Ellen Pilon is a library assistant in the Patrick Power Library at Saint
Mary’s University in Halifax.
Penny Kemp, poet and playwright, is from London, Ontario. Binding Twine is her ninth book of poetry. These poems trace the story of her loss of her two children. Separated from her husband in 1976, she had custody of the children until 1980 when suddenly the tables were turned and he sought, fought, and won custody. Kemp explains: “My case was blatant in that the judge clearly condemned my values as outside the system. I had opted out of class, out of materialism....I thought I could be different, could offer the children a way of life free from middle-class pitfalls. I went too far and was caught up.” In the introduction she doesn’t exonerate herself or blame her husband. In the poems she does. Page after page she writes out her feelings of loss, her difficulty adjusting to the change, her anger at other mothers who turned against her, at her children, at her husband, and especially at the “other woman.” At first the reader sympathizes, but not for long. The anger is too raw and misplaced.
Kemp’s expressed goal is to write to everywoman, even those “who might not normally read poetry.... My task has been to transmute my personal experience into something larger, more accessible: to make my truth available, so that a correspondence is set up with the reader.” She has indeed made her side of the story readily available, but nothing larger than her own personal experience emerges from the poems. They remain extremely personal expressions of her ordeal and emotions, of interest perhaps to other angry women but not to everywoman. Her poems are narrative, stark and sharp with few images and no music, although she does indulge in wordplay: “sweet lights”; “she posed for, poised”; “So many storeys down. So /many stories.”
“Poetry is a kind of sympathetic magic. I believe that if I can articulate a situation exactly in the writing, then the original problem will take a different form.” Perhaps for her this is true, but all the reader finds is the articulated situation and a lot of emotion. The unexpressed goal of the poems seems twofold: a therapy for her, and a public vehicle for shaming everyone on the “other side.”