Tag Archives: Insomniac Press

Tom Cull, London’s Poet Laureate Loves to Make People Laugh

“Returning from a night ride,/the bat takes off his leathers.” – Tom Cull*

I laugh as I read and review this new book.

Let’s say bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) is a hybrid between “a Red Bull of owls” hoot-enanny and “a threnody of hyenas”. Created by Tom Cull, London Ontario’s current poet laureate and a new poetic voice in the CanLit scene, this pocket-sized book (with a beaver-inspired cover) overflows with his fun-filled humour as he shines a flashlight on underlying concerns with our changing environment.

June 1, 2018 in London

Tom Cull’s bad animals was officially launched June 1, 2018 at London Bicycle Café in London, Ontario.

Overall, I liked Cull’s approach. His impressive debut collection of 41 wild (think mischievous) and bad-animal inspired poems surprised me (in a good way) with his surreal yet accessible images: drowning machines, a poet of dodos, Saturday six-pack anglers, schools of strollers, and a plethora of four- and two-legged animals including swimming pigs and teenaged boys!

Using his knowledge gleamed from his regular clean-ups of local waterways, Cull pulls the reader from urban decay into the murky river (and other locales) where shopping carts and vacuum cleaners morph into inanimate creatures and where humankind is not-so-kind but sometimes thought-provoking as the lines between animals and Homo sapiens blur.

Expect a few rough edges: Do I really want to go inside the YMCA Men’s Plus locker room to visualize his poem “The Dinks Are Out”? Hardly not but the audience roars and laughs like spotted hyenas whenever he reads that poem in public.

In contrast, in one of his more moving and insightful poems, he writes: “a great blue heron wallops/across the sky, beak down/a needle etching a record of this day/into the vinyl of a darkening night.” I love the beauty in that image!

Tom Cull Photo by Rob Nelson

Tom Cull is London, Ontario’s current poet laureate. Photo by Rob Nelson

Cull is like that great heron: wading with the flow, communing with nature, and slowing etching his name into the minds of his literary followers. Definitely, an emerging writer to watch!

This autumn, I was fortunate to attend several of Cull’s readings. He immediately makes an audience comfortable and is well respected in the London literary community. Although I must disclose that I first met Cull when he was a workshop facilitator for Poetry London, I knew little of his background and philosophy and had never read his work before.  It was fun to hear his responses to my questions.

Hi Tom, before we chat about your role as London’s poet laureate, let’s focus on your early years. I understand you grew up in the small southern Ontario community of Wingham. When you moved to London almost 10 years ago, you decided to help clean the Thames River. When did you first realize that the environment was important to you and how has the environment shaped you as a person?

Hi Debbie—I’m not sure if I had any moment of realization that the environment was important to me. I had a rural upbringing; our log cabin/house was situated on 70 acres of forest, ponds, and wetland bordered by a beautiful river. I spend a good deal of my childhood outdoors exploring the woods and learning about plants and animals. We had a stack of those nature books that identify trees, plants, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc. I’ve always been attracted to water, woods, wetlands, wildlife and wild spaces.

Tom Cull has a deep appreciation for the environment Photo by Miriam Love

Cull is inspired by the river. Photo by Miriam Love.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a poet?  Was there an incident that led you in that direction? Please explain.

I don’t remember any one moment where I said to myself, “you are now going to be a poet”—that happened gradually as I was finishing my doctorate in English Literature. It had a lot to do with moving to London and getting involved with the literary arts community. I started sharing my work with peers and the ball started to roll.

At a recent reading at the Oxford Book Shop, you said that the river influenced your writing and the writing influenced your involvement with the river. Please expand upon that.

I think that the river of my childhood (The Menestung/Maitland River) imprinted on me—it still flows from my early memories into my now-and-here. But the other river which is equally if not more important is Deshkan Ziibi or Thames River. I started writing poetry in London about the same time I discovered the river. Many of my poems come back to the river and questions of home, habitat, animals and history. My poetry is also tied in with the environmental work I do. My partner Miriam Love and I started Thames River Rally (a grassroots river protection/cleanup group) soon after we met. The river and my poetry have great reciprocity.

Poet Tom Cull and his partner Miriam Love are co-founders of Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario Photo by Mary Love

Cull and his partner Miriam Love co-founded Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group based in London, Ontario. Photo by Mary Love

This year Insomniac Press published your debut poetry book bad animals. Where did the idea for the title come from? Which came first the title/theme and then the writing or the writing first led to the title? Please expand.

