[dropcap]First[/dropcap] time I saw a fox I was atop an open-air double-decker trundling along the Cornish coast, intermittently thrashed by leafy birch, reminiscent of being in a Finnish sauna. I was compelled to shield my eyes – what was there beyond my grasp, available only to the worthy. In fact, it was present for everyone. Laid bare, unabashedly rich in beauty and lore. A slender, russet blonde animal, taller than I imagined. Regal. Same as when I met Penn Kemp. Somewhere a fellow trickster – Loki, Kokopelli perhaps, grinned as I carried a newly signed Fox Haunts to my semi-detached lair.
Adaptation runs through this London Laureate’s poems in darting twists, flight from imagined hunter’s horn. At times furtive, dreamily camouflaged, or bounding in plain sight, Kemp’s artistry enraptures. We join Penn in childhood, parents fused to fox memories with A Child’s Garden Fox. “Sleepy, sleeping in my mother’s lap. Nestled. / When. A fox ran in front of the car. And / was transfixed by the headlights. Ran and / ran in front of the car but could not escape.”
In red-hued monochrome, we glimpse dead fur and living banshees in Steal, Stole, Stun. “The dried heads of black fox hung / from my grandmother’s stole as if / ready to strike. Dead flat button jet / eyes shut tight to their own secret.”
And with fireside ease we move through seasons, geography and myth, playful Glow perching us parrot-like on the writer’s shoulder, experiencing evolving words while peering real-time into her thoughts. “That narrow snout surfaces to / figure your next ploy, asking / curiously: ‘Who do you serve?’ // The essential question mocks / my reply. The whole, of course.”
Reading Kemp’s work I feel nestled in a sidecar affixed to the master’s motorbike, confident in her route, at times in conversation, storytelling, or akin to a lie-down on a therapist’s sofa. This book can leave one simultaneously inspired and intimidated, seeing genius expand exponentially with time.
Writing this I’m at Penn’s desk, at least the one she left for me to use in Vernon, BC. Beside me, Fox Haunts lies curled and content, in its rightful place atop the rest. Through a broad bay window a few last leaves cling in vixen colours and from Entertaining the Fox the author’s words linger. “May you be translated. And remain / entirely your own.”
(First published at pennkemp.wordpress.com)
About the Author: Poet, performer and playwright Penn Kemp has been celebrated as a trailblazer since her first Coach House publication (1972), and a “one-woman literary industry” as London’s inaugural Poet Laureate and Western’s Writer-in-Residence. She was the League of Canadian Poets’ Spoken Word Artist, 2015. Penn lives in London, Ontario.
Fox Haunts by Penn Kemp
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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.