PS (Gap Riot) by Penn Kemp and Sharon Thesen is a poetic collaboration between two poets writing to each other over the course of one year. PS is a deep breath; it’s like a love letter from a friend reflecting aspects of nature, thick with humanity, and with a touch of ecocriticism. The poems are rich with the same lush verdant, natural world they often contemplate; poems in PS are an ocean—once at peace, transparent, imitates the blue of the sky through every ripple, and then fierce and vividly vulnerable. Kemp and Thesen write of human fallibility and our innate desire for connection while reminding us how fast life sprouts and blooms and, often too soon, shrivels. Many poems brought me back to a world of isolation and offered a tender reminder to love the earth, or really, to love the earth better; my personal favorite was “December Poem.” 

I wonder if the feeder still swings from the porch, and if your friend the crow who lived in the tree / across the street has left, or is still waiting / for you to come outside and tell him to go away,  / knowing perfectly well he wouldn’t, and loving that / about him. 

I love that this poem gives us permission not to know every word to say and when; it, like many poems in PS, reminds us of our varied humanness—how we are so alike and so different from each other. Perhaps we have all, as in the poem, lost someone and looked up, perceived heaven, and asked for a sign, a response, but were left only in our wonder.

The poems in PS are validating and ask the important questions—ones I have even asked myself, “How does Moss manage, playing June / in The Handmaid’s Tale, herself raised / as Scientologist and still within the fold” (from “Occupied”). This is even more so in “Penn Poem for July” observing the world distraught, on fire, ill, and “getting expensive now too.” They seem to ask “where will we go when this all ends?” this, the world. 

Perhaps what is most beautiful about PS is that it is conversational; the poems converse, and each poem pleads in some way to know more about what it means to be alive, to be human. Even more, the poets are conversing as well; their voices are different and unique in subject and poetic liberty, but like their words, the authors are beckoning also to know each other. It’s a reminder that we also try to understand one another. The final poem does this well, “The Old Days” reflects the power of the spoken and written word. So much of what happens between humans is conversational, everything we do, even if only in silent action, says something to another person. PS, a conversation itself, is a manifestation of that power, and it resounds through each poem, page after page.


  1. Penn Kemp says:

    Such an incisive review, much appreciated. It captures the depth and width of my ongoing conversation across the country with beloved poet Sharon Thesen!

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