Arts feature: Kent Grosswiler finds beauty in darkness

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Kent Grosswiler

In 2011, Kent Grosswiler was “40 and terrified.” The previous two decades of his life had been consumed by music and drugs — too often, at least at first, the latter.

A self-described “former north end, washout junkie drug dealer,” Grosswiler had started drinking heavily, doing drugs and dealing while he was in high school. A drummer, he pursued a career in rock 'n' roll throughout his 20s.

“I always wanted something to happen, but for a wide variety of reasons it didn't happen. Sometimes that was on me and other times, well … the egos that 20-year-olds have …,” Grosswiler said. “At the same time, I was drinking and doing drugs. I had turned myself into a little savage.”

After several failed attempts, Grosswiler got sober at 31.

“I went to the ER because I had a bad infection in my left hand. They said I might have to have my hand amputated. This time scared me. When I got out of the hospital all I had to look forward to was court, on drugs and weapons charges. The judge said, ‘You're looking at jail time.' Suddenly the idea of treatment didn't seem like such a bad idea,” Grosswiler said.

In treatment for six months, Grosswiler got clean. But he had no plans, so he hung around the center. Eventually, he was offered a job as a counselor assistant, helping staff the 24/7 residential facility. When a treatment supervisor position came open, he applied for and got the job.

“Treatment helped make me human. Working [at the center] refined that,” Grosswiler said. For the next seven years, he helped others make the same journey to sobriety. Then budget cuts left him out of work.

“When I was let go, I was like, ‘What the fuck do I do now, at 40?'” Grosswiler said.

He chose two things – painting and pursuing a degree in counseling. One of those stuck. His first class at Columbus State Community College was a poetry class with the dean of Columbus poets, Steve Abbott. Grosswiler found the experience much more moving than the idea of counseling.

“I realized I was burned out from counseling. So I switched to the English track,” Grosswiler said. At the same time, he began the daily practice of composing a haiku on his then-nascent Facebook page.

“I was afraid people would see it as second-rate poetry, like a limerick,” he said. “But I was taking it seriously. We were studying Basho in poetry class. I mean, it's traditionally supposed to be about nature, but I'm not very outdoorsy. To me, nature was concrete, alleys and such. I just was looking to find the best way I could to use 17 syllables.”

For three years Grosswiler kept up the practice. Along the way, he fielded any number of suggestions to collect the work into an art book. This Friday, with the release ofBeauty Found in Darkness, a book of haiku paired with accompanying works of art by his friends Alli MacGregor and Rob W. Jones, and published by local imprint Nix Comics, Grosswiler will have done just that.

“I'm lucky to be here, pretty fortunate to be alive. I don't know what I believe about cosmic forces, but I dealt with some extreme stuff. I don't believe in hypotheticals. Everything that came before was necessary. My history is both the dark parts and the beautiful parts,” he said. “I believe that, if one really does some searching and some digging, and shines a light in dark places, you can find some beauty there, also.”

“I remember when Kent was first doing the haiku, so when he mentioned to me the idea of combining the poems and illustrations, I wanted to help him see that project come to light,” Nix Comics owner Ken Eppstein said. “This [project] might be on the fringe of what people think of as comics, but I'm always looking for stuff like that. And Kent just brings this energy that's endearing and inspiring.”

Bringing some of his artist friends into the project made the book idea even more appealing to Grosswiler. “When I saw Rob starting to illustrate my poems, I started getting weepy-eyed,” he said. “I've led three radically different lives. I could have turned up dead in a dumpster, but instead I'm making a go of it doing something creative. I'm fucking stoked.”

Kafe Kerouac

7-9 p.m. Friday, May 25

2250 N. High St., North Campus