KelleGroom.com Header

Books by Kelle Groom

I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl: A Memoir

Five Kingdoms: Poems

Luckily: Poems

Underwater City: Poems

Reviews

I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl:
A Memoir
Free Press/Simon & Schuster 2011

I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of A Girl Book Cover

"The alchemy of the poet’s craft allows Groom to transform the worst horrors—the death of a child and addiction—into a gorgeous tale of grace. With not one word of self-pity, this is an unflinching look at a life saved by forgiveness."
Library Journal’s Best Memoirs of 2011
[ Read Now ]

“[W]hen the author has been through enough to have learned some big lessons and has the chops to express them well, the result can be exhilarating. Such is the case with acclaimed poet Kelle Groom’s new memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of A Girl… The bare bones of the plot are certainly gripping — the loss of a son she never knew, the lifelong grieving process and investigation of that loss — but it is Groom’s writing that stakes out the book’s place in the genre and, in ways, seeks to elevate it. After reading I Wore the Ocean, you’ll wish that more poets would write their lives in prose — Groom’s voice feels vital and awake, uncompromising and refreshingly spare. Groom beautifully summons the smallest moments from her memory… The writing of this memoir is yet another step in Groom’s return to health, but it has the depth to serve a larger purpose, too. I Wore the Ocean would be a comforting resource for any parent who has lost a child, either to illness or to alcoholism. Groom’s story might even encourage others to mine their histories to reconnect — if only spiritually — with an estranged loved one.”
NPR
[ Read Now ]

"so piercing and true that you live the story as much as read it. Part of the book’s emotional wallop is due to how it’s organized—in short, dreamy chapters than skip forward and back in time, letting you piece together the chronology yourself—and part of it is due to Groom’s exquisite, lyrical prose...extraordinarily moving..."
— Oprah.com
[ Read Now ]

"Her image-rich prose and unconventional sense of the paragraph surprise and resonate. Dynamic passages, often intentionally unhinged, tug against familiar expectations... Groom writes about herself without pretending and about others without blaming, delivering wide-eyed observations even in low-lit, murky places. Closing Groom’s book I hear Eudora Welty and Walt Whitman… The ocean is worn, the girl is shaped, visible.”
— New York Times Book Review
[ Read Now ]

"Kelle Groom’s [memoir] is intimate in a generous, revelatory way. . . . the reader is enlightened as Groom slowly releases her burdens. Discover: A dark journey through addiction, enlightened by lyrical prose and hard-earned wisdom." 
Shelf Awareness
[ Read Now ]

"Gorgeous, poetic language ... is the backbone of this unflinching look at a life saved by forgiveness. Are you a human being? Read this book!"
Starred pre-pub review, Library Journal
[ Read Now

"Groom’s stunning memoir reads more like poetry than prose and leaves the ‘brain singing with neurons like a city at night.’ . . . . Her astonishing struggle and unique resurrection illuminate the universal human effort to embrace one’s self, accepting personal flaws, demons, and methods of survival.”
Booklist

“The triumph of Kelle Groom’s memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, lies in her plangent, poetic prose as she lays bare the onset of her alcoholism at age 15, the child she bore and gave up at 19, and her dead-end jobs, upset parents, blackouts, hookups, and, eventually, slow and steadfast embrace of a sober, creative life.”
— Lisa Shea, Elle

"A visceral, darkly lyrical narrative" 
Kirkus Reviews
[ Read Now ]

"The beauty of memoir in wise hands is that the author can take a stock character (a drunken teen, for example) and twist your perceptions. Groom turns the experiences of a party girl inside-out, illuminating the architecture of willful oblivion. In a few sentences, she renders an evening of carousing—the blurry rush of emotions and images—with the sparky precision of a Rembrandt etching."
— Oxford American
[ Read Now ]

