On Ross Gay and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

By Gabrielle Bates

I feel like a different type of tenderness might be emerging.—Ross Gay

When Ross Gay read for the SAL Poetry Series last week, it was exactly what I needed. I dare say it was exactly what we all needed. All of us streaming into that auditorium from the cold—carrying our bodies quickly, or slowly—hungry, or full—straight from work, or no work, or school or basketball practice or a baby’s crib—each variation of us—we sat, and there was Ross Gay, smiling, resplendent in a green t-shirt, inviting us to smile too, and laugh and gasp and grab for our neighbor’s hand. His stunning ambition—linguistic, relational, emotional—is still with me as I write this. Gay, it turns out, is just as effusive in person as he is in the poems of his most recent collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.

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I read this collection for the first time last year, while I was still in poem-school, busy trying to be taken seriously. The brightly colored book beckoned from the shelf at Open Books, and I was instantly hooked. Gay dared to praise without irony and embody deep sentiment in a way that risked being seen as silly. He took the kind of risks I thought were off limits, and thus opened a door. As soon as I finished it, I bought a copy for my mother, even though she doesn’t typically read poetry. It’s the kind of book one wants to give as a gift. Read more…