October 6, 2016 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION


Penn Kemp



Arms and the Boy




In our time all the world’s worst

clichés are actualised in paradox,

explosive irony.


I am swimming in happiness,

rain cocooning my window pane


when TV presents unfriendly fire

dropping smart bombs far-off.


I fall through the scream as if to land

among proud and elegant peoples

divided by civil, uncivil arms.


The clans, the earth, rent in spring rain.


Women and men cleaving, cleft, bereft.

Dispossessed of a West they thought they knew.

Dis/oriented, where do they turn?


Shovels at a narrow grave.

A fourteen-year-old boy, skin

and bones. Men are burying him when—


palms crossed, his last gesture,

a shiver up inner arms—

two tears run down his cheeks.


That boy survives but cannot speak—

language lost though lies thrive.









Demeter’s Exclusion Sector



Again this spring the daughter

has returned to her mother—


Goddess of grain, of harvest—

with a difference.


She bears with her the taint

of Experience, Queen again


of the Dead. She bears

false promise of flowers

for unfulfilled fruit.


Not knowing what is happening

Gaia still turns/overturns.


We recall now how ripe

artichokes clogged Italian fields,

rotting untouched in sun.


All the awful unused blossoms

fell from the trees with the breeze.


Farmers cried, betrayed

not this time by the season.


Irradiated, the spirit within

still twists, cobweb-grey.


Chernobyl clouds cast long shadows

three decades on.


Despite mutation, wolves, boars

and bears—the animals of that district—


thrive in their sanctuary of tainted wild



while stalkers in paramilitary gear

invade the Dead Zone for kicks.


Cher: dear, noble.

The language does not serve.









May Day, 1945



Tenderly as a lion licking fresh

kill, she combs her children’s cow-

licks down, bids them tidy bunks


and toys, they may choose one to

bring along, dress smartly now &


hurry, your father will be back any

minute. There’s no time left, none


at all for any of her customary in-

dividual admonishments before


she must administer the spoonfuls

that will lay them all down to sleep


forever. Helga, Holde, Helmut,

Heide, Hedda and Hilde. So pretty


to be raised like porkers, pink for





This poem was written upon seeing a photograph of Frau Goebbels

with her six beautiful, blond children. They were given cyanide in

a suicide pact with her husband, Nazi leader Josef Goebbels.












Penn Kemp

London Ontario poet, activist and playwright Penn Kemp is the League of Canadian Poets 2015 Spoken Word Artist of the Year. She received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for service to arts and culture. As inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of London, she presented poetry at many civic functions. Her latest works are two anthologies she edited for the League of Canadian Poets, launching them at The Writers’ Summit, Toronto, in June. Her new book of poems, Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quatrro Books), will be launched in October.


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