations with friends: a novel
Laisha Rosnau, Little Fortress
Linn Ullmann, Unquiet
Lidia Yuknavitch, Verge: stories
Leni Zumas, Red Clock

For March 8, I’m celebrating Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s We Are Malala: poems and art.
From Inanna Publications: “Excellent new review of “We Are Malala” by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, in honour of #InternationalWomensDay, with thanks to Penn Kemp and The League of Canadian Poets#femlitcan #IWD2020

‘The artwork included in this volume features paintings based on photos of Malala Yousafzai. Fretwell adeptly capture’s unflinching spirit. She brings Malala to life on the page in striking reds and greys. Malala’s eyes dominate, demanding that you engage, that you pay attention. The paintings pay tribute and reflect their counterparts on the page. Readers, take note.’

http://poets.ca/2020/03/06/we-are-malala/

A Canadian artist muses on Malala Yousafzai in poetic dialogue

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
Malala Yousafzai

On the day I read Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s We Are Malala, a photo appears on my screen’s feed: Malala Yousafzai meets youth activist Greta Thunberg for the first time. Malala and Greta become instant fast friends, and no wonder. Both young women have addressed the United Nations on their respective causes (climate change and girl’s education). When Malala was 17, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Herself now 17, Greta too has been nominated for this high honour. Malala posts the two them, arms around one other. Her caption reads: “Thank you, @gretathunberg” along with a heart emoji.

CNN reports on the meeting of the world’s two most renowned young activists:

Greta Thunberg visited Malala Yousafzai at the University of Oxford. Thunberg is in the UK for a school strike planned for later this week.
Admiration between the two activists was mutual.
“So … today I met my role model,” Thunberg tweeted. “What else can I say?”
“She’s the only friend I’d skip school for,” Yousafzai quipped.*

The dialogue between these young women drew me back to Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s We Are Malala: poems and art. The connection is appropriate because Fretwell creates a similar evocation of female friendship: hers is by proxy, through the media. Her collection of poems sets up a dialogue between Malala and Fretwell’s own personal history, though the two have never met. Fretwell intertwines her stories with the large context of Malala’s. How do their stories connect, as young women growing up in different times, different continents?  What are the disconnects? Fretwell’s education as a girl is assured in ways that Malala’s never was, but as Fretwell succinctly displays, the similarities of female disempowerment are shocking, despite the poet’s apparent privilege.

It’s essential for women to tell their stories in whatever form best suits. Fretwell’s primary medium is poetry— breathless poems in short lines, reminiscent of the Urdu poetry that Malala might recognize. The poems form an urgent inquiry that Fretwell and Malala share. How does a young woman adapt to the culture in which she was raised? How can she change the culture in which she is immersed?  Both Malala and Fretwell leave their country of birth, for another, safer, saner place. Malala’s exile is involuntary: after the gunshot wound that nearly killed her, she awoke to emergency treatment in Birmingham, England. Fretwell in political protest left the U.S. for Canada, where she still (proudly) resides.

Political poetry is difficult to write because it all too easily swerves into didactic, self-righteous polemics. A good poem follows sound and language itself, leading both the poet and the reader/listener into new and surprising exploration. A political poem tends toward rant, set on the rigid track of a pre-conceived idea or conviction that the poem must adhere to. Political poetry can be written as reaction, in the moment. It has the energy of immediacy, but often it has not had time to cure/ mellow age with a wider perspective. Political poetry is often undigested emotion that has not been realized as art.

In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth writes that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind”.

Malala Yousafzai’s history is so moving that our immediate response of empathy and horror can become sentimentally ineffectual. Katerina Fretwell has taken the time necessary to allow emotion to settle into contemplation, into poems that move the reader into wider perspective of understanding that deepens our response. In We Are Malala, Katerina Fretwell walks a fine line, escaping the trap and sensationalized trappings to explore a wider perspective than her personal narrative. The dialectic between poet and her muse continues. These poems stir the reader into action.

