Poems in Response to Peril: an Anthology of Canadian Poets on Behalf of Ukraine
A major anthology in support of embattled peoples
On Saturday, May 28, 2 pm, we are launching Poems in Response to Peril at Blackfriars Bistro, 46 Blackfriars St, London, ON N6H 1K7, (519) 667-4930. Local contributors will read their poem at the launch. All welcome to come listen, buy a copy and some treats from Blackfriars Bistro!
Canadian poets Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski have co-edited Poets in Response to Peril, an anthology which brings together 61 poems by 48 of Canada’s most prominent poets in response to the current crisis in Ukraine and other perils afflicting our troubled times. Profits from the book will be directed toward PEN Ukraine’s efforts to provide the Ukrainian cultural community with evacuation and resettlement help.
Contributors like Gary Barwin, George Elliott Clarke, Kim Fahner, Tanis MacDonald, Daphne Marlatt and Goran Simić offer us passionate, often heartbreaking, poems invoking sunflowers and broken earth; intimacy and grief; falling bombs and the fragility of flesh; AK-47s and a bride’s bouquet. Gathering voices in the white heat of the moment, this anthology couldn’t be more timely or more necessary. The work of revered Ukrainian poet Dmytro Kremin is translated here by Russell Thornton and Svetlana Ischenko.
The book is part of a larger project, Poets in Response to Peril, which included a 3-hour international Zoom reading, now up on YouTube > Poets in Response to Peril). The Zoom featured more than 30 of the book’s Canadian contributors, expressing solidarity with those afflicted by war. An ongoing playlist of videos submitted by poets continues our work, 49 so far are up on https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists. Poets are welcome to submit their readings on the theme to our video curator, Richard-Yves Sitoski, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, April 7, 7pm ET: Zoom reading and discussion with Huron Literary Society at Western University to encourage young writers on Mental Health and Literature with Q & A. I Presenters Vanessa Brown, Penn Kemp and Yoda Olinyk. Contact: <email@example.com>. Play-writing as an expression of hope and possibility. Sponsored by Playwrights Guild of Canada.
Sunday, April 10, 6:30 pm. Live! Pre-concert conversation with Jennifer Chesnut and Penn Kemp on environmentalism and the arts, on poetry and local conservation awareness initiatives. 7:30 pm.Earth Speaks: A musical meditation on our collective responsibility to the planet. Chor Amica, Patrick Murray, guest conductor. Performance of ecopoetry by Jennifer and Penn. Oakridge Presbyterian Church, 970 Oxford St. W. London ON N6H 1V4. $25. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. https://www.choramica.ca/concerts.html
May (date TBA). Live! The Launch of Poems in Response to Peril: an Anthology (Pendas Productions/Laughing Raven Press). Dedicated to the poets and people of Ukraine from 48 Canadian poets. Readers: Penn Kemp, Richard-Yves Sitoski, and local contributors to the anthology as well as surprise guests. We have 200 pre-orders. Keep ’em coming! Poems in Response to Peril: an Anthology is 125 pages. $25 plus postage: order from email@example.com. https://pennkemp.wordpress.com/2022/03/21/poems-in-response-to-peril-an-anthology/
POEMS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, our anthology with 48 Canadian poets in support of Ukraine, will be launched May 28, 2 pm, Blackfriars Bistro, 46 Blackfriars St., London ON! All welcome, an outdoor patio.
The anthology, all 122 pages, is out now and it is beautiful… a fitting tribute in solidarity with Ukraine! Order from firstname.lastname@example.org: $25 plus post till our launch on May 28, then $30 plus post.
POETS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, our Zoom on April 2, is now up, thanks to Richard-Yves Sitoski: h4. Truly a labour of love, from Canadian poets to Ukrainian poets and people. What a profound and poignant event, gathering 100 poets and participants coast to coast— holding fast for over three hours of words that we so needed to hear. Poetry is the ability to respond, and the poets did, in voices eloquently and powerfully expressed. This blog is intended to keep that community vibe flowing.
Part 1 of our zoom, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETCb_gHO0R4, features Penn Kemp, Richard-Yves Sitoski, Susan McCaslin, Svetlana Ischenko, Russell Thornton, Albert Dumont, Bänoo Zan, Celeste Snowber, Blaine Marchand and Marsha Barber.
Kudos to Rico (Richard-Yves Sitoski), our indomitable host, along with Owen Sound Public Library! Rico continues to gather our voices in poetry on https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists, 49 so far! Send your videos to him, email@example.com. And please take a listen when you can, when you need to hear these poems. Here’s celebrating National Poetry Month, #npm22.
Attached is our cover for POEMS IN RESPONSE TO PERIL, designed by Rico.
