Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Q&A with sound poet Penn Kemp

I’m pleased to present Penn Kemp for today’s author Q&A. As the writer-in-residence at The University of Western Ontario, Penn continues to be an active voice on the campus grounds and throughout the broader community, sharing her sound poetry and multi-media approach to literary arts. As a Literary Citizen, Penn is actively engaged in advocating for the role of art within society, encouraging others to become involved, and promoting the work of other artists. Sound poetry is such a special component of Penn Kemp’s work and I am pleased that she is able to tell us a bit more about this unique mode of artistic delivery.

Please join me in welcoming Penn Kemp.

Penn, what exactly is sound poetry and how did this come to be your passion?
I love to lift poetry off the page, to have it experienced as sound. For humans, sounding is our first and perhaps our last resource for creative expression. Such communication can resolve the tension between inner and outer worlds through musical play. Writing for me is emblematic of sacred, physical realities but it is solitary until shared.

Nature has been a source of wonder, metaphor and inspiration but the completion of a poem for me is the connection to people in its performance. Between image and sound as a poems priority, I cannot choose, so this work becomes concrete or performance poetry. A piece is meant to lift off the page in as many dimensions as it can.

Sound poetry became a vehicle for me when I was in labour, uttering sounds I had never heard before. In raising my kids, I listened to their babble, intrigued by how language develops.

As a poet coming into the classroom, I look forward to the possibility of showing students how to write from an original voice. Before asking students to write, however, I have them find a centre of silence to still all the notions they have of clichéd rhythms.

This technique helps them to open up their intuitive side, which they may have had to block in order to concentrate on their courses. My strategy is to encourage them to remove the mental blocks which may prevent them from hearing the sounds that are the building blocks of language, and then to manipulate sounds into chants and poetry. As a sound poet, I am adept at listening to unknown words with a clean ear. Students, given permission by my example to experiment with sounds and sounding, quickly throw off some of their accumulated inhibitions. From enjoyment it is a short step to creation.

In my performances and workshops, I have found that sound poetry is a wonderful vehicle for enabling students from many different backgrounds to explore linkages and differences in sound patterns.

In these times when it is important to establish joyful communication among different cultural communities, sound poetry offers a way in which all students can share in the sounds of another culture, without having to master its language. "Breaking the Sounds Barrier" is a way of encouraging individual self-expression within a framework of group activity.

I am excited by the potential that sound poetry has for breaking down barriers. The chants and poems which result from this process are truly enchanting, and the message, that out of diversity can come forth creative beauty, is one that is crucial.

What would you say to a student who finds poetry intimidating?
Have fun! Play with the words... read them aloud and relish them. Go for the sound as much as the sense of the words. Listen with fresh ears before what might be your initial judgement or frustration.

What events are you involved in around campus and throughout the community in London ON?
As Western's writer-in-residence, I host Gathering Voices, an eclectic literary radio show on Radio Western, which you can read about and hear archived on CHRW.

My Muse/news, renewed monthly on, features Upcoming Events. One of the great pleasures of the residency has been the opportunity to visit many classrooms on campus, including King's, Brescia and Fanshawe College. Professors and students alike have been very welcoming and enthusiastic. My talk last term, "Courage, My Love," on a career in the arts, plus a sound poem for inspiration, is now up on YouTube. Pictures from recent events are up [here].

To listen to Penn Kemp’s “Man Date” on Qarrtsiluni, visit

If you are in the area, there is a workshop with Penn Kemp and Brenda McMorrow. EnChanting: Transformation through Poetry, Sound & Song will take place Saturday, December 5th, 10-5pm. Email for more information and location details.

Another upcoming event you won’t want to miss is on Thursday, January 21, 7:30 pm. “Luminous Entrance” will be presented at Brescia Auditorium, Brescia University College, London ON. This is a participatory performance of the Sound Opera Luminous Entrance. More information is available on Penn Kemp’s website or feel free to email Penn directly.

Thanks for dropping by for today’s author Q&A. I’ll see you on Friday…


  1. Sweet! Thanks, Lori!

  2. brilliant, Ms. Kemp. Thank you, Lori. This helps me.

  3. Hey Cat, glad you enjoyed the post.

    Penn, it's my pleasure.