Groundglass:  An eco-opaque narration for the mind, body, and soul

Photo By Ben Kidoum

“A plurality of death, night of terror, a cruel night. People who loved each other and loved this place absorbed all that they had so suddenly lost together.

This wasn’t any grief; it was oil grief; it was capital grief.”

From Bell Hooks to Anne Carson, in between her father’s treatment, in and out of the hospital, Kathryn manages to meditate on Ukrainian gardens, Chornobyl and its effects, Muriel Rukeyser to Donna J. Haraway in a sensible hybridity that is lyrical as well as thought-provoking. I found the first chapter, ‘The Long Night’ and the last chapter, ‘Shotgun Fungi, ’ very well integrated and learned a lot about many spaces, places, and authors I had never heard of.  Kathryn starts her collective mourning with the lines: When I look up at night I see stars and planets, airplanes and satellites, astral bodies and industry; sometimes I cannot tell the real from the manufactured. This left an indelible impression on me about the times we live in. the artificiality and the neck of it. She talks about how she sees the gardens as anti-domination; places where people come together across differences to be of service to soil.

I have found a liking to Kathryn’s form and narrative voice (particularly the mature rambling of a psychoactive mind) that is transforming my own through studying and examining death, health, and the body in the face of failing ecosystems. Kathryn’s probe is soft, tamed, and brilliant in the ways she weaves the personal with the ecological.  She utilizes snippets of memory to form a pearl-chain. Her voice is sometimes full of rapture and sudden sadness, often intermingled with her diary-like musings throughout the book, activating consciousness and brooding. Her observations are astute to the point of poetic. I found a likeness and relatability with the relationships and people mentioned in the book that lent to the narrative. There is also a lot of restraint in the ways she has arranged the chapters and their ensuing impact on the heart of the novel. Her narration is an elegy to the homing of self and other, earth and body, nature and culture, while imploring her relationship with her father.

“At Shoreham, over by the dump, there are all these wild sunflowers, which are phytoremediator plants; they extract and remove pollutants. The sunflowers take up heavy metals and stabilize them, keeping them out of soil and water systems. I wonder what is growing there now that is an antidote to extraction and self-centeredness and our death cult of consumerism? I wonder if it’s pushing through the ground as we speak, patiently creating another world, not waiting to find out if we people want one or not.” She also raises an important question that is at the core of her inquiry- Why do some get sick, and others don’t? What is inside comes out. What is outside comes in.

The formation and preparation of a Groundglass is the narrative device that holds together the text that Kathryn uses to use anecdotes to expand ‘meaning’ and ‘memory’ in various ‘spaces’ and ‘places’ throughout her childhood and adolescent years. She grounds the memory of her father through ruins and ruminations, psychogeography, Solastalgia, environmental arts, cultural movements across time and continents, ecological crisis, and environmental reawakening.

There were some places where I felt the language became more introspective and I needed more to feel initiated in the narrative- “My questions about the rail yard and its toxic legacy feel pretentious and academic in the garden.”

“Nothing here is dead yet, I remind myself, though it is all damaged. I think I’ll plant some of her forest. I’d like to dig a hole into this ground and fill it with something alive.”  I liked how she weaves in the political and the digressed, supported by diagrams and pictures.

After reading Sewer by Jessica Leigh, Groundglass gave me an imperative view on arranging facts with emotions to create a form of narrative that is healing and earth-shattering at the same time. She weaves in beautifully many phrases that stayed with me long after I finished reading Groundglass, while also giving me the inspiration and motivation to look at the way how I talk about my father and why. The lyrical prose with the subversive is like a floating palace of empathy with wild introspections that are integrated and edited really beautifully. The language is poetic, even lyrical, yet quite essayistic in the way it incorporates facts, movies, and literary allusions.

I also found the NOTES section quite interesting in how it was framed and lent to further the research of the theme in itself and ‘annotation as excess, leaking, gratitude’.

Leave a Comment