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Penn Kemp : Comments by Writers and Critics

Selected Comments

Sound Opera is a drama set to music, made up of performance poetry pieces with music accompaniment. .... Sound Opera is a dramatic spiritual journey told through performance poetry, soundscape art and music, which explores the primal areas of the human psyche that are beyond the reach of words and ideas.
    The mixing of text and audio recording is very powerful for sound poetry. There are many vocalisations which stray far enough from the text that the words can not be properly understood. A certain amount of content is lost, to the benefit of expressing the emotion beyond the words, the rhythm of the performance, the unleashing of spirit as a spring-board to deeper connotations. With the text along side of it, there is no compromise. Both sides are expressed clearly.

On top of this, there is room to clearly convey yet a third layer of meaning by adding imagery which hangs on both the "transcendent" and textual meanings but pushes in its own direction. (And this is a simplification for the sake of explanation of the medium... of course text alone can and should have many layers, as can the performance and imagery.)

That this art form is so expressive makes it very attractive. That so many people have access to multimedia computers makes this art form viable. In a very real sense, this evolution is inevitable. It is as unstoppable as birth and death.
                     —John Magyar, recording engineer, PyschoSpace Sound Studios, Toronto

Penn Kemp embraces the voices
of all who come near resting her ear to hear
the children talking
the poetry of being
young and open to the wor(l)d.
                     —Doug Barbour

For some reason, at least in Canada, Sound Poetry tends to be a male dominated domain. One of the few female sound poets is Penn Kemp, who has long performed solo pieces but has lately ventured into what she calls Sound Operas, two of which make up her most recent CDs. When the Heart Parts: a sound opera is a powerful evocation of her father's dying of cancer, using hers and others' memories, documents, and a minimalist musical background, and mixing various voices into a complex sound track. Although this piece depends on listeners hearing the words and phrases of mourning, the careful organization of counterpointed voices, and occasional wails & whispered soundings surrounding the various statements, raises it above simple dramatization. The CD also contains a number of Kemp's subtle solo pieces, in which she plays gently with puns and phrasing, and the varieties of chant. Her more recent from The Lunar Plexus: a sound opera, pushes further into soundscaping, making fuller use of instrumentation, and also extending the range of vocalization, even as it too intends meaning, and uses carefully chosen phrases, often in extensive repetition. These are works Penn Kemp has taken on the road for live performance, so rather than simply multi-tracking her own voice, she has gathered a live chorus to perform the complex counterpoint of the piece. Lively and intense, from The Lunar Plexus: a sound opera marks a further step in this poet's continuing exploration of sounding.
                     —Douglas Barbour, Poetry International, 2001

WHEN THE HEART PARTS (as part of FOUR WOMEN): Four regionally known women writers come together in this collection of verse and prose, exploring a forked highway of emotion merged upon an often common spiritual quest ... This work would certainly make a powerful auditory experience definitely under the label of prose with enough flakes of moving versification floating down from a grieving but reposed, state of mind.
                     —Andreas Gripp, SCENE, London ON September 2000. Review of Four Women

The more I have listened to this CD the more I have appreciated it. When I first heard the CD, I found certain tracks rivetting - punching through me and making me search out the author's work or making me revisit works I already knew... - which has a long and honourable tradition in sound poetry. Penn Kemp gently insists that I listen to her rocking words from sound to meaning. One of the quietest tracks on the CD, Sin Tax draws more out of me than some other poets' bluster. Her ironic sounding of the final sentence (the final permutation)--'intense imagination breeds literary history' is playful and disrupts confidence in what precedes it.
                     —"Riding the Meridian: Carnivocal" - a review by Alaric Sumner

Penn Kemp is one of Canada's most vigorous and stimulating performance poets. Her work involves an interchange across the traditional boundaries of lyric, narrative and dramatic expression. She has a strong and representative voice in many feminist concerns as well as a moving personal authenticity.
                     —Allan Brown, Whig Standard

I consider Penny Kemp to be a very talented writer. She is widely published, and has pursued her vocation as writer over many years, often under difficult circumstances. Her new project is an important one, and her insights will add much to our understanding of the dilemma of working writers. I urge the Council to give her the grant for which she is applying. I have absolutely no doubt that she will bring this project to a successful and most worthwhile conclusion.
                     —Margaret Lawrence

These are a poet's stories. This a poet's novel. The sharp impressions, the artless, effective organization remind me of Colette. I do like these stories--this novel.
                     —Alice Munro

In this collection entitled Animus, Penny Kemp has delicately and assuredly constructed the inner world of the woman as she falls in love, imagining the perfection of her own wholeness in the relationship with her lover. The joy of the melding of two souls into one is captured both in the content and the subtle intermingling of the lines. The relationship and the poems are honed to create the illusion of the missing parts gradually assembling into the perfect tonality. Gradually the illusion reveals itself for what it is, and the woman is forced, painfully at first, but then with the courage of her own inner strength, to recognize her own inner man and to love him.

Any woman who has experienced the anguish of repeatedly falling in love and being repeatedly disappointed, any woman who has struggled to accept the responsibility for her own animus will see herself deftly created in this little volume.                      —Marion Woodman

Penny Kemp has gone through the excruciating unthinkable ordeal of losing her children in a custody battle. During and after that long journey I've watched Penn's profound struggles with the principalities and powers that war within us all and though I'm no judge of these matters, I'm amazed at the tenacity of the love that will not let her go. May that love send its transforming strength and power out through her pen and into our lives--that we may know we are not defeated as long as love lives.
                     —Joy Kogawa

With 'Binding Twine', Penny Kemp gives the long poem a new twist. Risking the plain, the prolix, the obsessional, she takes us to the place where 'The ceremony of innocence is drowned.' That is, in marriage, in violence in marriage. In motherhood, and the grief of maternal loss. In the justice system asleep in high places; in the housewife's eternal Laundromat for dirty linen. Yet she is also terse, ceremonial, her long poem a winding cloth of many colours--threaded with myth, fairy tales, spells, and omens--in the shape of classic tragedy, in the banality of the real.
                     —Phyllis Webb

Fascinating. A performance like kabuki, like Noh drama!
                     —Jay McPherson

Penn Kemp's works copyright © to the author.

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