Poet Savage combines memoir with environmental and social commentary in her haunting debut, an account of the damage wrought by industrial waste. “The volume of polluted places” in America “overwhelms,” she writes, citing the 1,322 sites on the EPA’s Superfund National Priority List in addition to another 450,000 active brownfields, or “old polluted industrial sites.” Savage grew up and still lives near waste sites in Minnesota (“I can remember the noise of industry coming through the screened window... the place I’m from has long been a magnet for illegal dumping.”) and uses her father’s terminal stomach cancer, possibly caused by pollution, as a through line as she explores fears of what might be happening in her own body (“environmental pollutants... can be transmitted genetically”), and the racist history behind where waste sites were placed. Savage gives voice to those fighting at the front lines of their communities, as well, and shares sobering statistics about the prevalence of toxic locations (“roughly 60% of the U.S. population” lives within three miles of waste sites). It makes for a work of both elegiac beauty and horror, with no end in sight; as one woman observes, “They say this is a site of cleanup, but you can’t clean up what’s constantly coming down.” This one’s tough to forget. (Aug.)
Like Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, Savage approaches grief by situating her thoughts within the conversations of other writers, including Terry Tempest Williams, Jacques Roubaud and Camille T. Dungy, but in so doing, her individual mourning moves quickly and fruitfully to larger discussions about how our bodies are connected to the spaces around us. . . . Savage balances the personal with research so readers can feel both why she cares and why we should. This work is a worthy reflection.” —Abby Manzella, Star Tribune
“Savage combines memoir with environmental and social commentary in her haunting debut. . . . A work of both elegiac beauty and horror. . . . This one’s tough to forget.” —Publishers Weekly
“A lyrical exploration of grief and ecology. . . . [A] prismatic debut in the guise of a grief memoir, but the narrative encompasses ecological investigations of brownfields and Superfund sites. . . . Savage creates a compelling meditation that flows beyond the typical stylings of memoir, journalism, and theory. An interrogative, existential crisis at the center of an ongoing ecological one.” —Kirkus
“In the midst of congressional chaos, industrial pollution, land and water contamination, bodily disease, and necessary reparations, Savage’s work demands we take heed and have courage, and with imagination and introspection, ‘learn how to build’ again.” —Tara Friedman, West Trade Review
“A poetic reckoning with environmental pollution and its unavoidable connection to human bodies. . . . Groundglass tenderly dissolves the perceived boundary between environment and self . . . [and] invites readers to settle into their own bodies and cultivate an ever-deepening awareness of the spaces they occupy.” —Lillie Gardner, EcoLit Books
“Groundglass is a work of beauty—like the superfunds Kathryn Savage investigates, which green and bloom and renew despite it all. Reading Savage’s writing is like taking a walk beside a friend with an extraordinary eye for all the unlikely and remarkable details along the path, the ones you would have missed if you had to walk it alone.” —Kathryn Nuernberger
“How does one build a home? A family? What are the ways they might come apart? I myself grew up within wind’s distance of Love Canal. In times marked by Chernobyl, Fukushima, by fracking and spills, compromised air and water, the relationship between toxicity and the bloodstream feels intimate and immediate. This probing book asks the hard questions in a compelling blend of memoir, essay, biography, and reportage. The inside is the outside now. The outside is inside.” —Kazim Ali
“Kathryn Savage roots down into one broken place––a place most would rather overlook––and listens. Here, every relationship the author tends––with herself, with her son, with the father that begot her and the neighborhood where he raised her up––twists into unsettling shapes thanks to what this land has been forced to hold. Groundglass is both a commitment and a grappling, and for that reason it will stay with me for a very long time.” —Elizabeth Rush
“Through exquisitely honed language and poetic imagery, Kathryn Savage skillfully juxtaposes her father’s cancer with the ecological violence she witnessed at toxic Superfund sites, crafting an unflinching portrayal of ‘the world as body.’” —Diane Wilson
Poet/essayist Savage grew up near a US Superfund site—one of thousands of sites contaminated by hazardous substances and slated by the U.S. government for clean-up. Currently, she lives atop Minnesota's most polluted aquifer. Here she mourns the devastation to land, groundwater, communities, and people by environmental pollution while contemplating raising a young son as her father died of cancer.
A lyrical exploration of grief and ecology.
After the death of her father from cancer, Savage sought answers in the detritus of Shoreham Yard, a polluted railyard in Minneapolis near where she grew up. “I live in a polluted ecotone,” she writes, “a porous patch of neighborhood where two systems that shouldn’t merge have, and one violates the other.” The author, who teaches creative writing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, begins her prismatic debut in the guise of a grief memoir, but the narrative encompasses ecological investigations of brownfields and Superfund sites. Savage visited nearby sites and interviewed activists and displaced survivors, finding in many the shared sentiment that local pollution must be linked to an uptick in medical problems such as cancer, miscarriages, and asthma. Although there are some standout journalistic moments in which the author transcribes emails and letters from these associates, much of the book points inward to Savage’s processing of these facts and hypotheses: “Could there be something humbling and revolutionary in understanding myself as a site of contamination?”…Could restorative action and real redress grow out of this painful recognition?” The author is a deep thinker and exhaustive researcher, but many of her ideas drift into an academic rhetoric that may alienate casual readers. She cites bell hooks, Greta Gaard’s Critical Ecofeminism, Anne Carson’s poetry, and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. While the author pointedly notes that compromised, polluted environments are often populated by poor, non-White families and that race and gentrification are significant factors in a troublingly multifaceted crisis, she struggles to fit into the discussion. “At the community garden,” she writes, “I question my desire to seed my presence.” Later, she writes, “I feel disgust at the settler archetype I embody.” Despite a lack of resolve, the text resists classification. Savage creates a compelling meditation that flows beyond the typical stylings of memoir, journalism, and theory.
An interrogative, existential crisis at the center of an ongoing ecological one.