Poet Of The Week

Ross Gay

November 15–21, 2021

Ross Gay studies joy. He is the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and, most recently, Be Holding, a booklength poem published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in September of 2020. His collection of essays The Book of Delights was released by Algonquin Books in 2019. On Wednesday, November 17, he will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series via Zoom along with Tracy Fuad and Simone Kearney.

from Be Holding


we in here talking
about the reaching

that makes of falling flight,
do you see

what I’m saying,
we’re in here talking

about holding each other,
which is a practice, we

talking about holding
our breath,

how long have we been,
and how can I be

holding yours,
and you

be holding mine,
this is my question,

I think,
how might I be

holding your breathing
and you be

holding mine,
a practice

we talking about,
the reaching that makes

of falling flight,
we in here

talking about
the practice

of the beholden,
a practice

of being beholden,
talking about

how might I hold
my beholden out to you

and you hold yours out to me,
how do we be holding each other,

how do we be
beholden to each other,

which is really to say,
how do we be,

a practice
we talking about,

a practice, might be, that we, in here,
talking about joy,

we in here
talking about joy,

which might be to say,
depending on how you look at it,

we in here talking about destroying the world
for the world,

bound in gratitude
like this

in the beholden,
beholding like this

the beholden,
what then,

in the photo
I am beholden now

the two women
run toward the camera,

the one in tank top and shorts,
arms and legs lit by the flash,

by the light coming through the small window
atop the camera,

coming through the window
of my office now,

limning into stars the forsythia
just opening her golden eyes,

tensed as though
in movement

because she is running
toward the camera,

she is being moved
by the looking

toward the looking,
her right hand nearly

a fist and shouting
at the looking,

at the person behind the camera,
there are flowers growing

on her shirt,
vining from her hip

nearly to her clavicle,
it is wisteria

and clematis,
a swirl of pollinating creatures,

including you and me,
carouse and amble and hover

in her wake,
we gather

in the wake of the garden
this looking makes,

the muscles in her neck
cast shadows, for she is really

shouting, and running,
toward the window

and the light laughing in
like she is going to

bound through it,
she is going to fly through it,

as the woman to her left
moves also quickly and with determination

toward the looking,
her scarf casting left

in the breeze
her hustling makes,

and there is something
about her gaze

through the camera
that reminds me in my body

is a tree slouched in prayer
by its burden of butterflies,

reminds me
I am one of the butterflies,

that inside me always is a lifting off
in the direction of something else,

toward you, I really mean to say,
waiting to happen,

which is among the ways of saying
this looking makes me breathe,

this looking holds
my breathing,

it does not capture or shoot anyone,
does not fix anyone,

does not catalog or corral
or specimen or coerce,

but holds them both
in their flight,

moving as they are,
moved as they are,

away from nothing,
but rather toward

this holding,
this beholden,

looking as though
descending a great staircase made of air with joy,

a good title for this photo,
as though running down a great staircase made of air with joy,

