Great Review of our Seasonal Song Cycle with Poet Penn Kemp!

Poetry of Penn Kemp: participating in “a seasonal song cycle of ecco poetry” 

When a poetry reading is accompanied by choric chant, dancing and audience participation, it creates, as owner and director of “Aeolian Hall” Clark Bryan says, a “sacred place”. And it did. And when the poet is Penn Kemp, activist, publisher and artist who’s known for taking the “textual & aural boundaries” of language into a uniquely Canadian avant-garde, the poetry reading can sing to its own sacred energies. And it did. 

This “Summer Soirée Festival Event” at London’s “Aeolian Performing Arts Centre”played to a full audience, privileged (as Maria and I were) to view “a seasonal song cycle of ecco poetry”, the lyrics of Penn Kemp wonderfully transformed into music and dance accompaniment. The tempo (as how could it not) alternated with great skill and precision between the dithyrambic, lyrical and elegiac: every stage in the cycle drew on the powers of language, movement and sound to tell the tale (‘epic’ in scope) of seasonal growth, the world’s present disaster-course and the hope of regeneration. Both social awareness and healing that lie at the basis of Penn’s sound opera and her poetics, both at one incredible reading. 

Ruth Douthwright’s interpretive dance evoked the very primal motions of living and dying, hands, arms and feet shaped into seasonal winds, rains, while artists Anne Anglin, Brenda McMorrow, and Rob Menegoni created through vocals, music and percussion the “paeans of praise or rant” necessary to give essential voice to what Penn describes as a “MotherWorld’s enChantments”. From the striking of the Keiso through the rhythmic refrains and to the exotic Djembe and cymbals, Penn’s reading was designed to elicit response, at one moment holding an audience in reverential silence and the next releasing it to the poem’s wildest impulses. 

I celebrate the ‘ecco’ in her ecco poetry, enjoying the playful senses of language, sound-effect and ecology activism that inform Penn’s work, as also the whole Art-and-social change impetus of “The Aeolian Performing Arts Centre”: for I believe the two are of a piece. The website announces “Aeolian” not just as a Heritage site but a place where culture lives in partnership with the local community. Since it’s run for profit, undistracted by the politics of funding, it meets a real need for the type of Art that matters: one that’s self-generated, innovative and sensitive to social change. Marion Drysdale’s Black Madonnas and AIDS art hang on the walls as a visual representation of the Art and social activism nexus which”Aeolian” was created by Clark Bryan to promote. I celebrate Clark as true cultural entrepreneur

And, of course, I celebrate Penn Kemp, artistic spirit of MotherWorld poetics whose work in Sound Opera and videopoetry will form the subjects of a later blog post. Meeting her for the first time only confirmed my impression of her as visionary, artist and one of Canada’s greatest literary innovators. As I saw Penn after the performance move gracefully among a crowd of friends and supporters, receiving thanks, embracing everyone she met, I couldn’t help thinking that the words of the third Chorus served appropriately as homage to someone who’s been for many years an active, engaged and always inspiring presence in Canadian poetry: “There you are in moments, between friends, among many. (There you are, again).”