Gathering Voices: poets and participants respond to our Zoom
A wonderful event! Still glowing from the sense of purpose generated when poets come together for an important cause. Poetry forever! Marsha Barber
Thank you all so much for what was an amazing event. Penn, Susan and Richard for your dedication to this cause, and all the poets and audience. It was deeply moving. Yvonne Blomer
– it was deeply moving, and healing. Thank you all! Kate Braid
It was an extraordinary afternoon hearing all the poets read, relating to these dreadful events in Ukraine. The strange thing is that I didn’t realize how I needed to hear the human reactions, responses poetically—Facing this issue head on (through poetry) is, to my mind, part of the eventual reconstruction of world community. Holly (& Allan) Briesmaster
Richard/Penn: Congratulations on an impressive Zoom launch! Of all the Zoom events in the past few years i have attended this was the most high profile and meaningful with poets caring about the Ukrainian crisis. Plus so many other topics that they are passionate about. I am so heartened Canadian poets are deeply engaged in the tragedies of the day. I look forward to seeing the anthology and am proud that when the history of these times is written there will not be a blank page for the poets. David Brydges
Today, I spent almost two hours in zoom poetry reading for “Poets In Response To Peril” as organized by Canadian Poet Penn Kemp. When the invasion of Ukraine began, she wanted to put together a chapbook, but instead, the outpouring of Canadian voices created a full-length book.. within days. This is a really remarkable and quick effort, and the reading had me in tears as a poetry and people lover. My cat enjoyed the reading as well. 🙂 The proceeds of the book sales will go to PEN Ukraine. Please consider purchasing this book in support of the voices of Ukraine and PEN Ukraine. email inquiries and orders to:firstname.lastname@example.org Sarah M. Daugherty
My sincere thanks to Penn and Richard and the Library Zoom meister for arranging a truly astonishing afternoon of poetry, coast to coast. It was an honour to take part. Our poems now go out like prayers to Ukraine and , sadly, other places in our world where people suffering in peril may find a measure of comfort in our words. Poetry does have power. With love, Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni
Our time together yesterday reminded me of a statement I made years ago. This is it: “Time is the storage place of our memories. And the human heart is the storage place of our tears. I have gone to that place of memories and visited where tears are kept. What I retrieved was the notion that poetry is delightful to the human spirit.” I hope your Sunday is restful and emotionally uplifting. Albert Dumont
Congratulations on this impressive mobilization of poetic force in support of our allies and fellow artists under attack in Ukraine. Neil Eddinger
These poets…so amazing…all of them. Kim Fahner
What an event dear Penn, and such variety and diversity and even Ukrainian spoken! Brava! A huge life-changing Poets in Response to Peril event. Brava/bravo Richard and Penn!! The variety, poignancy, astoundingly creative and delightful videos all contribute to a masterful, memorable production. Katerina Vaughan Fretwell
We were particularly interested in your latest book since it also benefits those affected in the Ukraine. What a beautiful endeavour that helps shed light on the dreadful situation expressed with poetry. It is so beneficial and of course, our residents love reading poetry! Rebecca Gee
Dear Penn, Rico, Susan and all who made this special event possible…It was an emotional gathering of coast-to-coast poets and poems and I was honoured to be part of the outpouring of love and grief and hope at this time of peril. Here’s to peace and freedom indeed! Diana Hayes
Dear Penn & Rico, Warm thanks for hosting such a wonderful event! It was fabulous. I know it took a lot of energy to do that. You’re culture heroes! Excellent reading. — It came out great! Good to see and hear so many supportive authors! A strong reading set! — The book extends vital support of Ukraine while condemning war. What a massive job. Your combined energies on the reading, video and book are deeply appreciated. Here’s hoping that the war will come to an end soon. The world stands against the atrocities. It is good that Canadian writers also stand against such martial aggression. Thank you for it all, Sunflowers for Ukraine) 🌼🌼 🌼 Karl Jirgens
And thanks dear heart for all your continuing efforts. I love that the whole project began with the conviction that poetry makes everything happen…in its time. Patricia Keeney
Such an amazing project! I hope the blog post, the project (and the new book!) get lots of well-deserved attention and love! Renée Knapp
Thank you Richard-Yves Sitoski and Penn Kemp for all the work you put into Saturday’s very moving “Poets in Response to Peril” event. It felt like a teaser for the upcoming anthology. Now I can’t wait to read “Poems in Response to Peril”. Mary Little
Wonderful initiative, great event. And thanks to you Penn, to Richard-Yves, to Susan McCaslin who worked so hard to bring it to fruition. Thanks to Tim for the technical support. A great gathering. Splendid poetry. Now people should purchase the Anthology and help support Ukraine. But it was great to feel a part of the poetic community this afternoon. I look forward to reading the anthology. There were many powerful, moving poems this afternoon. Blaine Marchand
Dear Penn & Richard, Thanks to you both for collaborating on this wonderful and meaningful event. I hope more books orders flow in. Thanks for all you are doing to get more poets’ voice out to the public, Penn. And thanks for the links you are providing to preserve people’s responses to Saturday’s amazing event. The event continues opening in ever-widening circles! Susan McCaslin
Yes, thank you Penn, Rico, Tim, Susan, and all of my fellow poets for a most intense and meaningful event. I’ll remember it! Susan McMaster
One of the poets said that she was falling in love with the community of poets on the zoom. Certainly, it was a wonderful group of poets, both in terms of their poetry and also their humanity. In the midst of sorrow about the war, there was also much beauty in the poets’ words…The breadth and depth of the poems shared by the poets was emotionally moving. Thank you again for putting together such a phenomenal project. Ola Nowasad
