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Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry…

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry Series)

by Ross Gay

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This is the first poetry I've read by Ross Gay. The back of the book tells me that he is a professor of poetry at Indiana University and is on the board of the Bloomington Community Orchard. Many of these poem are about fruits, vegetables, fruit bearing trees, trees in general, insects, family, life, and death.

ode to sleeping in my clothes

And though I don't mention it
to my mother
or the doctors
with their white coats
it is, in fact,
a great source of happiness,
for me, as I don't
even remove my socks,
and will sometimes
even pull up my hood
and slide my hands deep
in my pockets
and probably moreso
than usual look as if something
bad has happened
my heart blasting a last somersault
or some artery parting
like curtains in a theater
while the calvary of blood
comes charging through
except unlike
so many of the dead
I must be smiling
there in my denim
and cotton sarcophagus
slightly rank from the day
it is said that Shostakovich slept
with a packed suitcase beneath
his bed and it is said
that black people were snatched
from dark streets and made experiments
of and you and I
both have family whose life
savings are tucked 12 feet beneath
the Norway maple whose roots
splay like the bones
in the foot of a man
who has walked to Youngstown, Ohio
from Arkansas without sleeping
or keeping his name
and it's a miracle
maybe I almost never think of
to rise like this
and simply by sliding my feet into my boots
while the water for coffee
gathers it's song
be in the garden
or on the stoop
running, almost,
from nothing. ( )
  VioletBramble | Apr 28, 2017 |
I love, love, love this book. It truly lives up to the title.

I plan to quote from several of the poems. Since there's no plot to be revealed, I don't think it's technically a spoiler, but for those who don't want to read excerpts, be advised.

I first heard of this author when I happened to catch a radio interview with him on my car radio. WFIU, Bloomington. He teaches poetry at Indiana University. He is also on the board of the Bloomington Community Orchard. The interviewer asked about the connection between his work with orchards and teaching poetry.

Ode to the flute
A man sings/by opening his/mouth a man/sings by opening/ his lungs by/turning himself into air/a flute can/be made of a man/nothing is explained/a flute lays/on its side/and prays a wind/might enter it/and make of it/at least/ a small final song

Nature fills his poetry - fruit, flowers, trees, insects, shit, puke, sex and death. Exuberantly short lines roll down the page. Even his longer poems keep pulling me along, and providing, from time to time, marvelous nuggets of insight.

In the poem Patience, he talks about his springtime garden and some bees. The flowers are compared to lips: "the way this bee/before me after whispering in my ear dips her head/into those dainty lips not exactly like on entering a chapel/ and friends/as if that wasn't enough/blooms forth with her forehead dusted pink/like she had been licked/and so blessed/by the kind of God/to whom this poem is prayer.

Feet is about his ugly feet and a girl who told him he had pretty feet. ""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/. . ./in the factory/where loss makes all things beautiful grow.

The poem Spoon is in memory of his gay black friend who was murdered. The poem spells out just how unwelcome a black man can feel in this part of the Midwest. The poet is a black man himself.

The title poem is a long one. Those who know my taste realize that I generally prefer poems that will fit on a single page - or maybe two. This one goes on for twelve pages. I'll quote a part near the end. "I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude/over every last thing."

He can even find joy in the simple act of putting on (or taking off) his clothes. He called the poem "Ode to buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt".

In the poem Burial, he tells about planting a tree, and deciding to add some of his father's ashes (cremains, the funeral people call them) in the soil. "watering it in all with one hand/ while holding the tree/ with the other straight as the flag/to the nation of simple joy/of which my father is now a naturalized citizen" and concluding with the fruit of that tree. "almost dancing now in the plum,/in the tree, and the way he did as a person,/bent over and biting his lip/and chucking the one hip out/then the other with his elbows cocked/and fists loosely made/and eyes closed and mouth made trumpet/when he knew he could make you happy/just by being a little silly/and sweet.

Enduring the estrangement
from my mother's sadness, which was
to me, unbearable, until,
it felt to me
not like what I thought it felt like
to her, and so felt inside myself - like death,
like dying, which I would almost
have rather done, though adding to her sadness
would rather die than do -
but, by sitting still, liked what, in fact, it was-
a form of gratitude
which when last it came
drifted like a meadow lit by torches
of cardinal flower, one of whose crimson blooms,
when a hummingbird hovered nearby,
I slipped into my mouth
thereby coaxing the bird
to scrawl on my tongue
its heart's frenzy, its fleet
nectar-questing song,
with whom, with you, dear mother,
I now sing along.

A bit of advice addressed to his unheeding students in poetry class, he writes in the poem To the mistake: "the mistake/I say is a gift/don't be afraid/see what it teaches you/about what the poem/can be"

Another long poem, The opening, is an extended meditation on memory, family, philosophy. It begins with a kind of out-of-body experience. "You might wonder what I am doing here/in the passenger's seat of this teal Mitsubishi//with the hood secured by six or seven strips of duct tape,/sitting next to Myself, who sits in the drivers seat,//. . . //you wonder rightly what it is I am saying/quietly in the ear of Myself, and what I am pointing at//with one hand while the other rests on Myself's shoulder,/tenderly if not a bit tentatively, for Myself//is still a very big man, and quick, and trying hard/not to take anyone with him over the ledge on which he stands,//. . .//given the long prayer he found himself giving/the chickadee that met its death on his windshield//"
Later he remembers birds trapped in an attic and they become metaphors, "And the birds I'm talking about are not birds at all/but common sorrow made murderous simply by nailing//the shingles tight, and caulking with the tar always boiling out back/all possible cracks" and later, "the roaring in his head, which was nothing//more, it turns out, than the sounds of not weeping, the sounds/of sadness turned back. Nothing savage, nothing cruel or vicious,//not a bird in sight - just sadness. Which is to say/in other words, just being alive."

I think the poem I liked best, however, was the one called Weeping. It tells about a day spent by his niece Mikayla with her little friend Emma, "who left without saying goodbye." In the course of the poem, we learn that Emma is able to fly and land on Mikayla's finger. Emma' wings are brown and gold. Later in the poem we also learn that Emma has multiple legs. A butterfly. Emma spend the day around Mikayla, but the little girl is sad, is weeping when Emma leaves without saying goodbye. The sadness is there in the poem, but I was amazed by the miracle that Emma would stay nearby for an entire day.

( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
More contemporary poetry for me, the non-poetry reader. I can tell that this is really good stuff, but most of it just doesn't sing for me. There are some really great images in here, some of which will almost certainly stick with me, but mostly the poems as wholes didn't strike me. But if you are a poetry reader, I think you want to read this. ( )
  lycomayflower | May 31, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0822963310, Paperback)

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is a sustained meditation on that which goes away—loved ones, the seasons, the earth as we know it—that tries to find solace in the processes of the garden and the orchard. That is, this is a book that studies the wisdom of the garden and orchard, those places where all—death, sorrow, loss—is converted into what might, with patience, nourish us.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 31 Aug 2015 07:42:05 -0400)

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