Resources > Write Hope At the End of A World with Ross Gay
Learn how language can help us imagine and embody new worlds with author Ross Gay.
One of the most important things we can do as writers, as people, is to practice being in community.Ross Gay
What’s in Store:
- Learn how to practice gratitude in different ways
- Experiment with generative poetry prompts
Prompt #1: Beauty
List what you’ve found beautiful today.
Prompt #2: Care
Who has cared for you?
Q&A with Ross Gay
- There is a poem in Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude that I really connected with called, “spoon,” for Don Belton. There’s a part towards the end that goes, “…the way my dead do sometimes, / looking straight into their homes, / which hopefully have flowers / in a vase on a big wooden table, / and a comfortable chair or two, / and huge windows through which light / pause to wash clean and make a touch less awful / what forever otherwise will hurt.” This quote reminded me of a Rumi quote that goes, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” What do you make of this comparison between Rumi’s words and your own? Do you see the parallel?
- I think I do. In a way, I sort of think that the Rumi quote— obviously, it’s Rumi. It’s a different kind of wisdom. I feel like, in a way, I feel like that Rumi quote is like a handful of steps beyond where the poem “spoon” got to, because the spoon, the poem “spoon,” it’s just like: this will be pain, you know, this will be hurt. Of course, just to sort of, like, make the life in the poem, you know, collaborators in a way. So often when I think of my beloveds who are gone, no matter how they left, there’s light, you know, so I love that. I love that connection between the two, or the way that you sort of drew that between the two. I feel like in a way that that spoon poem, it’s doing a lot of things. It’s very interesting in that poem. Still, it remains a little puzzling to me. Like it’s a poem that I feel lucky, like, ooh, how’d that happen? You know, took a long time to write, but there are these turns in it, and I’m like, oh, and one of those turns is precisely what you sort of mentioned, that thing of where somehow it was made available to me that one of the things that it means to be in relationship with our dead, which I think we always are, is that maybe we’re able to provide for them a place, a well-lit place, you know, or a sweet place or a gentle place. And that in itself is a kind of— I mean, that’s a kind of care maybe that we’re attempting to provide for them in their different form, however you want to call it, in the form. One of the forms which is being inside are our bodies are inside our minds at that table, you know, well-lit room or something like that. That’s a beautiful question. I can think about this for a long time, but yeah, I’m so glad that you put those two things together. I wouldn’t have done that on my own. Thank you.
- So with your piece, the Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, I wanted to ask you about the role of longing in the piece because it felt so present and yet so— maybe, I don’t know if unexpected is the right word when dealing with the theme of gratitude, because gratitude implies a certain acceptance of things as they are. And longing, it’s a yearning for something that isn’t there. And so I wanted to ask what the role of longing is in the piece and whether it has a place in the piece, and how you sort of reconcile gratitude and longing in this piece and just in the world.
- Great question. That’s tough! Absolutely. I mean, one thing that I know about the book Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is that it was in writing that book where I learned very plainly that elegies, poems for the dead, are also erotic poems. By erotic, meaning, poems of longing, you know, and erotic poems or poems of longing are so often elegies, if not for no other reason than that part of the sort of longing is because our time here is finite. So in a way, there’s a certain way that longing depends on the fact that we will not always be here with each other. But that said, that question of like—it’s such a great question because, you know, gratitude is absolutely a sort of practice of attending to what is here. And I think of that sort of, that exercise of like how you’ve been cared for, what’s cared for you is a kind of gratitude practice to me, like deep gratitude, not superficial gratitude. I mean, the gratitude, fundamental gratitude. And longing itself implies, in a way, I’m sort of restating your very astute— That longing itself suggests a desire for what’s not here.
God, how do longing and gratitude sort of coincide? I think probably in one way I would say that to rest in a state of pure gratitude is almost like without longing, without, which is also to say, without desire, probably. It’s almost like that’s almost getting in, like, you know—so I’m just kind of like, who would that be? You know, even if it’s like, I just want to get downtown and get, like, those french fries again. You know, those french fries are so good. This is such a great question. I’m going to have to write about this because in a way, it’s sort of like, even if I was saying that, like the longing, longing can be an expression of gratitude, I feel like. You know? You’ve raised this question, because it’s both like gratitude sort of suggests the sort of awareness of the presence or something. And longing suggests an absence, and gratitude and absence, I want to think that they have a kind of fuzzy relationship. But it’s also maybe the case that one’s absence or the absence of something makes one profoundly grateful for it. Of course.