I would like to order a copy of Poems in Response to Peril. I attended the Zoom event on April 2nd and it was phenomenal. Lisa Reynolds
That was a very rich and varied collection of poems and poets. A delight to be a part of the gathering. Well done, organizers. Thanks! Peggy Roffey
Sorry Penn for not to be able to participate at event with my voice. I was just ear but not voice. Anyway, I already doing my best with colegues writer here in Bosnia to help some of Ukrainian writer to find temporarry home here in Sarajevo and to be evacuate with great help of German Goethe Institute. I hope I am doing right, aven I have Memory of myself rejecting to leave Sarajevo with my two Children on the beginnig of four years long siege of my city starting 1992. All the best to you and friends making that event possible. Goran Simic Because of a poor connection from Bosnia, Goran was able to be with us only “by ear but not voice.” How ironic, because the voices of those who have known war need to be heard! As this conversation points out: Dear Mr Simic, (And Everyone else…) I have not had the pleasure of meeting you, but I do know of your fine work, and have just now read two of your poems, https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/13065/poems-about-migration-love-and-war-by-bosnian-poet-goran-simic. It does not seem right that you could not share your voice at this event, particularly because in addition to your gifts as a poet, you are much closer in many ways to the bloody events unfolding in the Ukraine than many of us here. Robert Girvan Dear Robert, thank you for kind words about my poetry. I will be glad to record one of my poems to participate for video Message as Canadian/ Bosnian contribution of poets who alarm the world about attack on Ukrainian state, culture and history. All of my friends writers who survived siege in Sarajevo still feel alive the same scars watching destruction of city and civilians in Ukraina. But with pride for people not to give up struggle. I will do video asap because I spend most of my day on the hill keeping company to the four street abandoned dogs we adopted five years ago. Goran Simic Dear Goran, Excellent! I look forward to seeing you and hearing your voice and words. The lucky ones who have not (yet) faced war, bow their heads to those who have endured it, and listen. Robert Girvan Goran has sent the video of his poem for https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists. I hope you do too.His greetings from Sarajevo and the poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mW1KSzzPQ9c&list=PLDARA01MjoyW7WccH9j6yGtI3XZhcE0BD&index=41.
I am still feeling the pleasure of seeing you in your great blue and yellow costume, and the honour of being involved in the hours of poetic tension that was so invigorating, even in the perilous present. Elizabeth Waterston
All I can say is Thank you and love to you. You are a great inspiration, your spirit, insights and grace encourage me, inspire. Sheri-D Wilson
Please let me add my voice to those who have already thanked the organizers and all who attended yesterday’s reading. It was indeed a marathon and, as one of the final readers, it was gratifying to see how many people hung in through the whole reading in an amazing outpouring of solidarity, support and yes, love. As Richard has noted, if even a fraction of that positive reverse-bomb energy intervenes in places in the world where people’s lives are torn by violence, we will have done our bit for peace and for the sustainable future of humanity. I look forward to receiving my copies of the anthology. Susan Wismer
Thursday, April 7, 7-8pm ET: https://westernuniversity.zoom.us/j/94561144196. Zoom reading and discussion with Huron Literary Society at Western University to encourage young writers on all aspects, esp. theatre. Focusing on my play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, I will talk about writing as an expression of hope… and take questions. With presenters Vanessa Brown and Yoda Olinyk. Contact: Lauren <email@example.com>. Reading is sponsored by Playwrights Guild of Canada.
Sunday, April 10, 2022, 7:30pm. Earth Speaks: A musical meditation on our collective responsibility to the planet. Chor Amica, Patrick Murray, guest conductor. Performance of ecopoetry and pre-concert talk with Jennifer Chesnut on poetry and local environmental justice, conservation, and awareness initiatives. Oakridge Presbyterian Church, 970 Oxford St. W. London ON N6H 1V4. $25. https://www.choramica.ca/concerts.html
Eco-Poetry: Using the Arts to Celebrate the Earth. With special guest Penn Kemp, this reading and workshop will explore poems on the theme of the Earth.
Sunday, May (date TBA), 2pm ET. Live! The Launch of Poems in Response to Peril: an Anthology (Pendas Productions/Laughing Raven). London Open Mic, Mykonos Restaurant, 572 Adelaide St N, London, ON N6B 3J5. Readers: Penn Kemp, Richard-Yves Sitoski, and other local contributors to the anthology as well as surprise guests. Of our 300 print run, we have 150 pre-orders. Keep ’em coming! Poems in Response to Peril: an Anthology is dedicated to the poets of Ukraine from 48 Canadian poets. My reading is sponsored by The League of Canadian Poets. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology highlights the work by 48 of our most committed Canadian poets, responding to the current crisis in Ukraine and other perils afflicting our troubled times. These passionate, often heartbreaking, poems offer us sunflowers and broken earth; intimacy and grief; falling bombs and the fragility of flesh; AK-47s and a bride’s bouquet. This anthology couldn’t be more timely and necessary.
Poems in Response to Peril is 125 pages of poetry that describe what Penn Kemp calls “a sharing of community, of heart space. Such an outlet for despair helps us—both writer and reader— to become activists. The poems encompass the entirety of human emotions, written and published in the white heat of this moment in 2022. The videos of readings by our contributors will be linked by q.r. code in the book! You can see 40 readings now up on https://www.youtube.com/user/veggiemeister/playlists.
Poems in Response to Peril will be published in Spring, 2022 by Pendas Productions/Laughing Raven Press. Pre-orders are $25 plus postage. To order Poems in Response to Peril, please email Richard-Yves Sitoski, email@example.com.
