by Steve Desroches
There is a peace in Kelle Groom’s demeanor and an energy to her words the emits serenity. That’s not to say, or dismiss, the full range of emotions and an internal dialogue that is complete in its human experiences. But as a writer Groom is at a point in her life and work where the core of creativity is red hot and has formed its own gravitational pull, expanding in its own universe. As Provincetown glides into October, that month when the air turns crisp, the light is honey-drizzled, and the town’s character begins to return to some sense of normalcy after the wild stampede of summer, Groom still thinks about swimming in the ocean off the Cape tip. Even though she’s over a thousand miles away in Edgewater, Florida, close to New Smyrna Beach, where she works at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, an institution much like the Fine Arts Work Center, her thoughts are in Provincetown, more specifically at the beach at Hatches Harbor where she swims the long season—from early May and into October, at least she hopes to when she’s here for an event at East End Books to celebrate her new book How to Live: A Memoir-in-Essays.
A native Cape Codder whose maternal side has deep roots in Yarmouth and Dennis, Groom grew up with a father in the Navy and moved around frequently. For a portion of her adult life Groom struggled with active addiction and trauma, though now has been sober for quite some time. Over the past 10 years Groom has devoted her life to writing, becoming a celebrated poet for published collections like Underwater City, Luckily, Five Kingdoms, and Spill. For four years Groom came to Provincetown each summer to take week-long course at the Fine Arts Work Center and stay at the White Horse Inn to hone her skills and assemble her spirit in pursuit of the written word.
“I was trying to figure out how to live a creative life,” says Groom. “How to live without fear and uncertainty and how to live a writer’s life. How do you live a creative life?”
It was both a thrilling and frightening time. But as it is for many, Groom’s relationship to Provincetown in the summer was akin to a fling. It was in autumn that she fell in love. She was in a place of complete uncertainty as she’d given up her job to pursue writing and had no permanent home. It was in the fall that friends in support of Groom and her writing offered her a condo for free for the winter. It was just what she needed. And over the time in Provincetown the natural beauty, the quiet, the community, her commitment to sobriety and AA meetings at the Methodist Church, and of course the time to focus and write all gave way to the realization that to pursue a creative life one needs freedom and support of fellow artists. It was a paradise. She traveled here and there for a few years, but always came back to Provincetown when she needed to make a decision.
“I was completely broke,” says Groom. “I had a pyramid of Progresso soup cans, and I could have one a day.”
That’s when a job opened up to run the very summer programs she once took at the Fine Arts Work Center, allowing her to stay in Provincetown. Her life, in all its facets to date is captured in How to Live as well as in her 2011 memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of Girl. Her writing is beautiful, which makes it all the more striking when she reveals hardships and brutal realities. But there’s no point in pursuing life as a writer unless its going to be authentic and true to oneself.
“If I can’t be honest or truthful when writing then I’m not going to get anywhere,” says Groom. “I’m not going to find anything otherwise. I’m not going to learn anything. I’m not going to make any discoveries. There can be trepidation in opening up in a public way. [Writer] Nick Flynn told me, ‘The book is going to have a life of its own and the reader is going to have a relationship with the book, not you.’ That was very helpful when thinking about how to handle the weight and pressure when someone tells you something you wrote touched them or helped them or challenged them. It helps to better understand the connection.”
Kelle Groom will be in conversation with poet John Bonnani in celebration of her book How to Live: A Memoir-in-Essays at East End Books Ptown, 389 Commercial St., on Tuesday, October 17 at 6 p.m. Tickets ($5) are available at the door or online at eastendbooksptown.com. For more information call 508.413.3225.