Ross Gay visited Vanderbilt University on October 27th, 2016 for an electrifying reading and craft talk. He came just as the Tennessee leaves were beginning to loosen and change into all sorts of brilliant, rustic shades of golds, burnt oranges, and dusky reds, signaling transitions into the vibrancy of fall. It was as if he brought the bursting autumnal colors with him from Indiana, where he teaches.
After spending time with Gay’s work, I came away with this question: How do we convert sorrow into joy—or rather, can the two exist side by side at the same celebration, at the same feast? Within all three of Gay’s poetry collections there is the vibrating thread of gratitude, but also elegies housed in the sanctuary of praise. For Gay, a measure of joy has set Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude on fire by not holding grief in opposition to happiness, but rather by allowing that gratitude to live inside the always-pain.
During Gay’s visit to Nashville, I had the privilege and pleasure of sitting down with him at Pinewood Social, my favorite local coffee shop/restaurant/vintage bowling alley. I had been raving about their lattes made with homemade almond & coconut milk for quite some time. I asked him several questions about stale workshop methodologies, the maturation of flood subjects, breaking down the fourth wall in poems, and of course about his most recent poetry collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude—which won the Kingsley Tufts Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award.
This is an audio recording of our interview with the usual coffee shop clatter in the background and even a few instances of a baby crying towards the end. One thing I admire about Gay’s work is his obsession with immediacy and fellowship. His poems feel as though he’s sitting across the table, speaking only to you; you can hear the timbre of his voice, his laughter. The plan was to transcribe this interview for the page, but I felt it shone by honoring that intention for true communion. So take a seat and join us at the table, and listen to the gloriously brilliant, luminous, and inimitable Ross Gay ruminate.