Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Dromomania and Gone Viking. Bill’s Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. His poetry, articles and reviews are published in Canada, US, UK, Europe and Asia, with features in Literary Yard Journal, Eunoia Review, Authors Publish, MOON Magazine, Eskimo Pie, Scars Publications, Down in the Dirt, Plum Tree Tavern, Ekphrastic Review, Lighten Up, Dawntreader, Corvus Review, PLAY UK and LCP Heartwood anthologies, with a 2019 poetry prize from Pandora’s Collective. Bill’s column Poetry Beat is published by the League of Canadian Poets and the Federation of BC Writers.
Fox Haunts. Poems by Penn Kemp. Aeolus House, 2018. 97 pages. $20.
First time I saw a fox I was atop an open-air double decker, trundling along Cornish coast, intermittently thrashed by leafy birch as though in a weaving 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.”