01 January 2011

Five Kingdoms by Kelle Groom

Five Kingdoms
Anhinga Press
Chapbook, 106 pages
ISBN:978-1-934695-13-5

Link to Purchase

Reviewed by Joan Hanna
Five Kingdoms by Kelle Groom, “based on the five kingdoms of life which categorize every living thing” (105) is a stunning collection of poems that will submerge you into our primordial sense of connection to all the things around us. Groom has connected our modern existence with our emergence from nature in a way that will fall on you like cooling water.
 
Tony Hoagland has said that Groom’s poems: “are like underwater songs, sung from the submerged continent of the inner life, the life we don’t often expose to the outer world, the one we don’t speak of.”
 
Groom speaks of this inner life and speaks of it well. From the opening poem, “Bone Built for Eternity” based on a painting by Guillermo Kuitca about a 3.3 million year old child’s skeleton found in Ethiopia—the earliest child in human fossil record, Groom’s voice calls to us from our beginnings:
A storm drowned her,
and we chinked her out
of rock that grew around,
just her face peeking out from a blanket
of sand, telling us not to worry,
that even if you are buried
for three million years,
your body hidden in stone,
we will come looking
for you, and hold your skull in the palm
of a hand, admire your empty
thimble eyes, teeth like tiny kernels
of corn, look inside your ears for balance,
the sea the same, though the moon
was so much closer then to earth
So begins Groom’s journey looking to the past to make sense of the present. Her attention to the detail of the skeleton of the child comes to us in pieces, as if emerging from a womb. The shift in language from awe with “we will come looking for you” reminds us that even after 3 million years, we are all connected to a past we never fully understand.
 
In the title poem of the collection, “Five Kingdoms” Groom asks us to consider the repercussions of modern living:
With the dropping of the first bomb, did our average age
limit drop? If we place lucky objects, perform
activities in a special number of times, if we are ugly or disfigured
in some way, and we diagnose our contact with live
animals, broken glass, auto exhaust, garbage,
grease and solvents, lead, can we forgive our impulse
to rob, steal from, cheat, for causing harm to others
with our thoughts, training a blow torch
on hundreds of thousands until their skin came off like gloves,
a child a white flash running in the street.
These modern things that are a part of our everyday life seem to be leading to our own destruction. It seems a stark and chilling reminder of the downward spiral from finding the existence of a 3 million year old child to dropping an atomic bomb causing the destruction of so many.
 
Groom also fragments time to bridge the gap between this amazing place that seems to suspend time. In “Oldest Map of the World” She describes this place as if our past, our present and our future are all here, now, existing on the same plane:
I come through on the other side, I’m laughing.
Fifty miles from Baghdad is the view from Babylon
Where the US military builds a helipad and parking lots
On top of what was once one of the seven wonders,
And here we found the first map of the world, made of clay
So small it fits in the palm of a hand
But Groom doesn’t only deal in the juxtaposition of us with nature. In “1984” we hear a slightly ironic voice with this interaction with Allen Ginsberg:
Allen Ginsberg wrote on the wall
of my closet twenty two years ago,
on the half-moon after his birthday,
& said he’d left flowered Japanese
napkin holders here—a gift for us,
his handwriting happy & big as mine
When I was a girl, the letters brushing
My clothes, as if I  could walk back
A bit, sit with Allen
--
Allen, I think someone
took the napkin rings, I mean, we don’t even
have napkins, but thank you for thinking
of us & leaving these invisible things
We have a young girl meditating on these words scribbled by Allen Ginsberg, leaving their traces, brushing against her clothes until the somewhat humorous ending of realizing not only are there no napkin holders, but there are also no napkins as the change of time alters even Groom’s urban landscapes.
 
Five Kingdoms is a sensory exploration through our connections to nature, each other and everything around us. The collection is broken into three sections:
 
1. The five Kingdoms
2. In the City and finally
3. Untitled (People on fire)
 
Each section fully explores the challenges connections and interrelationships within each of us. The voices are strong and unflinchingly open to view the world around them. Groom’s poems engulf the reader like this “submerged continent of inner life” and she not only begs us to follow her on this journey put lays down the footpath so we can follow this map that “fits in the palm of a hand.” 
 

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