"Everything is still and yet moving at once. Then, in the middle of the symphony of destruction and chaos, you find her: the lone survivor. The real strength of Groom’s memoir is her poetic language. I read everything with a pen in hand, underlining passages and phrases that impress me. Usually I have ten, maybe a dozen passages throughout...underlined or starred. With this book, I have a line on every page, sometimes several, bearing the imprint of my admiration and awe. I am not sure that in my lifetime I have ever read anything so rooted in the collective experience of being a woman. I have never been an addict, have never lost a child, yet the way Groom articulates the deepest recesses of the female psyche made me feel a sense of recognition that I have never felt before."
— Brevity
[ Read More ]

“Her [Groom’s] writing is a wonderfully compelling mix of simple and lyrical"
Publishers Weekly
[ Read More ]

"In a series of beautifully compressed narratives, Groom, who grapples here with the very meaning of motherhood, describes devastating binges... As heartbreaking as this book is, Groom writes with a captivating urgency. Her salvation, a result of her tireless quest for clarity, will leave you cheering."
Susanna Sonnenberg, More
[ Read More ]

A "searing yet lyrical memoir"
— Boston Globe
[ Read Now ]

"Groom, a poet, creates a trance-like state with her writing...surprisingly sweet, heartbreaking and ultimately redeeming."
— Miami Herald
[ Read Now ]

[I]mportant, though, is the thematic effect of … time-shifting [in I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl]: the sense that the past is irrevocably whirled up with the present, that choices and events from years ago are still with us, that future events will be colored by what happened two years ago and yesterday and right now. This is true, of course, but I’ve rarely seen the idea so subtly expressed in a nonfiction memoir. Tommy has always just died in this story; he’s always about to be taken away; he’s always being held for the first time. The effect is harrowing.”
PopMatters
[ Read Now ]

"Reading this book can be a mind-altering experience... I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl is utterly unlike any other memoir I’ve read...metaphor as brilliant, painful and targeted as a laser. Lovers of language will get pleasurably lost in this account of the mysterious and gradual coalescence of self-identity."
— The Orlando Weekly
[ Read Now ]

"Expanded from a much-praised Ploughshares essay, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl is an unflinching yet deeply poetic memoir that captures the rawness and urgency of addiction as well as the tenderness and heartbreak surrounding the loss of a son. The grace and power of Groom’s voice and the quality of her writing will linger in readers’ minds. "
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
[ Read Now ]

"It’s difficult to over-estimate the emotional intensity of this book.... If I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl is the story of self-loss, it is also a record of the writer’s healing and great strength.  Groom digs perilously deep in her psyche to show us not only the shattering, but her own piecing together of identity.  Self-help groups, hospitalizations, half-hearted interventions, lovers, and anodynes all failed to realize in Groom what writing eventually achieved.  Writing gave Groom a means of uncovering the past, recovering what seemed lost inside her.  Most importantly, it offered Groom and her readers a hypnotic lineage of associations and images that tell the gorgeous and disturbing truth of a life’s journey from chaotic self-erasure to the moment when Tommy and his mother finally see each other as they were, and as they perpetually are in this unforgettable, haunting book.   
— John Pearson, The Florida Review
[ Read Now ]

“ [A] writer’s poignant tale a search for buried self, child she lost. Halfway into her ravishing mosaic of a memoir, it’s easy to lose count of the dark nights. … The poetry that describes the horror of her downward spiral is alternately beautiful and terrifying… Each memory can be held up to the light to reveal another meaning…the story shimmers... In the end, by breaking a decades-long silence, Groom has weathered her dark nights to earn a soul as big as the ocean. As it gradually takes the shape of a girl, a woman and finally a mother, the reader, too, comes away transformed.”
— Atlanta Journal Constitution
[ Read More ]

"Tommy, reborn through his mother’s empathy, is the pearl sprung from the bitterness of Groom’s early life, elegized in a memoir reminiscent of Mary Karr’s Lit."
— Barnes & Noble Review
[ Read Now ]