You know, so much of our lives, it feels like— I’m 49 years old—so much of our lives is being like, ah, I want to practice being grateful for what is in my life while it’s in my life. You know, hard work, hard work. You know how often we’re with people that we love and we’re like, you know, your poem, you said some about, you know, telling your best friend to be like, “I love you. I’m in love with you.” Like, that’s one of the jobs of this life. You know, I was walking—this is going to sound a little funny, but I was walking the other day in Miami and I was like, I was at a book festival and I was just taking a walk around this lake and I was like, I found myself saying, “You’re dying. You’re dying.” Not out loud, don’t worry, but in my head, “You’re dying, you’re dying, you’re dying, you’re dying.” As a way of saying we’re dying, we’re dying. And how do we attend to one another in the midst of that? You know, one of the things I think we might be more inclined to do is be like, Yeah, just so you know, I’m in love with you. You know, I love you. And this may be the last time that we have the chance to say this, because in fact, the fact of the matter is that, you know, any time could be the last time we have to say that. Yes, memento mori. But so yeah, beautiful question. That’s going to be a little essay, I’m going to have to write a little essay about that. You should, too.
- I consider myself a grateful person. I do feel like grief permeates a lot of how I move through the world. I’m curious, how do you engage with grief? Any type of grief, what your conversations with grief look like, whether bodily conversations, internal external practices, external practices, internal feeling, etc.
- Beautiful. I don’t know exactly how to answer that, but I do know that grief is something that I’ve been trying to think a lot about, in part because it’s been through a lot of my life, a very hard thing to sort of be present with. I think I can say safely. I can say that. And I feel like for all kinds of reasons that, you know, I’ve been sort of like brought up to sort of not be sad or not be heartbroken or not be needy. One of the things about grief, I think, is that it’s many things. But I think one of the things that grief is, is evidence that we need one another. Because you grieve what’s gone or you grieve what’s changed. And often the change is to be now without. And you know, there’s certain ways, brought up as a certain kind of dude or something, for instance, you know, where that expression of need is anathema.You’re not supposed to do it. And I feel like I’ve suffered a lot of turmoil on account of that, not being able to acknowledge my need. And part of my practice now is to be constantly acknowledging my need, you know, which is a come back to a kind of gratitude practice, my need which has no end.
Which is, it’s both it’s kind of anathema to a certain kind of masculine idea of the masculine, but it’s also anathema to a certain kind of idea, of at least the American, you know, where we’re supposed to aspire to a kind of needlessness, of which there is no such thing. So anyway, you can kind of hear part of my my grief to your question, part of my grief practice or trying to be in contact with it, is by expressing what I need, you know, both to other people when I can, you know, my partner, like my beloveds, but also to express and honor the fact that I need the trees, and that I need the air, and I need the wind, and I need the rain, and I need the soil, and I need the microbes, and I need the sunlight, and I need the on and on which we cannot get to the end of. I think that’s some of it. But I just want to say this last thing. I’m so glad for your question because partly the way I think of it is if we’re not able to sort of be in true communion with our grief, we’re not able to be in true communion with joy. As far as I think of it, grief and joy are intertwined. They are not inextricable. And the more sort of intimate I would say we are with our grief, the more radiant we’ll be with our joy. I think that’s kind of the case. And our grief, for instance, you know, like, again, just to come back to it, if we try to sort of be amidst the world with the deep and abiding cognitions, like we understand that we’re all only temporarily here. Which, depending on how you relate to that, is sorrowful, will foment some sorrow, not to mention other things. We are all heartbroken.
To sort of exist with the awareness of that and also the awareness of our own heartbreak, I feel like it inclines us to behave in ways to practice belonging to each other in ways, which is actually the way I think joy sort of becomes radiant, the way joy radiates from us. When we are practicing caring for each other’s heartbreak. And that’s why we have dance parties! That’s why we dance! You know, we dance because we’re heartbroken! We don’t dance just because, “money’s flying down on us, let’s dance!” That’s one kind of dance party, whatever. But we really dance because it’s like, man, we can’t dance forever. You know? We can’t dance forever.
Ross Gay is interested in joy. Ross Gay is the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award a… Read Full Bio
This event was originally recorded on August 13th, 2021.
Ross Gay is interested in joy. Ross Gay is the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. In addition to his poetry, Ross has released three collections of essays—The Book of Delights was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller; Inciting Joy was released in 2022, and his newest collection, The Book of (More) Delights was released in September of 2023.