Ross Gay’s Unabashed Gratitude

February 18, 2018

The first time I remember laughing and feeling joy after the dark night of the 2016 election was at a Ross Gay poetry reading in Seattle.  The exuberance of his latest book title, A Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, was a first clue to the evening’s theme and tone.  The poems expressed it, and his body enacted it: he never stands still.  His energy and passion were audible and visible–and contagious.  And his sentiments are saved from sentimentality by being hard won.  They choose joy from a menu that also offers grief, rage, and despair–not by ignoring darkness, but by acknowledging it.  In “Spoon,” dedicated to a friend, it’s only after he’s spent six pages drawing a loving portrait that he says, “I swore when I got into this poem I would convert/ this sorrow into some kind of honey with the little musics// I can sometimes make with these scribbled artifacts/ of our desolation….”  And then, four couplets below, “After Don was murdered I dreamt of him….”

I often find myself giving into hopelessness in recent months, feeling as if our country and so many things I value have tipped irretrievably off a cliff.  But just yesterday a friend reminded me that hopelessness is self-indulgent–and indeed, I can feel the relief when I throw up my hands and decide there’s nothing to be done: great, it’s not on me to solve it.  But then I re-read Ross Gay’s “Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning my Shirt,” and take in his pleasure at such a small thing.  And his celebratory odes, “To the Mistake,” and “To Sleeping in my Clothes.”  Maybe my favorite opening is the first couplet of “The Opening”: “You might rightly wonder what I am doing here/ in the passenger’s seat of this teal Mitsubishi….” Among the many passages I wish I had written is this one from “Feet”: “But what I do know is that I love the moment when the poet says/ I am trying to do this/ or I am trying to do that./ Sometimes it’s a horseshit trick. But sometimes/ it’s a way by which the poet says/ I wish I could tell you, truly, of the little factory/ in my head: the smokestacks/ chuffing, the dandelions/ and purslane and willows of sweet clover/ prying through the blacktop….”  I am tempted to quote the book’s wonderful last lines here, but in case you haven’t already read the poems I’ll let you discover them for yourself.

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  • Reply Clarissa Adkins February 18, 2018 at 8:41 am

    I just read Gay’s poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” in its entirety. I needed to read this. You speak of the small things, Sharon. I agree on the rejuvenating effects of of gratitude and appreciation, especially while we feel our way through this burning fog of ignorance and hatred. I needed to read something beautiful but real. I’m adding his book to the top of my must-have list.

  • Reply July February 18, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    I love this, & I love that Hope in the Dark came into your thinking.

  • Reply Anne Pitkin February 18, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks for this Sharon! I will get this book. I remind myself from time to time that my best hope is to pay attention to the small things that give me pleasure–e.g. my silly dogs, a good book, a good evening with a friend, etc. , not to mention how lucky I am to have a roof over my head! e.g. after seeing on the news the Puerto Rican families stuck in hotels that may soon throw them out. Never mind the worse dire things.

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