Here’s celebrating National Poetry Month with poems that move us to action!
By Joe Belanger, The London Free Press. March 5, 2022
Poets across Canada and around the world are contributing thoughts, voices and poems about the war in Ukraine to London poet Penn Kemp’s blog. Kemp, who has written two poems about the conflict in Ukraine, said she believes that poetry can make a difference because it’s a sharing of community.
Photograph taken on Friday, March 4, 2022. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press). March FORTH!
Lately, I can’t seem to get this classic Tragically Hip tune out of my head, nor the words of the late singer-poet Gord Downie:
Don’t tell me what the poets are doing
Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough . . .
Well, Gord, they are.
I’ve been humming that tune ever since an email arrived from Penn Kemp, London’s first poet laureate and a renowned poet, playwright and author.
The email advised that poets across the country and around the world are contributing their thoughts, voices and poems about the war in Ukraine to her blog, pennkemp.wordpress.com and will be sharing their words live on teleconference on April 2 at 2 p.m. Details on that gathering will be posted on the website rsitoski.com/news-events to kick off National Poetry Month.
Kemp’s Friday blog post is titled A Gathering of Poets in Response to Peril.
She offers up two new poems inspired by the horrors of war in Ukraine.
In The Honorable, the Diss-, Kemp expresses her — and our — shock, anger, fears, outrage and determination to do something. It reads in part:
The Doomsday Clock counts down a
hundred seconds till midnight strikes.
May Kyiv keep safe beneath the holy
mantle of Maty Zemlya, Mother Earth
as if prayers are enough. Send money.
“Prove that you are with us. “Prove
that you will not let us go,” demands
President Volodymyr Zelensky of us.
We all can let our government know how we feel; we can donate cash or goods. It’s clear the government of Justin Trudeau shares our feelings and expresses them through donations of military and civilian aid to Ukraine along with condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As citizens, we also can support Ukraine with donations.
What can a poet donate? Seriously. Show me a rich poet.
But they have words, which can pierce, perhaps not armour, but certainly hearts. Can they have an impact?
“Yes, yes, yes,” Kemp declares.
“It makes a difference because it’s a sharing of community, of heart space. It creates empathy. It’s an outlet for our feelings of despair and helps us become activists, the writer and the reader. Poetry encompasses the entirety of human emotions.”
On Kemp’s blog, someone posted an anonymous quote found on a headstone where American artist Jackson Pollock and other artists are buried: “Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.”
“That’s why I turn to poetry,” Kemp said. “It makes nothing happen, but it makes us feel empathetic; it expresses our sorrow and communicates it to our community and it reaches across languages to the heart.”
On Kemp’s blog, I find a contribution from one of her pals, award-winning Romanian-born American poet Andrei Codrescu.
“Tyrants hate poets: Ovid was exiled by Augustus, Mandelstam was killed by Stalin, Neruda banished by Pinochet, Hikmet imprisoned in Turkey. When I hear the word ‘Putin,’ I reach for my sonnet!”
Kemp had a similar reaction.
“What prompted me was Putin’s threat of nuclear bombs, which would annihilate the world,” she said. “He’s a madman, one man wreaking havoc throughout the world.”
Perhaps there’s no more immediate proof of the impact arts and poetry can have on people than pop-rock’s Twisted Sister and its anthem, We’re Not Gonna Take It, which the Ukrainian people seem to have adopted as a resistance anthem.
And I love a tweet from Twisted Sister’s lead singer Dee Snider that brings into perspective the difference between the two issues dominating news today: the pandemic and the Ukrainian war.
“People are asking me why I endorsed the use of We’re Not Gonna Take It for the Ukrainian people and did not for the anti-maskers. Well, one use is for a righteous battle against oppression; the other is infantile feet stomping against an inconvenience.”
Yes, the arts, including poetry — words — can have an impact, piercing hearts and minds and the balloons of fools.
In his famous elegy for W. B. Yeats, W. H. Auden says, “poetry makes nothing happen.” He adds: “it survives,/A way of happening, a mouth.”
In response to Auden, please join our Zoom reading on April 2, 2022 at 2 pm EST. This “Oh!Sound Reading” will feature many of the poets below. Details are posted on https://www.rsitoski.com/event-details/poets-in-response-to-peril. Please respond there if you can join us for National Poetry Month. Along with host Richard-Yves Sitoski, we will be celebrating How Poems Matter. Why Poems Matter.
How do poets respond to precarious events in the world? Susan McCaslin writes : “On Feb. 24, 2022, when the world woke to the shock of the catastrophic bombing of Ukraine, I asked myself and a few of my fellow poet friends how they would respond to Auden’s words, especially in these perilous times.” Susan and I discussed this line from Auden and continued with our own reflections on activism through poetry in this “Dialogue: Reflections on W.H. Auden’s ‘Poetry Makes Nothing Happen’”: https://www.inanna.ca/2018/11/29/art-action-transformation/.
