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Ross Gay
To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian 
Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up 
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a 
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its 
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the silk 
of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator 
the light catches
the veins in her hands 
when I ask about 
the tree they 
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can 
help me
so I load my 
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against 
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a 
sack so my meager
plunder would have to 
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung 
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine 
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even 
told me so 
when I grabbed three
or four for 
him reaching into the 
giddy throngs of
wasps sugar 
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach 
it was hot his
head shone while he 
offered recipes to the 
group using words which 
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my 
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night 
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls 
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty 
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own 
this is true
we are feeding each other 
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe 
never again.

                -from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, University of Pittsburgh Press


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Let's get out of the house for this one, and let's let Ross Gay lead the way.

Go to a street corner on your block, in your neighborhood, somewhere you frequent, somewhere you've never been before...whatever! Just pick a street corner, pick a random object on that corner (a tree, a broken car door handle in the gutter, a street sign, a person, graffitti, again, whatever!), and across the top of the page write "To the ____ on ____ and ____" and write, much as Gay does here, a stream-of-consciousness meditation on said object. Don't worry about linebreaks, bottom punctuation (commas, periods, semi-colons) or logic; just write. When it feels right to turn personal, do it. When it feels right to expand to the farthest regions of the universe, do that. Then take what you've got, see what themes run throughout, and start playing with line breaks and how those breaks, again as Gay does here, helps make logical the otherwise illogical.


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Ross Gay is the author of three books: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.  

Ross is the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook "Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens," in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, "River."  He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin'in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press.  Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.


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"Toward Something We've Known": A Review of Ross Gay's Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude by Francine J. Harris, first published by the Poetry Foundation


You walk among the stars and are subject to the stars. You turn a corner and the air seems to turn with you, to bend around you. A personal experiment of the senses, when you wake suddenly one morning and pull your body out of the sheets, it’s as if the sheets are all of the earth rising with you. As if there is soil in the mattress and the boxspring is thick of clay, and you wonder if you haven’t simply been soaking in the wet dirt, the red yank of the earth, sown seed.

If there are two things I’d like you to have in mind as you read this post, the first is Galway Kinnell’s poem “Crying” where he writes “Crying only a little bit / is no use. You must cry / until your pillow is soaked!”

The second is Morgan Parker’s “If You Are Over Staying Woke.” In talking about her poem, Parker says “when I kind of reached an end, I wasn’t sure that it was the end. It had this momentum that made me feel like I could keep going for pages and pages.”

Thank god for momentum.

From the sown floor of your house, your basement, your bed, you emerge and with you, comes the chutes and stalk, pulling at dirt, and when you emerge, you read these first lines:

          Tumbling through the
          city in my
          mind without once
          looking up …

and maybe you have read that before. Maybe you read it once when you were stammering to explain why you were averting from people’s eyes, or others’ joy. Maybe you are susceptible to believing difficulty is personal not national, or emotional not epidemic, and so if you suspect the pain of others can be easily traced, or tracked, underground, you suspect it is like the buried root of an old tree, the way you suspect it emerges just under the concrete. And that it rumbles up like this.

I want to say that Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is not just timely. This book, which so beautifully celebrates, no revels in, the poet's relationship to the earth, to his garden, to the people of his community, to family—I want to suggest in this national moment, it strikes me as breath. It is breath from that exhaustion that Morgan Parker is talking about. So many of us felt it. Feel it. The poet of color is not expected to breathe, and certainly not to breathe by being grateful, being thankful. Or if we do, it gets so easily confused with some sort of shuffling, mumbling glee at our circumstance. But this gratitude, the thankfulness of this book, steeped in a grounded mindfulness, in a sincerity some might call grit, Gratitude feels like the first time you open the window in spring. That first chilly air. The sun on the sill.

unabashed gratitude

Our relationship to the world which flowers for us is so often tied up in deference, in a borrowed gaze. We can see it happening, but it is not ours. Or. We are black, we don’t do nature. Or. Nature wants in (how many of us have that damn cockroach poem whether or not we ever had roaches!). Nature as a sign of decay. Nature as something removed and threatening. Nature as that from which we are grateful so far from, to have come. You can substitute, anywhere you like, nature for joy. It’s the dirt and all that’s in it, that Gay revels in, and revelry is a gift. Consider these gorgeous sections from the long poem, “Sharing with the Ants”:

          when by fluke or whim or
          prayer I jostled the crotch-high
          fig tree whose few fruit had been         
          scooped by our fat friends
          the squirrels
          but found shriveled and purple
          into an almost testicular papoose …

          beneath the fronds
          of a few leaves
          one stalwart fruit which
          I immediately bit in half
          only to find a small platoon of ants
          twisting in the meat … 

          its pincers
          slowing at my lips both
          of our mouth sugared
          and shining both of us …

The second poem, which follows the title poem in Margaret Walker’s famous For My People, is “Dark Blood.” ...

