Dear Ross Gay,
I saw you laughing on Saturday. You threw back your head and pierced the cacophony of the giant bookfair at the LA Conventions center with the uninhibited rumble of your joy. I didn’t stop you, and I didn’t introduce myself because there was a small circle around you and I felt like an outsider.
I didn’t even know your name until a few months ago.
I always tell my students, “You’re not born knowing everything, so don’t be ashamed about what you don’t know today. But not knowing isn’t the same as not learning.”
I get so confused about the way I’m learning poems and poets, so slowly it seems to be a drip, and with such wide gaps I feel like an imposter to even call myself a reader of poetry, much less a writer. How do I learn all the good poets in this lifetime?
Who first mentioned your name? I wish I could personally thank that friend, along with you, for writing. You’re hardly an unknown what with that 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Deep congratulations on those recognitions.
And now, thanks to someone I can’t remember, I have your Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens, co-written with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and your Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, a book I return to often, and gift to friends who are non-poetry readers. I trust they’ll learn to love the form after reading you.
I met your words in 2015, but you’ve said so much before. In conversation with Elizabeth Hoover at the Furious Flower Reading Series, she pointed out that Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude seemed invested in different concerns from your first two books, notably, “exploring violence and masculinity.” She said your Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude “feels like those investments are very much in the background.”
You agreed and reflected on why that might be:
Simply, I’ve been gardening a lot and working on orchards and working with people in community in a place that is…it’s sort of allowed me to think differently.
You’ve allowed me to think differently about trees, and grief, and plums. I wonder though, do you wish us to excavate your past poems to find this present joy? Can we learn how to be this gracefully grateful without living through your violence and pain? Am I cheating to sing joy with you if I didn’t first hold your sorrow?
For those who haven’t met your words, I give them a taste of fig from your mouth:
This is part of a series of gratitude letters to poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. You can read more about Ross Gay on his website.