World-renowned poet Ross Gay is delighted by public restrooms and bobbleheads. The plastic figures remind him of roughhousing with his brother and a stern scolding from his grandmother, while public restrooms are an overlooked necessity that he calls “a deprivation of a deprivation.”
While to some these may seem like strange delights, Gay is inclined to focus on details that are often forgotten in the fast pace of life in order to embody themes of community, family and gratitude.
In front of a crowded audience on Wednesday night, Gay gave a powerful, intimate performance, reading poetry from his book “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” and essays from his newest collection, “Book of Delights,” which will be published next year.
Gay cites an orchard in the city of Bloomington, Indiana, where he lives, as a source of inspiration for “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.” The orchard was established in part to cultivate empathy within a small community in Indiana. The joy that the orchard provided the community was an inspiration for Gay.
“I feel like [the orchard] has been really instrumental, especially in terms of me thinking about community and thinking about joy, which is not simply happy stuff. Joy is sort of like the process of being a person, which is difficult and wonderful,” Gay said in an interview with the Orient. “I had to learn something about joy in the writing of this book that I suspect will inform or even dictate the direction that my writing for the rest of my life will take.”
Gay’s work also showcased the nostalgia of his childhood and the sorrow of burying his father through prose that fit seamlessly with his animated delivery of each piece. His talent for conveying personality and emotion paired with his ability to take the ordinary and add a perspective that is personal, yet widely relatable, immediately captivated the audience.
When Gay writes, he always has an audience in mind. He thinks not just about how the audience will receive the words on the page, but also about how they will hear each word and syllable. He always reads his work aloud so he “knows what it sounds like in the air,” he explained.
Gay emphasized that he does not place pressure on himself to produce a publishable piece when he writes. Instead, he approaches writing as a draft or an exercise, focusing on pleasure, not potential profit.
“Let the love be the engine of inquiry,” he said.
Gay, a native of Levittown, Pennsylvania, started writing poetry while he was a student at Lafayette College.
“I started writing in college in a real way. I had a few great literature and creative writing teachers who exposed me to stuff that moved me. I had really good art teachers who took me seriously as someone who made things or might make things,” said Gay. “[They] made me sort of start to take myself seriously in that way, too.”
From August 2016 to August 2017, Gay wrote one essay every day that showcased some aspect of life that delighted him. These essays, or “delights,” as he likes to call them, will be published as a collection next February.