As I thought about how to describe Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, I found myself turning into some sort of very specific thesaurus: his work is ebullient, irrepressible, joyous, boisterous. I loved it without reservation.
In this collection you’ll find a wonderful poem about strangers in a city gathering to pick figs from an overladen tree; an epithalamion (one that I would have liked at my own wedding); a searing, funny, furious elegy for the poet’s friend Don Belton; reflective poems about the poet’s parents; many poems celebrating gardens, orchards, and green growing things.
It took me a bit to adjust to Mr. Gay’s lines, which are often quite short, with limited punctuation, but I came to find that these kinds of lines offered me the chance to be deeply attentive, unstrung from my usual way of seeing a line and automatically looking for the outlines of a sentence. Here are the first few lines of “Ode to the Puritan in Me”:
There is a puritan in me
the brim of whose
hat is so sharp
it could cut
your tongue out
I think my favorite poem in the collection might be the wholly unexpected “Last Will and Testament,” but since I couldn’t find it online, here’s a link to the collection’s title (and penultimate) poem, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.”
I love the way the poem invites the reader in by opening with a direct address (“Friends”—a strategy you’ll see more than once in the collection), and then sweeps into an account of a dream. Now, like most people, I find other people’s dreams rather a trial to hear or read about, but not this one. In the dream is a command to speak, and so begins the catalog of gratitude, with an orchard sunk into colorfully acquired compost:
twirling dung with my pitchfork
again and again
with hundreds and hundreds of other people
we dreamt an orchard this way,
furrowing our brows,
and hauling our wheelbarrows,
and sweating through our shirts,
and two years later there was a party
at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth,
one of which, a liberty apple, after being watered in
was tamped by a baby barefoot
with a bow hanging in her hair
biting her lip in her joyous work
and friends this is the realest place I know,
This poem is absolute magnificent; I was crying by the end of it. I highly recommend this remarkable book.
If this quick review piques your interest, you might like:
Ross Gay’s tour of his garden in essay form
This correspondence in poems between Mr. Gay and poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil about their gardens.
14 thoughts on “Recommended (Poetry) Reading: Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”
I love the lines you’ve quoted. Unusual takes on nature poetry are just my kind of thing. I see that this was already on my TBR, but I’ve added it to the priority list. Thanks so much for encouraging me to read new poets!
I like these, and I love the cover. His seeming closeness to and observance of nature reminds me of what I like about Robert Frosts’s poems.
He’s the co-founder of the Bloomington Community Orchard–definitely close to nature!
That’s cool! I think I will look for him.
Beautiful poem (and beautiful cover). I am sorely tempted by this…
Give in to temptation! It’s wonderful 🙂
What a lovely review. It says as much about the reviewer as the reviewed.
So much depends on short sentences, in the rain with red wheelbarrows!
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