Pendas Productions - March 28, 2006 - 1 Comment
From The Lunar Plexus: A Sound Opera by Penn Kemp
Reviewed by Lynda Curnoe
How does poetry happen? Penn Kemp’s From the Lunar Plexus: A Sound Opera is a series of poems that addresses this question, documenting a mental journey which begins with preparations for sleep. A narrator leads the listener underneath and behind everyday life and concerns into a landscape of dreams, images, and sounds, and then back out again.
Canadian content, humour and the Beaches in east end Toronto add familiarity to the CD’s elusive, esoteric subject: the fountainhead of poetry. Beautiful, ingenious phrases and images are speckled throughout: “all puns are planted,” “the ineffable fabric of love,” “trailing a slip of sultry across thought.” A second female voice, piano, guitar, percussion and other-worldly sound effects enhance the words and add colour, rhythm and depth to this remarkable journey.
Kemp’s seductive, whispery voice begins by chanting “cogito ergo sum,” as though she is preparing for bed. But it isn’t just sleep she is seeking; it’s a deliberately and, at the same time, spontaneously sought layer of awareness that anyone who meditates, writes, paints or composes instinctively knows how to find. This place is personal, requiring a quiet, physically comforting atmosphere most artists do not attempt to describe because concern is usually focused on output, not origin. Indeed, some creative people refuse to seek their source of inspiration, thinking that with scrutiny, it might disappear forever. Fearlessly and wide awake, Kemp descends into the rabbit hole.
Just as we prepare and struggle to sleep, the poet-narrator spars with her unconscious — a poem, naturally, that lives and laughs inside her head. As a piano chimes chords echoing the narrator’s voice, the poem declares: “You are writing right now … so shut the duck up.” The personal ‘I’ is being displaced by the poetic ‘I,’ and Kemp’s poetic ‘I’ is witty, funny and ruthless, forcing the dreamer to examine every conjured image, from the mundane to the violent. Humourously, it even acknowledges the Canada Council in one exchange, something all writers must do at one time or another.
Concentrating on the sounds around her in “Night Orchestra,” the narrator, trying to cross over from wakefulness to sleep, hears an air conditioner, a “relentless fridge and clock” and the waves of Lake Ontario in the distance. Chanting and echoing the word “deep,” she enters the first stage of sleep, accompanied by sounds of rhythmic waves on the shore. She begins with nonsense nursery rhymes, words and syllables turned backwards and around. Finally, entering the place of dreaming, her first stop is a tinkling-bells visit to her grandmother’s “yellow brick house in the past,” a common and soothing dream beyond which most sleepers would never go. But the narrator’s Powerbook sleeps “like a lapdog” at her feet and she is determined to record the dream-poems as they emerge.
The poem, however, has greater demands of the dreamer than simple nostalgia. It asks her to inhabit another body and to find a new suit to wear. She “awkwardly” chooses Robert De Niro’s body and a blue suit that she has dream-stalked in her friend’s closet. Now she is ready to begin. Complete poems emerge. “Dreaming the End of March” opens with a vision of a flooded laundry room and leads to scenes of crows and then people being shot by Nazis. The dreamer, accompanied by staccato piano chords, has entered “another dimension of pure sensory awareness.”
In “Two Lips” the narrator is joined by a classical guitar and another voice that mockingly repeats words and sings longingly in the background, as the purpose of art is discussed in a roomful of poets. This other voice surfaces here and there in the later tracks, as well, and the recording might have been more effective with the use of even more voices. Such a variety would have provided a more dramatic, operatic effect.
Some of the poems tackle more threatening subjects. In “After Image,” the narrator voices over her own words so key words are repeated, creating a continuous flow of forceful, sometimes violent images. The poem confronts a moment that “looks like love” when a lion first tastes the blood of a zebra. The lion image continues in “Berlin, 1945,” as Mrs Goebels prepares her children for death by administering “spoonfuls that will lay them all down to sleep forever.”
In “Through the 49th Door” the sleeper awakens “sequestered in a pink room” on the eve of her lover’s fiftieth birthday. At peace, in familiar surroundings, she realizes “home is the answer to your question.” The poetic ‘I’ has expanded, becoming “a floating centre of perception” including everyone else in a “larger simpler system.” But it is time for poetic ‘I’ to retire as personal ‘I’ begins the day.
The final poem, “Lunar Plexus,” presents the reader/listener with a word-clear synopsis of the source of poetry, the place visited in this wondrous night journey. The dreamer has had time to type but little time to edit, she explains. Her last defining act is to send her words back, as in a tennis volley, to the poet who has led all of us towards
that royal knowing
we aspire to by drowning
self-consciousness in a whole blue
that is sea, that is sky, one and the same.