Review: An Unabashed Catalog of Gratitude by Ross Gay 

The poems in this collection thrive.

click to enlarge Ross Gay
  • Ross Gay

Ross Gay's newest collection of poems An Unabashed Catalog of Gratitude creates this force of transformation from the first poem, "To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian." The speaker is "Tumbling through the city in my mind without once looking up" isolated and lost in thoughts darkened by crime and loneliness.

The poems in Gay's book are plump with images of fertility, have a lyrical hum, and are littered with images of bees and wasps, savoring fruits of the fig, juice of mulberries, chortling with songbirds and robins.

In "Ode to a Flute" the man and the flute are each a vessel of song, and "a flute lays / on its side / and prays a wind / might enter it." It serves as instructions to the poet. Gay explores the writing process again in "Becoming a Horse": "it was putting my heart to the horse's that made me know / the sorrow of horses....Feel the small song in my chest / swell and my coat glisten and twitch."

The speaker faces sorrow and death in elegiac poems like "Spoon" and "Burial," but the pages are full of vitality and reconstructed life shining through. In "The Opening" he uses a jeering flock of shrikes as a means to face himself. The syntax shifts, long lines sweep lively landscapes into twisting sentences exploring what "Myself was feeling" and what the poet points attention to; like the memory of a peach tree in spring, "when the tree's myriad pink mouths unfurl / and blow kisses to everyone in sight."

The poems stay true to their disclosed desire, to weave honey from sorrow. In a world where emotions are sometimes left overgrown and untended, Gay continues to create delight from life's mess and mistakes. He sees joy in the weeds.

The poems in this collection thrive.


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