Side A Video Poem Collaboration by Penn Kemp & Gary Barwin: “The Female Line”

A note on the media: Gary Barwin created the video poem in collaboration with Canadian poet Penn Kemp. Kemp wrote the text but Barwin set it with music and visuals and they both performed it. 

The Female Line

Some small part of us is held in our mother’s egg when
she is in our grandmother’s womb,     four months along.

An even smaller part is         held in our grandmother’s own
grandmother’s womb          all the way down the matrilineage.

Until our line connects with the birds             to whenever eggs
first developed.        And so we are held in a history, herstory

of possibility along with a myriad of our potential sisters,
contemplating what we might have been. What we are.

Coddled in the palm of her hand. Held, say it. Holding.

Held as if the earth is an egg, angled to receive us.

Mini-interview with Gary Barwin

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a collaborator (or continues to)?

GB: I’m not sure when I began collaborating, but more and more, I’ve found that it feeds my (creative) head. I love working with collaborators because it surprises, confounds, inspires, confuses and generally expands what I thought was possible, what I thought I might do. It encourages me to try things that I haven’t, and to listen and learn from another’s creative process.

HFR: What are you reading?

GB: I just got Ben Robinson’s Without Form—it’s an erasure of the entire Bible, Old and New Testament, leaving only the numbers. So mindboggling. It opens up so many fascinating issues, including how to read it.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted your collaboration on “The Female Line”?

GB: Penn has been an icon in Canadian sound poetry/performance poetry for many decades. I had the great pleasure of joining her to perform (on saxophone) when I was writer-in-residence in London, Ontario. She invited me to create something around her poem, and I, of course, was delighted to see what I could come up with. I knew that Penn was open to, well, anything.

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

GB: I’m working on a new novel and a series of collaborations with poet Elee Kraljii Gardiner. I’m also making video poems and sound poems from Alessandro Porco’s beautiful visual poems/scores. Also, I’m in a band, TZT, and we’re working on an old school LP—sound poetry/free jazz/jam band with Kaie Kellough.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

GB: I know that poetry makes nothing happen. Except when it does. I feel that wrangling with poetry as a writer and/or reader opens one up to a consideration of the possible. It opens one up to reading the world in a way that is both clarifying of one’s point of view but also expanding what the world might be in the future and for others now. I feel that that is a revitalizing and energizing engagement. 

Poet, performer and playwright Penn Kemp has been celebrated as a trailblazer since her first publication of poetry by Coach House (1972). Chosen as the League of Canadian Poets’ Spoken Word Artist (2015), Kemp has long been a keen participant/activist in Canada’s cultural life, with more than thirty books of poetry, prose and drama; seven plays and ten CDs produced as well as several DVDs of Sound Operas and award-winning videopoems. More:

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, and multidisciplinary artist. His 25 books include For It is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems, ed. Alessandro Porco and A Cemetery for Holes, with Tom Prime and his national bestselling novel Yiddish for Pirates won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and also a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  His latest novel, Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy was just published and Ampers&thropocene, a collection of his visuals based on the ampersand was also published by Penteract Press (UK). A PhD in music he has been writer in residence at many universities and libraries. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario and at

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