"I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl is a stunningly written memoir... powerful indeed."
Wendy Hudson, Nantucket Bookworks for Harper’s Bazaar
[ Read Now ]

"Groom’s lyrical prose is addictive. Brilliantly lucid, richly suggestive and ruthlessly honest, this memoir is a triumph of art and life.
— Naples Florida Weekly
[ Read Now ]

"[R]endered with graceful lyricism. All events become nearly simultaneous within the narrative, allowing the reader a unique perspective which seems to transcend time... stories in this memoir feel...like the pulse that forces life through all of us.
— New Madrid, Summer 2011
[ Read More ]

"...trust her. Follow her. The narrative is truer to emotional reality than simple linear time."
--MediaVixenRecommends
[ Read More ]

  " Each memory...is like a poem." --Her Circle: A Magazine of Women’s Creative Arts and Activism
[ Read More ]

"Intense"
— The Book Shelf
[ Read More ]

Five Kingdoms: Poems
Anhinga Press 2010
Florida Book Award winner

Five Kingdoms Book Cover

"The Best New Poetry ...unexpectedly moving."
-- Entertainment Weekly
[ Read Now ]

"The poems in Kelle Groom’s third collection, Five Kingdoms, weave gracefully between the personal and the political, wrestling larger cultural crises down to their human components....This ultimately human need to connect, to comfort, even across millions of years, becomes the driving force of Five Kingdoms....It is rare to find such a range of emotion, intellect and humor housed in one poet-but here it is, and it is a gift. Groom’s is a fiercely intelligent, defiant voice, singing with all her passion and formidable insight."
-- Ilyse Kusnetz, The Florida Review, 2011
[ Read Now ]

“Kelle Groom’s third book of poetry hauntingly examines how the five kingdoms of living things interact with each other across time and space. Her poems span the globe and the history of Earth, from a three-million-year-old skeleton in Ethiopia to a White House conference with Jeb Bush in Tampa. Groom insists that history, place, and humans are superimposed on each other. [T]he lens of archaeology and architecture renders the curtain between the living and the dead translucent. Groom does not stop with the idea of human resurrection; her poems are a call to recognize the necessity of all life on earth. “Count all the living things,” she commands in the poem “Five Kingdoms”. The balance that must exist on Earth exists in these poems as the merging of human, animal, plant, and element… [One] speaker deals with fear, another speaker confronts the social forces that separate people, saying, “I wanted to walk / toward her, but others rose up between us like the sea.” In Groom’s world, each life rediscovers itself in a reflection of its surroundings. She [also] keenly weaves a consciousness of modern culture into these poems… The urgency is the need to save and cherish all life, and Groom’s gift is making you want to do so.”
--New Madrid, Summer 2010
[ Read Now ]

"A stunning collection of poems."
-- Poets’ Quarterly, Winter 2011
[ Read Now ]

"In Kelle Groom’s poem “In the City,” from her new book, Five Kingdoms (her third volume of poetry), a reader must explore loss so seldom discussed we might not otherwise think of it...  Five Kingdoms uses such small intimacies to address isolation, mortality, and love. What moves this reader is Groom’s skill with our common language and her intuitive manner of taking a simple,unremarkable moment and embodying its revelations."
-- Bloomsbury Review, Vol 31, Issue 2, 2011
[ Read Now ]

"Luminous"
-- GRL
[ Read Now ]

Underwater City: Poems
University Press of Florida, 2004

Underwater City Book Cover

"Underwater City introduces us to a voice that is both ghost-like and full of wonder. Her imagery is as fantastical and as clear as Magritte’s. At times, Groom’s poems are so powerful that they seem to touch at undiscovered emotional centers that both shake and comfort us."
--The Missouri Review, "On Recent American Poetry"
[ Read More ]

"Groom skillfully connects loves to losses, generations to one another, and oceans near and distant. . . Each poem offers exceptional craftsmanship, precisely rendered emotions, and haunting images."
--Southern Humanities Review