The title came after the collection was pretty much finished. I was thinking about the themes and motifs that unite the collection. Bad Animals popped into my head along the way somewhere. The word “bad” has many meanings: deficient, rebellious, immoral, poorly behaved, libidinous. “Animals” also has several meanings. People often think of animals as separate from humans. The poems in the book play with these meanings.

At your Poetry London feature last month, your friend Chris introduced you with these words, “He is a community and cultural individual. He is also a bad animal”. Obviously, there must be a hidden dark side of you that the public is not aware of. Please respond to his comments.

Ha! Well, I think he was specifically talking about my competitive nature on the squash court. I’ve always loved sports and I am competitive. Sports offers a great social way to channel energy. Regular exercise is crucial to my mental health and to my writing. Most of my poems come to me when I’m walking.

One of the prominent literary devices in your poetry is your use of humour. For many individuals, humour is difficult to write and yet, it appears to come naturally to you. I noticed that your editor for the book was Stuart Ross who is also known for his wit. What role can humour play in the genre of poetry? Do you feel it takes away from the seriousness of your environmental concerns? Why or why not?

I love to make people laugh. I think humour can create consensus while also offering critical perspective. Humour can be used to “punch up,” to subvert and critique, to investigate taboo, troubling drives, the unconscious, the uncanny, and the weird.

Environmental concerns are not only serious, they are absurd, complex, baffling, and pressing. Humour can help negotiate and explore, nudge and niggle. When poetry becomes too didactic or preachy it risks turning people away, and I think it also loses its ability to open up space for creative intervention.

Tom Cull at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 photo 2

Cull reads from bad animals, September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

One of the poems in your collection has stumped me. It is section iii. in your long poem “The Sleuth of Bears”. The section is titled, “Bear Breaks into House, Plays Piano but Not Very Well” which is a headline based on an article in the Washington Post, June 2017. After your title, the page is blank. Does that mean the people in the house ran away? Please explain.

The other poems in that grouping (or Sleuth) are erasure poems. For the “Bear Breaks into House” story I erased everything but the title. The title is funny and weird and I thought the story that followed only weighed down or compromised the power of the title. It also leaves space for the reader to create their own story as you did!

Wow, I totally missed the erasure part. That is too funny! On a more serious note, my favourite poems were “Backspace” (no bad animals here) and “The Granite into Which It Reaches” which includes the great blue heron line quote in my review of your book. I wasn’t as fond of “Conibear”, “dad bod” and “Auscultation”.  Which was your favourite poem in the book and explain why?

I think my favourite poem changes. My relationships with all the poems shift depending on mood, context, familiarity, time of year, etc. Sometimes a new audience will help me find a new love for an older poem. I often come back to the first poem in the book “After Rivers” — I’m glad Stuart suggested that one as the first in the collection.

What inspired you to apply for the role as London’s poet laureate? What did you enjoy most about the role? The least?

I was inspired to apply for the role of Poet Laureate because I saw it as an opportunity to build on and combine my love of poetry, community, and environmentalism. The role also offered an opportunity to work as a professional artist. I love so much about this role. I loved collaborating with so many excellent London and area artists and working with a great team at the London Arts Council. I loved creating programming to help London artists grow and share their work. I loved bridging the worlds of art and social justice. I loved being an ambassador for the City. I loved writing poems for dedications and occasions, and I loved meeting new people and hearing their stories. I loved mentoring emerging writers. Finally, I loved making a case for the continued relevance and importance of poetry in civic and public spaces. That’s the short list.

Sometimes I found it challenging to negotiate my private life and artistic freedom with my public role, but I wouldn’t say that I disliked this or liked this the least—in fact, it was a crucial part of the job and a challenge that deepened my understanding of the complexity of art in the public realm.

Tanis MacDonald, Tom Cull, and Penn Kemp at Oxford Book Shop - September 23, 2018 Photo 1

Cull shares the spotlight with writer Tanis MacDonald and former poet laureate Penn Kemp during a reading September 23, 2018 at the Oxford Book Shop.

Your appointment as London’s Poet Laureate ends in a couple of months. What are your plans for the future, personally and professionally?

I think I’m going to take some time to rest, recharge, and write. I’d like to tour my book across Canada, and I’ve got some collaborations in the works that are exciting. I will remain active in the community and always work to bridge the University campus and the London Arts community

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? Perhaps a plug about the WORDS festival in London which I’m assuming you are involved with again this November? Or your November 7th feature reading as part of the Creative Writers Speakers Series at Western University?

I have one more event planned as Poet Laureate: Poet Laureate Presents River of Words, which will take place at Words London at Museum London on Saturday, November 3rd . Additional information here.