But how do we continue activism while we study or pursue our chosen art? How do we manifest that art in action? Fretwell points a way. Her enthusiasm, her passion, ignites and inspires. And Fretwell has several bows in her quiver. Not only is she a widely published and accomplished poet, but she paints as well. The artwork included in this volume features paintings based on photos of Malala Yousafzai. Fretwell adeptly capture’s unflinching spirit. She brings Malala to life on the page in striking reds and greys. Malala’s eyes dominate, demanding that you engage, that you pay attention.  The paintings pay tribute and reflect their counterparts on the page. Readers, take note.

Malala,
this verse serves me well:
So vie with one another in good works

As always, Inanna’s production values are impeccable, so that the font is easy on the eye, the pages sturdy and Fretwell’s art work subtle and powerful in reflecting the poems.

One of the best editors of our time, Harold Rhenisch, is acknowledged, “non pareil”, as pulling the poet out of the politics and into the poetry: an essential task, this conversion from reportage. News, undigested, is unlikely to stay new. To endure, it must be transformed into art.  In William Carlos Williams’s famous line, “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack// of what is found there” And to Ezra Pound, “Poetry is news that stays news” (

Reactions to “ecological grief” and “climate depression” are given form in these poems and by their expression, that grief, no matter how bleak is alleviated in the very act of creation. As Malala writes, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” Fretwell joins the chorus of women speaking their many truths. “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” At this perilous time, we need artists to tell their histories and to inspire and encourage transformative change.

Like Henry Vaughan, her poetic and literal ancestor from the seventeenth century, Fretwell contemplates “The World”. Vaughan writes, in his famous poem of the same name:

Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d…

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout. **

Fretwell too, takes on the world. Her “clouds of crying witnesses” are young women activists in hot pursuit of injustice. They are intent on holding “the darksome stateman”, in all his guises, to account.

Some of Fretwell’s phrases will ring in your head long after you have put the book down. My favourite lines in the book link spirit and the natural world:

Once all women could talk to trees.
*
I still chant to forests, seeing chi—
silvery energy—pulsing around twig,

leaf, branch, bole. The whole.

The last lines of this book are a rallying call:

United we thrive, divided we die.
All souls. All sentience.

Sentenced to prescience, We Are Malala.

* https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/25/world/malala-greta-thunberg-meet-trnd/index.html
** https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45434/the-world-56d2250cca80d

Penn Kemp

malala-yousafzai-nobel-peace-prize

This essay appears on http://poets.ca/2020/03/06/we-are-malala/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Reading the Exotic, the Other, in a Palindromic Month

Notes on Reading 02/2020

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The water dancer
Alexander McCall Smith, To the land of long lost friends
Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht, Inland
Alix Ohlin, Dual Citizens
Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, The water dancer celebrates the power of story and lineage.

What better way to begin Black History Month than with this powerful novel! To be read along with Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Brilliant, immersive, majestic, magic.

“But knowing now the awesome power of memory, how it can open a blue door from one world to another, how it can move us…can fold the land like cloth… I know now that this story, this Conduction, had to begin there on that fantastic bridge between the land of the living and the land of the lost.”

“I understood Conduction, understood it as a relay of feeling, assembled from moments so striking that they become real as stone and steel”

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Alexander McCall Smith, To the land of long lost friends

Listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s To the land of long lost friends, I’m conflicted. The easy charm, the delicious accents with rolling r’s, the satisfyingly happy endings, the morality: yes. But the characters are tropes out of Little Black Sambo. When I was five, this forbidden book was my favourite; I read it to my dolls off by heart, loving the exoticism, the bright colours, the adventures… and the pancakes! How do we recognize colonialism in ourselves? I know Alexander McCall Smith was born in Africa.  Would he recognize his lightly white-washed stories in present-day Botswana?

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Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht, Inland

Inland is the better novel by far, though the characters are stock in both. The landscape moves from “the former Yugoslavia” (which always suggests Serbia) to the American West of the past. Here’s Obreht has capture the feel of the land, and dialogue. Both novels rest in a mythic premise, a fascination with folkloric beasts.