"Groom proceeds--headlong, staggering and every now and then stumbling onto something extraordinary."
"...on closer inspection they [Kelle Groom’s poems] start to look like another genre altogether -- something almost pre-prosaic. Many are explicitly about dreams, and even those that aren’t tend to follow a dream logic and employ a dream syntax. Their fundamental unit is neither the line nor the sentence, but the thought."
--New York Times Book Review
[ Read More ]

SPILL: Poems,
Anhinga Press 2017

There is an untrammelled and bounding energy that resists constraint in Kelle Groom’s latest book of poetry, Spill. Groom seems undaunted by multiplicity—in fact, she dives over and over into the seas of multiple realities, unimpeded by conventional boundaries. Her work inhabits a full spectrum of experience, with no sense of stepping into or out of a tidy middleclass existence. It is an all-embracing wash of realities.

In the opening poem, "The Lost Museum," there is the fervent if troubling line, "If someone must saw open / my chest I want all this light to be what spills out." There is not only the presumption that life might or must involve someone sawing open one’s chest, but also the enlightened vision about what the speaker hopes she harbors.

This early and literal mention of spilling is passive, as the collection also contains poems in which the spill of language is actively engaged. In "L’Amoureuse," a rhythmic incantation of anaphoras enumerates what "she has." A deceptively adorable spill of incisive comparisons expresses, then, seemingly, normalizes, one’s profound insecurities:

          She has the breaking point of my hard plastic pink flipflops

                    She has the hypnosis of my shuffle to the kitchen for coffee

                    She has the conversation of my black caterpillars in their fur

                              coats, curling uncurling by the door last winter,

                              hello, hello

Then, suddenly, the speaker summarizes them:

                    She has the song and dance of my rage turned against the self

The way Groom equates the quotidian and the submerged is striking. There is no marked division of the register shift, from morning kitchen coffee to rage against the self.

In an early interview, Groom remembered her first encounter with Jayne Anne Phillips’ work and her own sense that she had previously lived in a house with closed windows. While reading Phillips’ book, "shutter after shutter opened." That is this reviewer’s experience with Groom’s book. My own dutiful avoidance of risk was spilled over and revealed as a rigidity that limits encounter with life.

That spill connotes the motion of liquid is appropriate. There is tension in the book between (perhaps impermanent) stasis and motion. One can detect this dynamic even in the number of locations—they are often emotional states given place, then inhabited on multiple levels.

In the spirit of listing, here are some poem titles in the book that allude to location:

                   The Lost Museum,
                   St. Petersburg
                   Helltown
                   Shark Bite Capital of America
                   The Anti-Suicide Hotel
                   The Nun Hotel
                   Community Sleep Disorder Clinic
                   South Station, 1968
                   Hôtel Dieu

These titles refer to places of ruin, of transience, and in some instances, unexpected transcendence. Though, in Groom’s hands, this is felt first as a vivid awareness of the temporary thereness of objects, and simultaneously, as an eventual and even longed for spilling into a vastness of ocean.

In the shapely stanzaic poem, "Estate," which seems to itemize objects as in a sale, the list of objects includes the following:

                             someone turns

                   a teapot, tries to read the message on the bottom.


                   The box at my feet looks familiar,

                   Labeled "Writing" in purple magic marker.

                   Poems I’d written on envelopes, bills

The end of the poem offers this perspective:

                    but there are thousands of lives getting ready


                    to push toward the hush over head, the raft

                    of weeds. I move a coconut out of their way,

                    clear the main drag down to the sea.

Here, even in these lines extracted from the poem, one sees vivid temporality. The very premise of the estate sale objects severed from their origins allows for momentary nostalgia. However, that halting the motion of time long enough to notice that the marker is "purple" and "magic," for instance, is always in the context of continual motion "to the sea."

The domains of the poems are temporary locations on the way somewhere. Or, perhaps, on the way to not being somewhere known.