Poetry makes the song of the heart shape the architecture the eye creates.” Jim Andrews
“I mean this little visual as a statement of how poetry can matter. I feel that it can place us in the meaningful nexus between being epistemological warriors and worriers. Both meaningful positions to consider the world. Poetry makes nothing happen? It does make things happen in terms of epistemology, both as a view on the outside world and one’s internal world.” Gary Barwin
“Poetry makes nothing obvious, nothing earth-shaking happen. At first. But it’s a slow ignition that can light up your life later, on the right day, at the right time, right when you need it most.” Kate Braid
“In the dark hours we place a bird beside a crumbled citadel, a voice inside a crowded tunnel, a mother singing in her mother tongue to a baby who cannot sleep. The image, metaphor, voice resonates with the rhythms of heart beat and pulse, this for me is poetry. Where we turn in the dark and in the light.” Yvonne Blomer
“The poet’s lampoon must never go dull. Poetry precisely pricks the diplomatic bubble mask with such elegant savagery. Poetry without provocation is a seed without soil. Poets are society’s second government of conscience and dissent. Poets are language light-bearers in darker times. Poets are historians capturing a community’s tragedies and triumphs. We record and share our humanity so others can identify, empathize, and be inspired. Helping to bring wholeness to the human journey when hearts are broken. A poem is a small act as contemporary artist Ai Weiwei says on taking action: “A small act is worth a million thoughts.” Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves, they can do a little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving. — statement in the cemetery where Jackson Pollock is buried.” David C. Brydges
“Tyrants hate poets: Ovid was exiled by Augustus, Mandelstam was killed by Stalin, Neruda banished by Pinochet, Hikmet imprisoned in Turkey. When I hear the word Putin I reach for my sonnet!” Andrei Codrescu
“Poetry is the translation of silences into words.” Sadiqa de Meijer
“Poetry is the place where the light gets into a person’s heart and mind on darker days. It’s the way hope lives in the world, saying ‘yes’ even when everything else seems to say ‘no.’ Poetry transports, transforms, and transmutes. It’s strong magic, and words have power—especially in the face of apathy or tyranny. Poetry asks you to pay attention, to observe, to be the witness, and then it asks you to write the words down on paper and give them a clear, true voice.” Kim Fahner
“Auden also wrote, ‘But it survives/ A way of happening, a mouth.’” In perilous times, poetry is hope, and hope is awareness. Hope is clarity.” Carolyn Forché. Carolyn also gave us permission to add this link to a reading on March 1 of “Voices for Ukraine–Words together, Worlds apart.”
The reading inspired this little poem: SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION
When Ilya Kaminsky thanks Carolyn Forché for her reading dedicated to the city of Odessa “where two things were esteemed, poetry and ships”–in the subtitle below, his word “reading” appears aptly as “vineyard”. Penn Kemp
“Poetry homes right into the heart and soul and this wisdom is essential as the world spins out of alignment. For too long, poetry has been marginalized; it needs to be central to daily living and acting to manifest inclusion, peace and communal care for everyone.” Katerina Fretwell
Gary Snyder, quoted by Kerry Gilbert below.
“You do what you can, as a citizen, and as a poet. Poetry, it seems to me, pushes against the degradation of language, and opens a space for the human.” Robert Girvan
“Poetry, especially when it is read aloud, can stir the most hardened heart to all that is possible. Poetry may well be our (and the Earth’s) most potent hope.” Heidi Greco
“Poems connect us. They are ambassadors when grief blinds us, when joy takes our breath away, when memories visit in the night and don’t leave a name. Poems are rhythms of peace in a world of ancient battles. They offer refuge from the front lines when there is little to believe or trust. They offer a map to the heart, a path otherwise lost. And finally, poems are followed by silence, the space between words, the knowing that cannot be told with language.” Diana Hayes
“A LITTLE NOTHING: POETRY MATTERS When words fail, war is apt for displaying insanity. Does matter matter? In wars of words, matter dissembles, lies. It’s said, meter matters, metrics matter, think of Fiona Hill: “…he wouldn’t, would he? Well, yes, he would.” It’s said, maters matter, mother-tongues matter, meaning matters, sometimes something trumps nothing sometimes something lies amidst the branches of insulation sometimes nothing sometimes something lies in the valley of its un-making some times a thing — a too busy grief some times no thing for now, better, no thing a word-less nothing” Karl Jirgens
“Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, all the arts, including “folk arts” nourish Life itself and celebrate the creativity of the human spirit and address the Why of being alive. War destroys Life. Some arts remind us of that destruction: ‘Guernica,’ war symphonies, and graphic expressions of death. Arts also can evoke Being itself, even capturing the love and mystical sense of harmony that quietly permeate all the energy-events in the Universe. Above all, poetry and its companion arts embody that sense of Presence in our mutual humanity and aspirations of the spirit. To the No of destructive forces, they are the everlasting Yes to Life.” Lee Johnson
“As Wislawa Szymborska writes, ‘Poetry isn’t recreation, a respite from life. It is life.’ Poetry is also a hiatus, a lift out of the daily round. Just as we support white Ukraine, may we support all activists against tyranny. May we celebrate peace with freedom. From FAST POEM for UKRAINE The dark day we saw coming. We heard it coming. But we thought we could for- stall war. Disbelief and shock there. Disbelief and shock here. Will new and expanded sanctions work? Tears are never enough. As if poems could help. As if words would work. “We now have war in Europe that is of a scale and type unparalleled in history.” “This will not shake Europe.” But it already has. May Kyiv keep safe beneath the holy mantle of Maty Zemlya, Mother Earth as if prayers are enough. Send money. ‘Prove that you are with us. Prove that you will not let us go,’ demands President Volodymyr Zelensky of us.” Penn Kemp
“My most recent effort is a poem trying to express how crucial battered old trees are for wildlife—the very ones people (including most arborists) would deem hazardous. Every tree matters to something alive, and the dead and dying sometimes most of all. I confess I hope the poem saves trees.” Chris Lowther
“Because poetry’s nothing is so much better than a poetryless nothing. Because Auden also wrote “we must love one another or die.” Tanis MacDonald
