Kelle Groom: An Interview With Serena Agusto-Cox

November 6, 2009

Poet Kelle Groom, published in 32 Poems

Poet Kelle Groom, published in 32 Poems

How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

I also write personal essays/memoir. For the last year, I’ve been poetry editor for The Florida Review, and have now shifted into an advisory editor position. I work full-time as the Grants & Communications Manager for Atlantic Center for the Arts, an international artists-in-residence program in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Prior to this, I was the Director of Grants Administration for the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

Spoken word can be electrifying. But I encounter performance poetry occasionally; I live with the written word.

I do believe that literature can encourage tolerance and awareness of our shared humanity. In my writing, I’m trying to find my way to some kind of truth, to discover something new.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Writing, of course. And books. Coffee. Oceans. Ireland. Prehistory.

Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

Workshops of course were part of my BA, MA, and MFA courses of study. I also took incredibly helpful workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center and through Atlantic Center for the Arts’ artists-in-residence program. I have a few really great, trusted readers – dear friends, who I share my work with. But the idea of attending a writing group makes me queasy.

Books have been very helpful. I love Bird by Bird, and The Practice of Poetry (Robin Behn and Chase Twichell). Kenneth Koch’s Rose, where did you that red? is for teaching poetry to children, but I love that too. Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms is a pleasure.

Excellent resources on form: Mark Strand and Eavan Boland’s The Making of the Poem and Philip Dacy and David Jauss’ Strong Measures. Other important resources, Boland’s Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, Strand’s The Weather of Words: Poetic Invention, Adrienne Rich’s What is Found There, Carolyn Forche’s Against Forgetting, Peter Sacks’ The English Elegy, Alicia Ostriker’s Stealing the Language, Aliki Barnstone and Willis Barnstone’s A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now.

Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

Poetry is so various, I think it’s just about finding the poets and poems that matter to you. Poems/collections that have seemed inaccessible to me, often open up later on. For me, it’s important to read as widely as possible and be open.

I created and ran a reading series for five years, while I was an adjunct instructor, among other jobs. The series grew to include monthly readings in an off-campus coffee house, an independent bookstore, and an art gallery, as well as craft lectures, writing workshops, annual writing contests, open themed readings, informal dinners. It was fun – there was a lot of poetry in the air. Accessibility was a goal, offering a wide range of readings by emerging and established writers on a regular basis in an intimate environment.

When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I always listen to music when I write, but feel weirdly secretive about it. A few of the pieces are Antony and the Johnsons cover of Dylan’s, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Gorecki’s Symphony # 3 with soprano Dawn Upshaw, especially the second movement (that should count for at least two…). Steve Earle’s Ft. Worth Blues, Jeff Buckley’s cover (and John Cale’s) of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It’s pretty much the same songs/pieces for a year or so, regardless of the genre I’m writing in.

In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

I’ve always focused on writing. Almost all of my friends are artists, and most of them are writers.

How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I like that you assume I’m fit and healthy! As a writer, I can’t go much longer than two weeks without writing –things start to fall apart. I’m happiest writing every day, for as long as possible. It’s important for me to read a great deal too, in all genres/various disciplines. For the most part, I’ll only do physical exercise if I love it. I live a block from the ocean – my favorite place. So, I go to the beach to bike, swim, and run, and the beauty of the place distracts me from the effort.

Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

Coffee is essential. Music, visual arts, reading, bike/run on beach.

Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

I’ve just moved, so I haven’t really settled in yet. My “writing room” is a catastrophe as the house is small, with little storage. So the room is filled with suitcases, rollaway bed, a variety of large storage totes, and hundreds of books.

A giant tree blocks the one window. The whole combo is pretty claustrophobic. But I’ve made the sunny dining/living room my writing space, and I use the kitchen table. Which makes for kind of a messy house, but gives me a clear space to work. And it’s quiet here – I love that.

An ideal space would be less tight, and if I’m dreaming, I’d love to go home to Cape Cod, and live/write in a place in South Yarmouth or Dennis or Wellfleet.

What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

My third poetry collection, Five Kingdoms, comes out this fall from Anhinga Press. I’m revising another poetry manuscript, and also just beginning a new collection. One of the first poems from that new collection will be out in POETRY this September and another in Ploughshares in December.

I’m also working on a memoir manuscript, City of Shoes. Selections from the memoir have recently appeared in AGNI, Brevity, Bloomsbury Review, New Madrid, and Witness. In August, another piece will appear in Ploughshares, and several chapters will be published by West Branch this fall.

Five Kingdoms by Kelle Groom

Five Kingdoms by Kelle Groom


Het up boys, skitter boys, muttonchop
go-go boys, gurgle music, kidney stone

music, muchachos party, rubicon sand fire
flaring party, thunderbird ski hats in summer

party, sweaty head party, pound & thump,
socket burning beach party, orange forklift

beach, orange moon ba-boom, hooch smoke,
ta-ta smoke, stonkered house, pandemonium

tetherballed, turtle orbitted, oriflamme ant
house, rust hilled, I know I’m violating

myself house, Maybe you’ll see me
on MTV house, No, dude (to a dog) house,

evening knock knock knock knock
house, evening anamatter clink: glass and tin,

goo food jars, chest hammer music, earthmover,
dog bark music, beep beep back-up

talk, rag and straw sleep, panic sleep, dart
sleep, rummage, rumple, canyon sleep,

sulky bunco, mittenheaded boys, saw-
voiced reclamation boys, fumarole,

radio pale, tar breathing boys
in the chewed grass, white sail an exhale.

(originally appeared in 32 Poems; forthcoming in Five Kingdoms, Anhinga Press, 2009)

About the Poet:

Kelle Groom’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry, among others. Her poetry collections are Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press, 2009), Luckily, a 2006 Florida Book Award winner (Anhinga), and Underwater City (University Press of Florida).

She’s received awards from Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Millay Colony, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, United Arts of Central Florida, Volusia County Cultural Council, and New Forms Florida.

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