In "Booby Trap," the speaker reveals:

                                                                                 I liked to purposefully

                   get lost in cities turned around


                                I thought that if I paid no attention


to the streets     signs    I could run into my life by surprise      the one

that always hid from me in my horizontal     parallel existence

Many of the poems feel autobiographical, about running toward life. The speaker is sometimes a waitress, often on the road, sometimes alone in diners, once with a stranger who "wanted to show me a building that appeared thin / as a credit card, or with a dark hole through the center." The speaker of these poems is intrepid. She goes where she sees to go. She is not constrained by self-imposed restrictions, at least not in the narratives that emerge in flashes in these poems. There is an absence of hesitation, a spilling over into whatever fascinates, what is alluring. A shadowy cast of characters inhabits the poems, a "friend not quite / My friend." In the case of "The Anti-Suicide Hotel," "I thought it was the Suicide / Hotel. Waking, / I knew I had to find it."

This poetry is self-aware, skillful, and reveals a honed attention to language and its origins and resonances. Take, for instance, the haunting poem "Hour," in which the sound of the word, rendered as "Ow wah" evokes a beloved and deceased uncle who called it that, as well as a whole desolate and almost howling world, "in need of a blanket, everything cut and named."

Groom’s work remains dauntlessly free-floating. As the final stanzas of this daring collection announce in "Hôtel Dieu," she

                      could glide

    into the ocean, seagulls carrying stars

    in their mouths, dropping them from the sky


    to crack open on the sea round rocks, the path

    leading into the horizon not here,

    invisible, but I can feel it saying, come along.


And so we would "come along" with Groom, into her fully felt worlds, towards them, without prejudice, without even knowing where we are led, with an almost quiet unflinching faith.

--THE LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS, Reviewed by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson:
[ Read More ]


What does it mean to spill? Kelle Groom’s latest collection offers us a few homophonic versions of this word—to spill, as in party foul; to spill as in, divulge, Spill your heart out; or, by extension, the two of these things combined, forming the spills of our words cascading into one another, the spills of our inebriated language. The effect is one of a rolling, intentional movement, whether quickened or slowed. Within this range of voice and language, Groom’s latest collection offers to us speakers who contemplate her endless world of possibility within the shallows and depths of love.

Love can often feel broken. The reader of this collection, then, is forced to contemplate Groom’s speaker’s world of love in broken forms, as in "The Great Nebula of Orion," which recounts a shark being fished from the ocean by a tourist. The poem is highly caesuraed, with indentations within the lines, and peppered with second-guess phrases like "I doubt it will be a shark but there it is, head whipping back & forth, / what drowning is for me" or "Does the shark let the boy reach inside." This act of violence upon this nongendered shark is, thus, not simply a fisherman’s leisure activity, but an extended metaphor for the speaker’s relationships. Imagery, like we see within this poem, and throughout this collection, focuses on the oceanic, the edge of the tides, the possibility of drift or setting sail. And here, from Merriam Webster, is yet another definition of spill: to relieve a sail from the pressure of the wind so as to reef or furl it.

The list, again, runneth over syntax, in the poem, "Message on a Coffee Cup," where Groom’s speaker passes by a coffee cup, then, stepping over some "newly dead" in the "stepping dark," this speaker sees a man at the ". . . Citgo / beside the Bottoms Up bar," then wants to be seen by him:


    a man who brings home sweets digging
    in from the force of driving waves, planks
    with dark nails, shinnying doors . . .

The object of desire—in this case, what appears to be a sexy fisherman—becomes further fantasized in nonsensical love as Groom’s initial quickened syntax, follow this long, meandering sentence, only to arrive with "frilly-tailed creatures pop-out, see me, the shadow," so that a new sentence (the imperative see me) is lumped in between commas, among a cascade of thoughts and imagery, as these thoughts crash into the terceted poem’s final one line, finished off with an internal rhyme. Otherworldly confusion, along with form, then, mimic the encounters of what it’s like when we see someone and immediately fall in love with them (and don’t tell me you haven’t been there).

