Barbaric Cultural Practices by Penn Kemp (Quattro Books, 2016)


Blurb: Penn Kemp, long listened to for her particular affinity with sounds (I for one will never forget hearing her years ago declaiming a poem that mimicked a stopping heart), focuses more fully on social and environmental contexts/content in Barbaric Cultural Practices as embedded within the deep perspectives of the thoroughly in-tuned, collective-minded individual. From aural pieces like “Night Orchestra” to poems about the bond between poetry and the world such as “Lunar Perplex,” to silly Canadian paeans as in the ditty, “Ode to Tim Two Bitswhopper” and serious calls to action for the earth like “Yes in our Yard”, Kemp’s core is linguistic play in the service of both singing and saying.

Crits: 1/Kemp knows her form, as is evident in many pieces such as “Living Alongside” but with others, her stanzas vary wildly from two to four and back to one line. Greater potency would be achieved with more visual consistency in these cases. Though in others, such as “Drive’s Destination” she could shake it looser and follow her verbs like “flit” and “whirl” more faithfully to lend the poem extra oomph.

2/At times, for my taste, Kemp gets too didactic/new-agey soap boxy and then even the sound sinks into sing-songy or static, say in a line like, “Reclaim the light. Proclaim the Oracle. Declaim the Sight.”

3/The cover image, a painting from one of Kemp’s visionary dreams, has potential but would be so much more powerful if in matte and un-framed by such a modern font. Much attention is being paid to book design again these days and I think it’s crucial to draw readers in as we are exceedingly aesthetically-motivated people.


I dog-eared many memorable pages in this book but a couplet poem like “Solstice” rings especially resonantly, both visually and in Kemp’s crucial aural sense, underlined by her heteronymic double entendres and subtle rhymes:

“Insects shrill. A thrum as of clacking bones./Today tallies a long count of creation cycles.”

On this winter solstice we climb our Sacred/Tree to enter wide zones of silence through

the doorway of darkness, our canoe riding/white rivers of night. The elliptic crosses

Milky Way precisely now, when elements/merge in a dark rift of source and return.

Cacti and palm leaves rustle dry in the ruins./Terror cracks the heart open. Rivulets run

a scarlet sap to appease unknown gods be-/yond us. Blooming and blessing, this wound

wound tight round knots of surmise reveals so/little before our offering is received in sunrise.”








3 thoughts on “Barbaric Cultural Practices by Penn Kemp (Quattro Books, 2016)

  1. Pingback: Barbaric Cultural Practices by Penn Kemp (Quattro Books, 2016) | pennkemp

  2. Pingback: Barbaric Cultural Practices by Penn Kemp (Quattro Books, 2016) | pennkemp

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