I will also be reading at Words; I’ll be on a panel with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young (November 3rd at noon). Additional information here.

November 3, 2018 in London with Tom Cull

See London’s current Poet Laureate during WORDS “In Conversation” with Julie Bruck and Deanna Young, Saturday, November 3 at noon at Museum London.

Finally, I’ll be reading at Western (open to the public) in Dr. Aaron Schneider’s class, Write Now. Additional information here.

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press 2013) a chapbook by Tom Cull

What the Badger Said (Baseline Press, 2013) is Cull’s first poetry chapbook.

Thanks Tom for taking time from your busy schedule to chat. You appear to be having so much fun! Wishing you continued success and enjoyment with your future plans.

According to the inside back cover of Cull’s book, “Tom Cull grew up in Huron County and now resides in London, Ontario, where he teaches creative writing and serves as the city’s current Poet Laureate. His chapbook What the Badger Said, was published in 2013. Since 2012, Tom has been the director of the Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group he co-founded with his partner Miriam Love, and their son Emmet.”

*from the poem “Like a Bat” printed in bad animals (Insomniac Press 2018) by Tom Cull. Reprinted with the author’s permission Copyright © 2018 by Tom Cull (p.34)

 

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Poet Profile – Penn Kemp and Barbaric Cultural Practice

“But our/yearning to hear fills our ears the way seashells will imitate real//roar of ocean wave, appearing/disappearing.”* – Penn Kemp

Canadian poet Penn Kemp loves ‘sound’ and her book Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books, 2016) astounds me with her word play, her vocalized chords, and the musical rhythms of her poetic stanzas. She is the barbaric activist riding her horse at full tilt and the experienced voice “in the yellow cornfield of your mind.” (p. 39) The key is to listen carefully to catch each nuance before the next line appears.

BLOG IMAGE Barbaric-Cultural-Practice_front-cover

Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books, 2016) features 72 poems by Penn Kemp.

Divided into five sections (Electrical Events, Light Eats, Heart and Stroke Foundation, In Dream Sequins, and Wild Crafting), her recent 112-page book includes 72 poems that challenge the status quo of the world. Her interest in nature, dreams, and Goddesses plus the way politics, technology, and global warming can interfere with our well-being are prevalent threads in this collection.

For example, in the poem “Skipping Time” (where she analyzes the reality of dreams and the process of using those dreams to create new work), she writes; “Intuition and instinct, the play of crimson and purple,//these weave a web through skeins of dream fabric/from which I fabricate poems as the dream wheel turns.” (p. 67)

The transitions between poems are flawless but some of the work requires extra effort to comprehend. Her subject matter may be down to Earth; however, her intellectual quest pushes the boundaries.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review:

This is a book that needs to be read slowly and if possible read aloud!…To appreciate the poems …, the reader must focus on [Kemp’s] technique of playing with sound and rhythm. Not only does she use alliteration and internal rhymes but the repetition of words acts as an echo or refrain to reinforce the musical quality of the work. For example, in her poem “Synaesthetics” she writes: “and ring in our ear, ring in New Year/until a hush of snow smothers sound”. (p. 93)

 More examples are found in her poem “An Ounce of Edible Oil” where she uses such phrases as “Their fumes set me fuming”, “Exhausted by exhaust”, and “sensitive is sensitized”. (p. 48)

Even the title of the book has layers of meaning. In her acknowledgements, she writes “Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice “were provoked into being by political events; hence the title.” (p. 110). However, at the beginning of her introductory poem “Tip Line”, she plays with these three words in a humorous way: “Barbaric, of the wild/Cultural in yoghurt, wine and cheese/Practice for ten thousand hours”. (p. 11)

Humour is also woven in the poem “Ode to Tim Two Bits Whopper”. She writes: “We would bow to you if we could still bend.” (p. 46)

BLOG IMAGE From the poem In Light by Penn Kemp

From the poem “In Light” by Penn Kemp. One of several previously published poems reprinted in Barbaric Culture Practice. Image courtesy The League of Canadian Poets.