“Though poetry may change nothing in Auden’s sense, it has the power to transform consciousness. Change for the betterment of the whole is incremental when in the seed state, but capable of blossoming in the fulness of time. Poetry has the power to open hearts and minds to what poet and novelist Joy Kogawa calls “the arc of goodness.” Susan McCaslin
“Poetry is the voice of the spaces between the words, of the heart between the beats, of the caught breath before the long exhale. It’s not a naming of what we feel and perceive and think and imagine, but a net to capture all of those in its evocations and place them in our hands, to weave our own tale. Poetry hums and sings and says what can’t be said.” Susan McMaster
“No one goes to war for a poem. If the world were filled with poets, and those who read poetry, perhaps the only conflict would be the shortage of time in which to appreciate them all.” Sandra Nicholls
“A n d P o e t r y S t a r t e d t o R u s h O u t A hole opened in the sky And poetry started to rush out At first we thought there must be so much poetry It would take forever to empty the world But each poem stretched the hole wider And so now we must get to work again We must breathe into the word And let language rise up among us If there is no poetry left in the world Our kind will die forever Without poetry we will not walk Into the middle of the river Just to see what’s done To our reflections by the waves Quicker than time can drag poetry Gasping away forever We must make up the new world New words new ways” Robert Priest
“Poetry takes one view of the world and smashes it, giving the writer — and in turn the reader — a way to reassemble it, examine it, reassess it.” R L Raymond
“I’ve always read that Auden quote — “poetry makes nothing happen” — from a somewhat Buddhist perspective. Nothing. Emptiness. The radiant creative void. Poetry makes it happen.” Murray Reiss
“There is a thickening, the moment water seeping from wetness forms a drop, just before it falls as the watering called in shorthand water and another forms from the wet. Thickening is the opening in the world that forms awareness, that tradition calls the self. It is a shell, that gathers life in and then gives it away. Call that the skull, if you like, a shallow bowl, a shawl, and a shaping. There is space that holds memory, that minds it, then pours it out into other cups, from which people drink it down, in repetition of the original thickening. It is good, they say, to the last drop. It can be found in gardens, wells and the sound of feet on shore that is called sand and gravel, after feet call them to the ear. When tamed, and harnessed, it is called the self, and moves into worlds of artifice. In that form, wild things, that shift by the world’s will, avoid its halters. It can, however, be the passing on of breath, formed in lungs, throat, mouth and with tongue and palette and lip, and in that form it carries through air to a listening ear, which reforms its dance as sound. When the eye joins in, this sound becomes the tracks of birds on paper. To be complete, a voice must complete the triad and lift it again into the air, dancing it again in the mouth.” Harold Rhenisch
“As poet Don McKay writes, ‘poetry makes “nothing” HAPPEN. Gives the mute heart a tongue, awakens somnolent minds, brings memories back to life and life to conscious engagement.’” “from WHY POETRY? Why poetry or any art in this time of planetary crisis? how can a mere scatter of words bright strokes of a brush or melodies loosed to the wind stay the daily dying off of species we will never see again?… Auden on the death of Yeats bitterly laments in almost tuneless mourning that poetry ‘makes nothing happen’ but finds the faith to move on makes bleakness blossom in measured blank verse until it blooms in lofty rhyme affirming art in a ferocious time.” Peggy Roffey
“Living the last years in my hometown Sarajevo which survived the four years’ long siege, I noticed many of my friends often reached to poetry books dealing with war, rather than to history books that make every single life looks like numbers. Watching on TV the attack on Ukraine, the only thing I can write now, as a survivor, is a short poem: Warrior, if you come back to your hometown in uniform Everybody will ask you how many enemies you killed But once changing your clothes Nobody will ask you How many times you were killed On your way back home.” Goran Simic
“Poetry connects us through space and time, through, between and beyond the words themselves. ” Christine Smart
“The nothing that poetry makes happen is pure potential. It’s Zen mushin space. It’s chaos in the original sense of the term, the yawning void that precedes matter and order. It’s a charged emptiness, an electric paradox, infinitude which has the wherewithal to (ful)fill itself. Poetry restores the primacy of the unknown, the unknowable, the unnameable. Poetry is for those of us who find meaning not in answers, but in questions.” Richard-Yves Sitoski
“Poetry is our body’s knowledge. Seeping from blood to ink, where the senses meet soul. Poetry creates bridges from the invisible to visible, crossing all borders. It writes us anew in the midst of hardship and companions us as a lover.” Celeste Snowber
“THIS VAST ROBE We will, Wear this vast robe together Repair the vast robe together We will Share ‘this’ – our one Vast Robe Together” Roberta Pyx Sutherland
“Poetry reminds us of our deepest humanity. It is the human spirit expressed in language, pulling us back to what inspires and lightens the soul: hope, empathy, faith in the possibility of a future despite history’s continual attempts to eradicate it.” Eva Tihanyi
“Here, in the cemetery, you see the oddest people with flowers, all searching for a place they know and bruised over the place where the heart is. When I come here–which I do only in words–I tell them to walk slowly, to look for every bit of death they can find in the works of art around them: life is buried there, where we go.“ MTC Cronin, quoted by Sharon Thesen
“Poetry can go beyond prose, bypass intellectualization, and enter an intuitional realm that connects with each of us on a deep emotional and spiritual level. When this happens there is an extraordinary resonance and true transformation becomes possible, indeed almost inevitable.” Jennifer Wenn
“Sometimes poetry is the invisible thread, the line, that connects us to our own humanity, humility. Realms open – hearts, bodies, spirits, minds. The poem flies into our beings – to unravel the unravelling world.” Sheri-D Wilson
“Poetry as the voice of the heart strings is how it matters.” Elana Wolff
This month, with comments:) In a time of loss and transition, I’m having trouble organising my mind, so I read instead of writing or editing. A book is so contained with its beginning, middle, and end. Covers we can close with a sense of accomplishment and of completion. I love how books weave around one other, sequentially, thematically, without my conscious intent. So grateful to London Public Library for their engaging and enticing collection! The dregs of winter: a perfect time for tomes and for poems.