for running too is a kind
of falling

again and again,
as running toward what you love

and what loves you
is a kind of falling

again and again
into the reaching

that makes of falling flight,
into the hold

of the beholden we are,
just as Doc does

after all that flying,
he falls,

as the ball kisses the window
and drops through the net,

he falls,
painlessly and temporarily,

crawling for a few seconds
before getting to his feet,

and we,

reaching toward
each other,

we breathe


—From Be Holding, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

In the briefest way, because that’s a long story, I kind of “started” by studying a move by Dr. J from the 1980 NBA Finals, and by studying that move, which you too can study on YouTube, and looking closer and closer at it, I started to see these seams, or listen to these seams in this recording or document of genius and evasion and survival, which took me, maybe you could say, to thinking about other overlapping questions, etc. The poem took me about four and a half years or so to write, though I was working on something that really became central to the poem as far back as 2013, I think, so maybe it’s a little longer. It keeps changing too, that’s a thing that poem taught me—that it’s not done.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on two things: a book as yet untitled, but that is something like essays in the direction or ballpark or parking lot of joy. And another Delights book, I think I’m gonna call it Book Two. And you know, a few other book things, writing about basketball and land and stuff.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is usually a day without anything to do. I mean, the days with stuff to do are good days too, but I think you probably meant like a special good day, and for me a special good day is when I mostly just wander through it like it’s a garden or something. I will probably have coffee in the morning, I will probably cook something, in all likelihood I will exercise a little bit—the goodest days I shoot a basketball—I will have nice conversations probably and might pick something growing from something in an alley to eat. I’ll give something away, someone will give something to me, music, a bookstore, a moonwalk—yo, no kidding, I saw a kid do the moonwalk in front of the library yesterday, which made yesterday a good day.

Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?

I live in Bloomington, Indiana, but I think of my home as the Northeastern US. I like that our house cost 136,000 when we bought it in 2016, and it has yard enough, this year, to grow over 200 lbs of root vegetables, to keep us in greens from about March or April until, probably, December, not to mention flowers and stuff I love and a cat who lives under our crooked garage (shed/gym) called Jake.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

Yes, intermittently the past 25 years, many places, wherever my friends lived, etc.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?

Oh, god, I don’t know. I have one though, and it is not one thing, though I am lucky to have folks with whom I share work, and we care about each other’s work, and I think we do a pretty good job of not trying to tell each other how their work ought to be, by which I mean we listen to each other and are learning how to listen to each other’s work, which takes a lifetime, and I feel like I’m in it for the long haul with the people I’m talking about. Here and elsewhere, yes, don’t know why exactly, except luck is part of it, and also maybe because I am employed by a university to teach poetry, so that probably helps. Though one of my very closest readers I met outside the co-op bullshitting about high school basketball, and then we talked books, and then we started sharing work. Etc.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

I know this might not work out for me, but what’s a Brooklyn poet? You know what I mean? Does it mean they moved there five or ten years ago, or they’re from there? Aracelis Girmay is a poet who lives in Brooklyn whom I adore. And isn’t Mo Brown living up there, she’s a poet I love. And oh, Simone White too. Oh, and Claire Donato! So many of my favorite poets live in Brooklyn, turns out!!!

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I loved The Crying Book by Heather Christle. I like those short-ish lyric prose books that are written in chunks. Oh, Harry Dodge’s book My Meteorite, I loved that. I am rereading Samuel Delany’s book Longer Views. And reading or rereading the suite of John Edgar Wideman books, Fatheralong, Fanon and Writing to Save a Life. Wideman means so much to me. Oh, also rereading that Eileen Myles Why I Write book, which is lovely.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Too many to name.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I read lots of books at once. I don’t finish them all, and I get kind of taken sometimes and others not. And sometimes I get so I have to read a book a few times, I’ve always been like that, but it’s not always been books—used to be songs. Well, still is, but sometimes now it’s books, movies, etc. I like to walk into a bookstore—some great ones in that town, you should ask a question about that! Books are Magic and Greenlight are two I love, and if I walked into those bookstores I’d buy a book that maybe I was gonna read right away, or maybe I’d love it and put it in a pile somewhere for a happy day in the future. Physical books, always. Except for when I listen to books, which I love to do, actually.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I don’t know if I think of it like that anymore. I’ll write it and then after I’ve done it I’ll tell you.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Oh there are some sweet cafes around here, and I also have a little studio downtown, about eight blocks or so from where I live, where I like to work. I love a library. I love a bookstore. I also love a park bench and a west-facing wall in an alley in the late day in fall. I also like a pocket park, which Bloomington has maybe none of, but there is this really beautiful little alcove next to the old French place where they used to serve to-go espresso drinks where I like to sit now and read a little bit, but especially I like to visit with friends there.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

A&A and Ali’s. I have had some very nice walks in some of the parks, and the bookstores, I said that. But my very favorite place is wherever I am with my friends there, which is to say my friends who live in Brooklyn are my favorite things about Brooklyn.

Why Brooklyn?

Because you were so kind as to invite me.