Features / Metro's most memorable 2013

How London poet Penn Kemp's words tried to save trees

A remarkable woman led a campaign to make a difference this year, and it was all about poetry.

Penn Kemp tried to turn words into actions as London council considered development plans for a woodlot near Highway 401.

In the end, she couldn’t stop politicians from giving the green light to the PenEquity big-box store project, but that hasn’t stopped Kemp from redoubling her efforts in what she calls “poetry activism.”

London’s former poet laureate promised to keep campaigning on green issues, in politics and for social justice, through her poems and plays in 2014.

Whatever side you take in the planning debate that was — unfairly — simplified as “jobs versus trees,” it’s hard to deny that Kemp is herself a force of nature.

The idea of using poetry to win hearts and minds was irresistible. There were bigger stories in news value, but the sheer idealism involved in this one made it the story of the year for me.

So why harness poetry to make a point?

“I think it dares the reader to participate in the creative process,” said Kemp. “It really is a challenge to think beyond one’s usual prejudices.

“And it’s also a reaction in words of outrage or of sorrow or of celebration.

“Poetry is used communally for the important passages of our life. It’s used to celebrate marriage or witness funerals, like the outburst of song for (Nelson) Mandela.

“It’s a really heightened awareness at really heightened times of passage in a mortal’s life.

“We turn to heightened language and that heightened language is poetry.”

And long may it keep speaking to human hearts.

AUDIO: Penn Kemp performs In Celebration Forest while sitting in her garden in London.

[audio http://metronewsca.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/memo.m4a]

Penn Kemp provided Metro with a new poem summing up the year that was.

The Chinese Year of the Snake

2013 was a year that lived up to its rep:

Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of thirteen.

The Year of a sly and slippery Snake.

Mayoral scamps, provincial buffoons

(without any idea of consequence since

taxpayers would pay for their mistakes)

and federal about-to-be felons in office.

2013 was the year that backpackers no

longer sported a proud Canadian flag to

distinguish themselves from Americans

abroad. Remember when we brokered

Peace instead of breaking our word?

When neighbours trusted one another

rather than spy on friends near and far?

We supported Nelson Mandela early on.

But Apartheid learned from our treatment

of First Peoples how to apply shrouds of

secrecy, neglect and worse in the name of

transparency. Elder Brother is watching.

Chris Hadfield had to go through Customs

coming back from Space, so the Russians

declare. I hope he was whistling ISS (Is

Somebody Singing). Someone’s certainly

crying for truth and then for reconciliation.

For 2013 was the year when the very rich

became richer and the entire middle class

disappeared into the working poor while

the poor got lost in a fast shuffle of Cuts.

We’re ending this year with a sigh, not a

bang nor a whimper. With a hope that next

year, first truth and real reconciliation will

be realized. If we take the next step and act

for social justice, for swift democratic reform.

More from Metro's Most Memorable of 2013 — including animal stories, the Calgary floods, Rob Ford and Rehtaeh Parsons.

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