catalogue of unabashed gratitude – ross gay

Learning to Read #6


First impressions, when the book opens for you, are that this is a short line poet; lines of two or three or four single syllable words, few capitals, variable punctuation, elastic sentence structure. It’s not always true; “weeping” and “spoon”, for example, broaden into more substantial couplet poems, and the title poem is much more free flowing, but you will notice the sparseness of the word on the page with this collection.

This makes the work feel very direct, and it encourages you to speak the words and breathe the flow of the poems. “ode to the flute” won’t give you meaning and completeness without an investment from you in return. There is one capital letter at the start, no punctuation and enjambment all over the place. “A man sings / by opening his / mouth a man / sings by opening / his lungs by / turning himself into air” This is typical of many of the poems in here. You find yourself rattling down the poem, across pages, at breakneck speed, with only a few seconds to take in the view. It takes a certain amount of patience and discipline to go back through, resist the current and break the flow to find the calmness and meaning in the quiet pools on either side.

Much of this collection is about nature; life, fruit, seasons. With this comes a sense of vibrancy; there is colour and a spark even in the title of the collection. That particular poem is, as it says, a poem of thanksgiving for the small mercies, the narrow victories, the golden moments, the ups that were there amongst the downs of life. This provides some lovely images and I think that is where the real strength of this collection comes out. It is often playful and humorous, yet serious within this. Take “weeping” – the story of a young girl who adopts a butterfly for a day. You have this transitional relationship as an theme, wrapping itself around a reflection on the word “weeping” and what it means to weep, and to have wept. Again, the temptation is to tumble through the couplets, and rejoice in the shape and flow, but there is more in there. “ode to drinking water from my hands” is exactly that – with a sideways glance at mortality.

This collection is hugely creative with form and language, throughout, and I found it to be quite uplifting to read. It has serious moments, but it doesn’t lay bare the broken and tortured soul of the writer in the way that a Lee-Houghton poem will and it probably won’t inspire you to take up arms against the #Movement, but it does feel like a bright moment in days that, just at the moment, can seem quite dark.

Ross has a website, with some poems here. Check him out 🙂

He is published by the University of Pittsburgh Press



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