Gnarly Roots Book Review by: Author Reneé Drummond-Brown
Title: Gnarly Roots
FORTE Publications #12
Snapper Hill Monrovia, Liberia
Gnarly Roots by Jack Kolkmeyer pulls the reader into the dedication, “To all who dig deeply.” The opening line is powerful, commands immediate attention and is definitely a controversial statement, exerting self mentally or physically. Gnarly Roots is the third book in Kolkmeyer’s poetic series that explore the difficulties that dare to challenge our planet and in the cultural realms. His book is rooted in place, belonging, and identity in the transitional space that people occupy. The book addresses issues that plague our lives daily; whether social, financial, spiritual, political or personal. The book gifts the reader with knowledge on how to untangle these complicated knots, and ultimately endure.
Kolkmeyer’s book opens with the poem “diminutive notions” (1), addressing community, national, international, political and individual issues facing society today. His ability to write and tackle them with conviction is astonishing in these lines, “in the dealings of this current specter you become aware of the larger proportions of potential conflict of segregation of the soul and the spirit” (1). Each poem is loaded with subtext challenging the reader to look at the bigger picture and dig deep within one’s own worldview.
It is no coincidence that the eponymous poem “gnarly roots,” on page 2, addresses anxiety, shelter, storms and the gamely fights and scars that manifest from within. As expected, Kolkmeyer’s, fifth stanza weaves in the solution: “as the roots stay firmly grounded…to support the timeless expansion…of the natural urge to spread higher” (3). “Growth,” is the resounding refrain that Kolkmeyer so eloquently captures and masters in his book adding depth to the word evolution.
From a craft perspective Kolkmeyer, like the American poet Edward Estlin Cummings (“e. e.” Cummings) weaves love, and nature into his work. Cummings is radically known for his unconventional punctuation and phrasing. Kolmeyer’s book seems to follow the same path of lower case letters throughout the text, with the exception of two poems found on pages 62, and 76; consistency, and uniformity in “e. e.” Cummings poetry is distinct. Nonetheless, in Kolkmeyer’s attempt to imitate one of the all-time greats, he comes up short. However, like e.e. Cummings, Kolkmeyer, has mastered tackling controversial subject matter while simultaneously making complex situations mundane with his use of metaphors.
Kolkmeyer understands the powerful effect of imagery stirring the reader emotionally when he wrote, “and finally to the freedom to soar…winging way above the confines of our…place…to find a new face to float with and…to find new realms and hear new songs…beyond the tones of ours” (11). This theoretical imagery challenges both the negative and positive emotional state which leaves a powerful impact on the reader. Kolkmeyer strategically plays with words, and takes full advantage of the use of white space adding by far literary techniques, and form that set his work apart from other poets. The carefully placed line breaks throughout his book create stanzas that provide space for the reader to pause, cogitate, and take it all in; in moderation.
Kolkmeyer’s poem “The nesting place,” employs a detailed mythical feat that literally invades every facet of human interaction when he wrote: “We know there are fly by nights who would steal from us snatching a meal from the very mouths of our offspring” (p.10). Kolkmeyer’s poetry is the juxtaposition of a history, and present day societal issue that strike a respondent chord lingering in the mind of the reader.
This erudite poet skillfully taps into the African American culture well; something he is very comfortable with since volunteering his service in the Peace Corps in Liberia from 1969-72. Thus giving his poetry a rhythm and blues flare in the poem titled: “The Palm Wine Drinkard-Uh Wunjuka Tunungee* For Amos Tutuola *(Kpella of Liberia: my head is turning).” Kolkmeyer, so eloquently takes the reader on a journey to a familiar place as he wrote, “like beer…palm wine is an acquired taste…some like it, some don’t…it’s a native thing too…because not everyone has piassava trees growing in their back yards” (p.54). Placing primary emphasis on West African “piassava (palm) trees” allows the reader to explore Kolkmeyer’s mind’s eye of philosophical interpretation of those beautiful images in the natural world.
Kolkmeyer’s aim is to bring balance of nature with our own natural roots. His poetry seeks to expand the boundaries of a normal array of perspectives by embracing a healthy mindset of the culture and relationship as it relates to the environment when he wrote, “and then there’s the head liner…with its beaming pineal eye…forever searching the heavens for…mystery” (76). This experimental narrative is a reminder that the idea of creation holds more questions than answers unexplainable by the application of human reasoning. In spite of the plethora of issues raised by Kolkmeyer, that the universe is faced with, his poetic framework of understanding still challenges the reader to continuously “grow.”