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Print Version

ID: 5007
Date Added: 2002-09-19
Date Modified: 2007-10-26
Binding Twine 5.0000 average | Votes: 1
by Penn Kemp (1984) 
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Binding Twine was originally published in 1984 by Ragweed Press. A few copies of that printing are still available from Penn for $20.00 each, plus shipping from:

Pendas Productions
525 Canterbury Road,
London ON N6G 2N5

To read the poems in sequence, as Penn has intended all the way along, click library and move from (a) to (m).

e-mail: Pendas@pennkemp.ca

"I always ask folks to read all the way through to the end of Binding Twine and the catharsis that book was in the completion of the writing process. Binding Twine then becomes a rope out of the morass. No getting stuck in that mire..." Penn Kemp, August 2002

Binding Twine will now be re-presented here on Germination in MyTown because we can and starting with the Introduction from the original edition:


This is the testimony the judge did not, could not hear. From early 1974, when I separated from my husband, through 1980, our two children were in my custody. For four of those years I raised them on welfare. Child support payments were not met until a court order was issued. In December 1979 it was agreed that my son live with his father for a month. He stayed for eight months, seeing me daily. When he wanted to resume living with me, he was not allowed.

His father and the woman he lived with had decided to seek custody. Though I'd been glad to see my ex-husband take a more active role in parenting, I did not expect this. I wanted to avoid the strain of a custody trial, from which I could gain nothing - not even legal protection - since I already had full custody.

When all attempts at resolving the tensions failed, I took the children to Peru for four months. Our separation agreement had said the children and I could leave the country without their father's permission or knowledge. But I lived in physical fear of my ex-husband and knew that we would be tracked down anywhere in North America.

While we were gone, he got ex parte custody, which means that only his side was presented. I decided to return to Ontario to fight the case. I won interim custody in May 1980, though I was not allowed to leave the country. The children were allowed to see their father, but not the woman he lived with.

The custody trial took seven days over a three-month period in the summer. In December 1980, the decision was handed down. I lost custody.

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. My political stance was one of voluntary simplicity. The judge shook his head and his finger at a nice, intelligent girl like me. Given all of the advantages of upbringing and education, I had chosen to ignore society's goals. Worse, I was educating the children to be independent and self-sufficient from a young age. And I thought I was right.

The court decision confused me, undercut my confidence, any sense of security or belief in justice: another child of the sixties, radicalized but without protective colouration. I thought I could be different, could offer the children a way of life free of middle-class pitfalls. I went too far and was caught up.

I am wary of a lurking desire for vengeance, a stridency. I am very aware of my fear of consequence. And I write anyway.

I have allowed myself to be victimized. I have learned. I do not allow myself to be victimized now. I take immediate action. I let nothing slip by. The central issue is passivity: how to break through the pattern of resignation, the sense of defeat and loss.

For years I lived in a state of shock, driven out of my body. Yes, my pelvis split at the birth of each child. Yes, I was beaten and had nowhere to go. The effect was I could not grasp reality easily. I saw things as if I were a foot above myself, hands at the ends of long poles, ineffectual. Now, having worked through the terror, I am here, present, willing to face what comes. Willing to let this book out in the hope that it reaches others who have been where I have.

One woman's account to every woman, every person. What is the role of society stepping in, telling us how and what to do, defining a good parent by a rigid set of standards? As if there could be just one right way. Binding Twine is about the "betrayal" by those women who saw me as breaching a code they had accepted. As a feminist, one of the more difficult things for me to face was the anger of other women who had committed themselves to patriarchal values. I bore the brunt of their attack without really understanding why.

It's my experience that most women going through such a trial think of themselves as utterly alone and indefinably "guilty," punished by the adversarial nature of the courts. It is those women I want to reach.

In Binding Twine, I speak to people who might not normally read poetry, though in times of such stress they might write. Poetry is to me the natural medium for highly charged and conflicting emotions, dealing as it does with the complexity of life. I'd like to make the leap to poetry possible for more readers.

In my experience, 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. The writing will reflect back into my life as a gift of awareness. It might be a very primitive sort of thinking, but it works for me.

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. I don't know why the run-on lines of prose are considered more accessible than poetry. Poetry can say so much in a single phrase. A tuning of the ear. A response so that the words matter. It has taken three years to muster the objectivity and courage to write this book.

For me, the writing carries one through the process of victimization into a new active stance of clarity and understanding. I want to thank all those friends and loved ones who agonized their way through with me. I am grateful to Louise Chisholm, Cathy Ford, Honor Griffith, Carole Itter, Anne Kemp, Joy Kogawa, Don McKay, Suniti Namjoshi, Sharon Thesen and Phyllis Webb for their close readings of the text. Special thanks to Libby Oughton, midwife to this book.

Penn Kemp
Mattawa, Ontario
February 2, 1984

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