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Alix Ohlin, Dual Citizens

A gentle read twinning two sisters, two countries. So refreshing to read a deeply felt story where the turmoil is internal, not political nor ecological. Though wolves are involved!

/////////”

Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel

What’s not to love on a blustery winter day? Astrology! Epithets for each chapter by Blake! The unreliable narrator a madly determined old woman, as ferocious as she is tender. And does she love animals!

penn-1950

Mid-Winter Poem

This poem will be published in P.S., a collaboration with beloved Sharon Thesen to be published by Kalamalka Press in the spring of 2020.

As the Initiation of Imbolc begins

My birds are ruder than yours, they
squabble a dance of dominance.  But
I offer you the scarlet of cardinals in
return for a glimpse of a red-shafted
flicker at your feeder.  Let ‘em meet.

We are in the same weather thousands
of miles apart and yet I carry an image
of you shoveling alongside the walk,
heaving snow with a cheeky grin that
by the end of the driveway is grimace.

Though we talk, I can’t quite figure out
what you’re saying.  Your mouth moves,
your lips shape words that fly like birds
on the frost breath, cartoon apparitions,
and conversation curls in upon itself.

*

Response quickens into a new poem.
Exhalation is exhilaration in the cold.
Small hairs in my nostrils are spiked:
a word which leads me to mull over
Burgundy and cinnamon spiced hot.

Thought our forecast is bleak mid-winter,
snow squalls are more easily weathered
than political disruption and upheaval.
Trump addresses the state of disunion.
The blood and full blue moon eclipses.

*

A phrase from a poem I read today—
“in the revolving question of a field”—
leads beyond the shoveled path to
the woods we think we know.  As if
trees belong or we to one another.

All your particulars of sheen sparkle,
snow in pale sun, the showing forth:
Candlemas, Celtic cross-quarter day.
Baby and his mother presented pure.
Bridget spreads wide her crimson cloak.

Penn Kemp, for Sharon

Penn Sharon Pyx (2)

Sharon and Penn at Caetani Cultural Centre, thanks to http://www.kalwriters.com/residency/residency.html.
Photo by Roberta Pyx  Sutherland

A poem for today’s palindrome: 02022020

Forecast for February, 2020

Today’s palindrome is 02022020,
perfect for Groundhog Day, Bill
Murray’s film of nearly eternal return!

All the groundhogs agree on early
spring, their vision 20/20 in new snow.
We mark the myth with earth magic.

O whistling pig! Spot this quarter turn.
Persephone, goddess of flowers, returns
today in Greece. Here, she wears thick

brown fur and burrows up through feet
of snow to determine with a nod whether
winter will soon surrender to spring or

not. A quick survey and she ducks back
down the cold tunnel of time into long
distant mythic dream. We don’t know

what the groundhog dreams when she
scurries home to her warm, hushed den.
Edible flowers from my garden, I bet.

Or the security in curling round herself
as her squirming pile of pups blindly
snuffles, eyes unnecessary in the dark.

Mary now purified, free of confinement
shows forth her babe. Forty days respite
in temenos, in shelter, and they call that

impure. The labour in giving birth impure!
Longer light at last starts to awaken her.
Goddess has recovered to hold her child.

Persephone in Hades eats the pomegranate
that ensures her return: red, translucent and
succulent fruit seeds, cased in possibility.

She changes from Crone to Maiden once
more and always, grieving Mother consoled,
together to celebrate the Feast of Torches.

We lay out scarves for Brighid’s blessing on
outer evergreen boughs. We retrieve white
cloths next morning from beneath topknots of

soft snow that fell all night, consecrated when
Brighid passed over. Her snowdrops here are
snowflakes dropped one by one into many.

Imbolc in the Mother’s belly when ewes lie
near to lambing, drawing milk for a wan sun
on the grand cross: eagle, lion, human, calf.

Initiatory dreams score a long night’s rest.
We celebrate Imbolc, fire festival between
solstice and equinox on the year’s wheel.

Penn Kemp

Some Talk Magic coverAmandaUlasnowhill2014

​Mothers and Daughters and Mothers and Daughters

My poem for you, in the beauty of new snow…