Recommended Reads for International Women’s Day and ON….
Angie Abdou, This One Wild Life: A Mother-Daughter Wilderness Memoir. In her dedication, Angie Abdou hopes the reader will receive the book like a long letter from a good friend. And it is: a sweet, endearing, sometimes heart-breakingly honest memoir. But earlier, the price of being so open was a devastating social media attack: Abdou describes the effects in this memoir of healing. We learn what it is what Abdou plans to do with her “one wild and precious life”. During the Pandemic, it’s a lovely treat to hike in the mountains vicariously with her. And oh, I loved her cottonwood!
Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half. Many different ways of exploring identity and choice and choice’s consequences.
Natasha Brown, Assembly. Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti and Bernardine Evaristo walk into a bar… and meet Natasha Brown. Assembly is honed stiletto-sharp, not a hair out of place, however the protagonist feels in classist, racist England. “Unfair”, whine the various white men who confront her in this short, perfect novel.
Sharon Butala, This Strange Visible Air: Essays on Aging and the Writing Life. Always brave, honest and necessary writing.
Clare Chambers, Small pleasures: a novel. So many charming pleasures: beautiful writing, engaging characters and utterly engaging plot. A delicious read and reprieve from current events.
Sadiqa de Meijer, The outer wards Sadiqa de Meijer, Alfabet / alphabet: a memoir of a first language. “Or was there an influence of origins at work, an onomatopoeic element with ecologically ambient sounds and forms giving rise to each language?” “I tried to contain where the words went, but there are submerged forces in writing—in the land-water realms of consonant vowel—that require our surrender.” “a sort of sideways drift has taken place among the words” “The untranslatable is inherent in all intercultural contact, where its particles may accumulate and become tropes of otherness.”
Junie Désil, Eat salt / gaze at the ocean: poems “scudding back and forth through history” “There isn’t a pastness”
Louise Erdrich, The Sentence. Louise Erdrich herself reads the audiobook in a delicious rendition as funny as it is powerfully poignant. And the novel includes a bookseller called Louise! A ghost story that starts on Halloween 2019 and progresses through that annus horribilis till Halloween 2020: one long sentence of the present. Glorious!
Annie Ernaux, Hôtel Casanova: et autres textes brefs. Autofiction écriture at its finest in curious glimpses: “l’écriture, du rapport qu’elle a avec le monde réel.” My school French was good for Ernaux’s lucent prose, until the slang of dialogue…
Lucy Foley, The Guest List. A predictable but fun mystery set on a secluded Island… murder ensues.
Louise Gluck, Faithful and virtuous night Louise Gluck, American Originality: Essays on Poetry. Essential and astonishing reading and re-reading for any poet and reader of poetry. “What remains is tone, the medium of the soul.” “The silenced abandon of the gap or dash, the dramatized insufficiency of self, of language, the premonition of or visitation by immanence: in these homages to the void, the void’s majesty is reflected in the resourcefulness and intensity with which the poet is overwhelmed.” “the use of the term ‘narrative’ means to identify a habit of mind or type of art that seeks to locate in the endless unfolding of time not a still point but an underlying pattern or implication; it finds in moving time what lyric insists on stopped time to manifest.”
Amanda Gorman, Call Us What We Carry. An astonishingly accomplished and moving collection. The Muses, daughters of Memory inspire us. “History and elegy are akin. The word ’history’ comes form an ancient Greek verb meaning ‘to ask.’” Anne Carson “Lumen means both the cavity of an organ, literally an opening, & a unit of luminous flux, Literally, a measurement of how lit The source is. Illuminate us. That is, we too, Are this bodied unit of flare, The gap for lux to breach.”
Joy Harjo, Poet warrior: a memoir In these quotes, you can experience her voice directly as written: “And the voice kept going, and Poet Warrior kept following no matter Her restless life in the chaos of the story field.”“Every day is a reenactment of the creation story. We emerge from dense unspeakable material, through the shimmering power of dreaming stuff. This is the first world, and the last.” “The imagining needs praise as does any living thing. We are evidence of this praise.” “When you talk with the dead You can only go as far as the edge of the bank.” “Frog in a Dry River”
Vivian Gornick, Taking a long look: essays on culture, literature, and feminism in our time
Lauren Groff, Matrix: a novel. “Visions are not complete until they have been set down and stepped away from, turned this way and that in the hand.” Loved this celebration of mediaeval visionary Marie of France!