One of her most creative poems both orally and visually is “Night Orchestra” where she steers away from her use of couplets, and 1-, 3-, and 4-line stanzas to present a concrete poem with word repetitions such as illustrated in her first line: “dip dip  dip  dip  deep  dip  deep  dip  deepen   deep  end”. (p. 22)

To add another dimension to Kemp’s work, her book also includes QR Codes which act as digital links to video and audio performances of many of her poems. Once again, this reinforces her belief stated in her acknowledgements that “Poetry needs to be heard as well as read.” (p. 110)

BLOG IMAGE Anna Yin congratulates Penn Kemp, winner of the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Spoken Word Photo by Okun Hill

Anna Yin congratulates Penn Kemp, winner of the 2015 Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Spoken Word, May 30, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This statement doesn’t surprise me. Kemp waves the flags of an activist, sound poet, performer, and playwright. An experienced and prolific writer, she is a Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and, in 2015, she was the winner of their Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Spoken Word. She was the Writer-in-Residence for Western University and the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario. Her list of books (many published by her own press Pendas Productions) are too numerous to mention here but are listed in the League of Canadian Poets Membership Directory 

I first met Penn about a decade ago at a Writer’s Union of Canada meeting in her home. Her larger than life and colourful personality plus her love for the arts was reflected in her father’s art on the walls. She was/is out-going and fearless and her performances are “sound-filled” and memorable.

A long poem celebrating her father is included in her new book of poems, Local Heroes (Insomniac Press, 2018). This book will be launched at Museum London in a multimedia presentation on April 19, 2018. More information will be provided below.

BLOG IMAGE Barbaric Cultural Practice London launch with Penn Kemp and Allan Briesmaster Image 3 Oct 11, 2016

Canadian Poet Penn Kemp with her editor/publisher Allan Briesmaster at the official launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice, October 11, 2016, at Oxford Book Shop in London, Ontario.

At her official London launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice held October 11, 2016 at the Oxford Book Shop, she dazzled her admiring fans (standing room only) as her Quattro Books editor/publisher Allan Briesmaster looked on.

After reading and re-reading her book, I recently asked Penn a few questions via e-mail. Below are her responses:

Penn, you have waited so long for this interview. Thank you for your patience. First, please tell me how you do it?  How do you manage to juggle all that you do?  The writing? The performing? The promoting? The acquiring of grants? How do you keep your work organized? How do you prevent yourself from burning out?

Enthusiasm. I follow where the energy leads. And collaboration: other artists to play with, in the creation of a piece! I’ve been publishing for 52 years, so it’s what I know. My body stops me from burning out by falling apart before I do. But figuring out budgets for grants does burn me out. J

Not everyone understands poetry and certainly some of your performances (especially some of your chanting and your experiments with sound) will raise eyebrows in a crowded room. Yet, it doesn’t take long for you to warm up an audience.

Sounding is usually infectious, involving the audience in the spirit of play. It’s fun to walk into a school auditorium, dressed conservatively, and begin participatory sounding with students. They’re with me, and so are their enthusiastic teachers. But the body language of more staid teachers who are into control is something to behold: they usually go rigid until they see their students inspired to write.

Describe your typical reader and/or poetry fan for this book.

I can no more imagine a typical reader of my work than I can imagine a typical poet!

As a poet, how difficult is it to keep a loyal fan base?

I offer my work through social media, Facebook, Twitter, Googleplus, LinkedIn. It bewilders me that there are always many more comments on my personal posts than on my poems.

When you were Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario (now known as Western), you emphasized the need for me to include more sound in my writing. That advice has never left me. Why is sound so important to you?

 Sound is more primal than sight. Within the womb, you hear through the permeable membrane of your mother’s belly wall long before your eyes open at birth. Usually, my process is to follow the sound throughout a poem rather than a theme. I find the resonance that the poem wishes to convey and follow that sound down the rabbit hole and back again… The poem that is most true for me is not “sound over sense”, but sound leads the exploration. The poem that begins with sound is both deeply familiar, as if waiting to be discovered. Yet I don’t know where it’s heading until it has run its course. Sound entices me into adventure. I follow the sound where it leads into the next phrase as if following Ariadne’s clue into the dark labyrinth and back out again to clarity. Perhaps that’s how all the punning and wordplay happens, in that spirit of surprise.

BLOG IMAGE Barbaric Cultural Practice London launch with Penn Kemp Image 2 Oct 11, 2016

Kemp was the inaugural poet laureate for London, Ontario.

My poems that begin with an idea or an image are much more conceptual and, I feel, less embodied. Usually such poems are more prosaic and structured… and controlled, constructed rather than found or come upon (invenio).

For me, sound poetry can be a last resort for creative expression when words fail the enormity of the emotions. The sound of human voices can be used to portray the environment and the inner space. Sound Opera is a collective collaboration of musicians and performers of works based on my text. Sound Opera explodes the notion of a literary reading into myriad art forms. Seven of my Sound Operas have been performed at Aeolian Hall, London.