More syntactically logical poems balance the collection, such as Groom’s love poem for Larry Levis titled "May Day," in which the grocery-shopping speaker encounters one of Levis’s poems in a magazine, reflecting that digesting the poem was "like having had sex & dressing too quickly." The speaker then goes about her daily errands: laundry, walking through the parking lot, carrying the groceries back to her place through a fog, but not before noticing "spider / Webs hanging down like the beards or braided / ponytails of old bikers," noticing the fog, "full of cool water, breathing like drinking," and noticing "four pink flowering trees, like Sisters." Levis, then, through his verse, enlivens this speaker into a better existence, sensory and detailed.

But where Groom most succeeds in this collection is within her most permeable poems, those poems in which the reader is forced to interpret with such broken information. The poem "My Life is Not a Riding a School" starts with a scene of a drunk driver driving down "a lightless country road" as "Heavy thrown things hit / the sides of the van thudding." Not only are the headlights turned off but the driver is laughing, which creates a sense of impending doom from the very beginning of this poem. The speaker retreats into her thoughts, imagining Spiderman adhering to this van, "Or just the dark made manifest attacking us." From here, and this is the most exciting thing Groom did for me in this collection, the speaker breaks apart the words: "Manifest struck by the hand / palpable evident a hand + akin to," then takes each definition, leading into new thought, a new word, broken up into its etymology:

    Crave is to demand what’s right To beg The synonym is desire
    Compulsion: that which compels driving force Compel:
    together + to drive see FELT

and a few lines later,

    Surrender: up + to render To give up possession of to abandon     to give oneself up to another’s power esp. a prisoner—
    why is that so appealing like sleeping?

When we finish, this poem has literally torn itself apart in a rabbit hole of language, broken. The result for the reader is a highly successful battering of language to translate a destructive relationship between Groom’s speaker, the passenger, and the dangerous "he," the driver of this van.

Groom offers us a collection of poems that are at once connected and disjointed. Her variations of syntax and language mirror love and its many consequences. An early poem, "42," about the demolition of a beach house, serves not only as an extended metaphor, but also as a demolition of language through its lack of logical syntax, as when we see, "all / the tops spinning, the strength you were given with a child / in your arms will never let go." Here, we are exposed to possibility: what is it that’s not letting go? Syntactically, it’s the noun strength, but it appears among a list, so is it all these things? Should I, as a reader, read it as simply the arms not letting go? I don’t—because the creation of these questions is what gives the poem, and this collection, its power.

With such different contemplations, with forms broken as well as intact, the reader is forced to ask what Groom is ultimately saying about love in her collection. One of her later poems in the collection, "Earth Stars," may help to answer this question. In it, the speaker is in the hospital, getting strapped down, ready for labor:

                 Dwell is to lead astray
     to hinder    delay    what am I late for
     curled up in myself ready to spill

To spill, then, is what happens when we allow ourselves into love, into another human being. And much like her oceanic images, Groom’s poems are open and pouring.


--THE KENYON REVIEW, Reviewed by John Bonnani:
[ Read More ]

Interviews

KNPR Interview
(April 5, 2012):
[ Read More ]

Boston Globe Q&A
[ Read Now ]

Beatrice.com
[ Read Now ]

WORD
[ Read Now ]

Miami Herald
[ Read Now ]

NBC Miami
[ Read Now ]

A Conversation with Kelle Groom (from Simon & Schuster RGG)
[ Read Now ]

Barnes & Noble Q&A with Kelle Groom
[ Read Now ]

Simon & Schuster Q&A
[ Read Now ]

Ploughshares
[ Read Now ]

BOOK BOUND
[ Read Now ]

Radiant Light
[ Read Now ]

32 poems
[ Read Now ]

PoetryNet
[ Read Now ]

her circle ezine
[ Read Now ]

CDR
[ Read Now ]

Orlando Sentinel
[ Read Now ]