Continue reading at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/04/towards-something-weve-known




         Listen/read a review of Catalogue



              Read a review of Catalogue 


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An Interview wih Ross Gay by David Roderick, first published with the Rumpus' Late Night Poetry Show 


Ross Gay is an unemployed kettlebell instructor and he is not a demolition man, cool as that sounds. He is the co-author of two chapbooks (Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and River, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr.) and author of three books of poetry, the most recent of which is Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. He works with a community orchard and grows lots of fruit.

When asked to share his turn-ons, Ross told our intern, J.D.:

I like people with loud-ass laughs. People who laugh ’til they spit their food out or sob or beg or fall down. I like dancing. I like the actual smell of the human body—often, not always. I like working in gardens. I like basketball. I like smelling things. I like dogs—not sure that I’m turned on by them. I like cats, particularly two, named Daisy and Ginger—not exactly turned on by them, but I spend a lot of time kissing them. Turned on by armpits. Loads and loads of turn-ons. I didn’t talk about my sweetheart, but for The Rumpus Late Nite Poetry Show I’ll tell you a few more things.

Oh I could go on, I’m realizing, forever on this. I’m turned on by this singer my friend just introduced me to, forget her name. I’m turned on by harmony, as in people singing in harmony. I’m turned on by people singing hard—like, intensely, not necessarily while erect, though that can be a turn on too. Turned on and turned on. Turned on by the way some people move their hands while they talk. By the way some people pick things up. A posture. A speaking voice. Turned on by the way bumblebees with their legs pry open the lippish mouths of false indigo flowers in late spring, like really turned on. Spring turns me on. Fuck, does it. All the smells in my yard, for the most part—the peach blooms, the apple blooms, the pear and Asian pear blooms, the latter of which smell like semen, by the way, which is itself a kind of turn-on. The strawberries will turn me on, and get me on my hands and knees to prove it. Or the grape hyacinths, also on my hands and knees to smell them, sometimes pushing through the smell. Sometimes the two cardinal thing. And cities I don’t know well—and cities I do. Being in unfamiliar spaces turns me on. Being with familiar people I like turns me on. Being with unfamiliar people I like turns me on. Being physically very hot, like sweaty and stuff, turns me on. Coconut oil turns me on. Turned on by coffee in a café someplace I don’t really know. Small city parks. Louis Kahn park in Philadelphia at 10th and Pine, I think. Basketball courts in unexpected places. Skateboarding. Hair. Building despite wreckage. Community. Potlucks. Good veggie burgers. So many dreams. The thing on the other side of the hill.

Ross is here to talk about his latest poetry book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, just out from the University of Pittsburgh Press.


The Rumpus: Dear sleepy-eyed viewers of America, when we invited our guest to visit this humble show, we had no idea we were getting such a loveable, large-hearted man. Please give it up for Ross Gay! Welcome to the show, Ross!

Ross Gay: Thank you! Thank you so much.

Rumpus: Whoa. I think you’re maybe the tallest guest we’ve had. Comfortable enough over there?

Gay: I’m pretty comfortable. I mean, for a tall person.

Rumpus: Good, good. We’re excited you’re here. Backstage has been abuzz all afternoon. That’s a hell of a list of turn-ons, by the way. J.D. was so rattled I had to calm him with a donut.

Gay: Is that what we give the rattled these days? How about a hug?

Rumpus: Ah, if only J.D. did hugs. What’s the latest news from Indiana? Is there much to do in that garden of yours at this time of year?

Gay: My garden is seething with the good scraps me and my roomie throw out from all our veggies and fruits. I mean the stuff right out the back door is probably about four inches think with, well, you might call it trash. But it’s not, it’s banana peels and apple cores and all that stuff. And gonna cook down and make those plants right close to the back door—a persimmon tree, two little plums, a patch of false indigo, and some Nanking cherries and some grapes—freak the fuck out come spring. Excuse my language! The garden fires me up!

Rumpus: I’ve been reading about this garden in the new book, and it sounds sexy enough. When do you typically head out to those plants and fruit trees and get going? I have no idea when spring reaches your neck of the woods.

Gay: Oh, I’ll probably start putting seeds for things like kale and collards and the Asian greens and even things like scarlet runner beans, which are among the most beautiful things that grow, in March. Once I can work the soil a little bit. Might plant some favas this year too, which dig the cool weather. By mid-March, for sure.

Rumpus: This is one intense garden!

Gay: Oh you have no idea...

Continue reading at http://therumpus.net/2015/03/the-rumpus-late-nite-poetry-show-9-ross-gay/ 



             Read an interview with Gay


           Listen to an interview with Gay 


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  Watch/listen to numeroous readings by Gay 

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