Because of your interest in sound, what types of sounds inspire you? Do you write to music?  Or do you prefer the rustle of aspen leaves?

I can edit to music because it provides a steady background that keeps me focused. But in writing, music is a distraction that would lead me off course. Outside, I’m intrigued by birdsong and yes to the rustle of leaves, redbuds in my garden.

I understand you have a new book being launched this April by Insomniac Press. What is it about?

Here’s a promo blurb about Local Heroes:

In Local Heroes, Penn Kemp celebrates legendary cultural heroes from London, Ontario. These poems evoke a specific city in its particular landscape and history. Kemp documents London’s literary and artistic heritage in honouring artists in fields ranging from visual and language arts to figure skating. Presented as an overview, the collection stretches from Victoria explorer Teresa Harris to the contemporary arts scene. Local Heroes acknowledges the Indigenous peoples here, and the ongoing waves of settlers who have called the area home, as London grew from colonial outpost to vibrant cultural centre. Local Heroes spans time but remains in place.  The collection present three sections, in historical order.

 

BLOG IMAGE Brighid painting by James Kemp

Painting by James Kemp to be included in Penn Kemp’s new book Local Heroes to be released April 19, 2018 in London, Ontario.

 

I look forward to the release of this new poetry collection! What’s next for Penn Kemp in terms of your life and/or your literary aspirations?

Right now, I have a backlog of material that I’d like to hone into several manuscripts. At this stage in life, it’s a joy to be home writing and editing.

April is Poetry Month, and I’ll be launching Local Heroes and touring then. And I very much look forward to the Edmonton Poetry Festival’s “Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths”, where as the feature reader, I’ll be matched with the wine on sale that evening: a full-bodied red, perhaps?

Two events where I’m performing to celebrate women writers. May 28 with Judy Rebick at London Central Library and later on July 22 at Eldon House Historical Museum in London for a Sunday tea to launch my CD, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris.

This summer, I’ll be working with a multimedia artist to create Augmented Reality markers based on site-specific poems. And as always, I’m collaborating with other poets and musicians whose work touches mine.

Wow, your energy inspires me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about writing. I wish you continued success for your future goals and projects.

Thank you for your insightful, perceptive questions and review. I’m grateful for your close reading!

You’re welcome!

BLOG IMAGE Penn Kemp Photo by Mary McDonald

Canadian Poet Penn Kemp brings enthusiasm to her work. Photo by Mary McDonald.

Here’s Penn’s reading schedule for the next three months:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 in London: A Reading with Penn Kemp and Daphne Marlatt, 3:30 to 4:20 p.m. AHB-3R07, Western University.

Saturday, March 10, 2018 in Toronto: Words and Music Salon, 2:30 to 3:30 pm. The Tiki Room, the Tranzac, 292 Brunswick Ave. Sponsored by the League of Poets, Metro Reading in Public Places.

Thursday, April 19, 2018 in London: The launch of Local Heroes (Insomniac Press 2018) by Penn Kemp. The evening includes an exhibition tour with curator Amber Lloydlangston, followed by Penn’s reading. The theatre will show several short videos on Local Heroes by Dennis Siren, Mary McDonald and Western’s Community Engaged Learning. The poet will then sign books.6:30 to 7:15 p.m. – Curator Tour: Women’s Lives in Canada: A History, 1875-2000; 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. – Penn’s reading; and 8:30 to 9 p.m. – book signing. Lecture Theatre, Museum London, 421 Ridout St N.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 in Victoria, B.C.: ‘ALT’ show, Victoria Poetry Project, 8 pm

Friday, April 27, 2018 in Edmonton, Alberta:  Featured reader, “Wine and Wild Women Wordsmiths”, The Edmonton Poetry Festival.

Monday, May 28, 2018 in London: Women Trailblazers: Writers and Voices for Change: Heroes. A reading and lecture series celebrating Canadian women writers. Featured guests: Judy Rebick and Penn Kemp, 7 to 8:30 pm, Stevenson & Hunt Room, Central Library, 251 Dundas Street .

Additional information about Kemp and her upcoming workshops and readings can be found on her websiteblog ; twitter account ; Facebook account  ; and Facebook author page.

Addition information about Barbaric Cultural Practice appears on the Quattro Books website.

 Additional information about Local Heroes will soon appear on the Insomniac Press website.

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*Quote is from the poem “Drives Destination” printed in the book Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Press, 2016). Page 89. Copyright © 2016, Penn Kemp and Quattro Books, Inc. Used with permission.