Bell Hooks, All about love: new visions. “Love invites us to grieve for the dead as ritual of mourning and as celebration… We honor their presence by naming the legacies they leave us.”
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko. Fascination depiction of a war-torn Korean family saga, now filmed. All too relevant still.
Maggie Nelson, On Freedom. I’m listening to Maggie Nelson ON FREEDOM ironically, given Canada’s truck convoy versus convoys to Ukraine. Oh, the loss of innocence in that word’s current associations.
Molly Peacock, Mary Hiester Reid Paints, Travels, Marries & Opens a Door. A lovely study of painters and painting. Tonalists “connected light both to emotions—and to the sounds of emotions. Using musical vocabulary, like nocturne or symphony, they suggested that emotions could be heard through paint”. “tap into childhood to find the ‘transitional object;” as D.W. Winnicott calls it: “‘Our first adventures into reality are through the objects” with “vitality or reality of [their] own.”
Angela Szczepaniak, The nerves centre. A ten-act cast of characters: poetry in performance, poet performing! A study of anxiety, her titles from self-help with dramatis personae. My fave: Mime Heckler. Utterly uttered!
Lisa Taddeo, Animal: a novel is a ferocious diatribe against male sexual violence. Since the book is dedicated to her parents and she lives with her husband and daughter, I wondered about the story behind the novel.
Hanya Yanagihara, To Paradise. Nicely structured fin de siècle tome, over three centuries, based on Washington Square and similarly named characters not to mention Hawaiian royalty. Deja vu, David Mitchell!
Zoe Whittal, The Spectacular. Three generations of women negotiating current, changing times. It’s complicated, very. Spectacular, if you’re 21. I’d have liked much more from the oldest woman but it’s a long novel as is. Reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue.
Our beloved Gavin died on Thursday, September 16, peacefully at home, as he wished. Gavin was cremated on September 22. The process was complete at 3:21 pm EDT, the exact moment of the Fall Equinox. This time of Balance is propitious. Because of COVID restrictions, a gathering on October 17 to celebrate him is limited to 25 people, family only. We will celebrate him full-on with friends in the Spring.
Gavin’s huge spirit touched the lives of so many. We will be holding a celebration of his life at the home which we shared for the last twenty years around the time of his birthday in late April.
SO grateful for all your support, however it manifests, through these changes.
Tributes to Gavin abound on his Facebook page and mine. So many kind comments and consoling blessings. Thank you! Here are some:
My son, Jake Chalmers writes: “Gavin Stairs, my mother’s gentlest protector, husband and spiritual companion moved on peacefully. Penn and Gavins love for each other for the last quarter century has been thorough and constant. They cherish each other, and we are so thankful for him and his dedications.”
My daughter, Amanda Chalmers, writes: “With a heavy heart, I am sharing the news of my mom’s life partner, Gavin Stairs, passing. He died on Thursday, September 16, peacefully at home. For those who knew Gavin, you will remember him as a gentle giant with a twinkle in his eye. Gavin was an extraordinarily wise, deeply spiritual, and thoughtful person whose calm, kind spirit created a ripple effect around him. He was devoted to my mom and her work and had a loving, playful side he shared with me and my kids. Gavin was cherished by Penn and our family and his presence will be deeply missed. We all wished we had more time with him.“
Robert McMaster: “I am so sorry to hear of Gavin’s passing, not so much for him, I think his spirit was ready for the journey, but for you and all those that knew him. He was like the brother I never had, and one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. I felt honoured to be there with him…”. ❤️LOVE🙏BLESSINGS☮️TRANQUILITY and ☯️Balance in Life.”
Brenda McMorrow: “Gavin’s spirit lives on in my heart and mind. I have such deep and beautiful memories of times spent with him. I felt so connected with him and he will be surely missed in his physical form.”
Glen Pearson: “I recall the wonderful talks the three of us had together at your lovely home. He was a person of keen insight and possessed a compassionate outlook. The thoughts of so many of us are with you.”
Lisa Maldonado: “Dearest Penn, my sincere condolences at this irreparable loss. I wish we had been able to spend more time with you both. Sending you much love.”
Jennifer Chesnut: “Gavin was a wonderful warlock from the world of light. He was wise, honest, gentle, witty… I’m so sorry for your loss.”
My fave photo of Gavin, meditating:
Baby, young man and elder: Gavin embraced Love embracing Love.
Gavin Stairs (1946-2021) was the publisher of Pendas Productions, a series of poetry chapbooks combined with CDs, based in London ON, from 2000-2014. Poets include Henry Beissel, Katerina Fretwell, Patricia Keeney, Penn Kemp, Daniel Kolos, Susan McMaster, Charles Mountford, and Gloria Alvernaz Mulcahy. He collected and fastidiously published Poem for Peace in Many Voices, chapbooks and CDs, in 136 translations and two volumes. Collaborative works included Sound Operas with musicians like Bill Gilliam and Brenda McMorrow. Gavin designed and produced these gorgeous books, CDs and DVDs from his den in our basement. How his generous, expansive presence will be missed.