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Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2015)
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is a sustained meditation on that which goes away—loved ones, the seasons, the earth as we know it—that tries to find solace in the processes of the garden and the orchard. That is, this is a book that studies the wisdom of the garden and orchard, those places where all—death, sorrow, loss—is converted into what might, with patience, nourish us.

102 pages, Paperback

First published January 16, 2015

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About the author

Ross Gay

32 books1,011 followers
Ross Gay is the author of Against Which, Bringing the Shovel Down, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Orion, the Sun, and elsewhere. He is an associate professor of poetry at Indiana University and teaches in Drew University’s low-residency MFA program in poetry. He also serves on the board of the Bloomington Community Orchard.

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5 stars
2,455 (49%)
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1,597 (32%)
3 stars
686 (13%)
2 stars
164 (3%)
1 star
55 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 708 reviews
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
96 reviews28k followers
May 8, 2022
Ross Gay is so good that everyone inspired by him (and there are plenty) are also good.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,412 followers
February 7, 2017
Probably one of the most noteworthy things about Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is that most of these poems are several pages long, and they often start out being about one thing and then pivot somewhere in the middle, revealing they're actually about something else instead of, or in addition to, what you'd thought they were about. You could be reading along happily, smiling at Gay's loving tribute to his next-door neighbor, only to unexpectedly find yourself sobbing. Uh, not that that happened to me or anything. (Sure it didn't.) But what you mostly have here are a lot of poems about paying attention to, and embracing, the world around you, particularly the natural world. Gay's enthusiasm is contagious, his writing is beautiful and often funny, and his joy and delight come through loud and clear, perhaps nowhere more so than in the title poem, where Gay tries, but not very hard, to keep a lid on the "excitability" that informs his entire life.

...Soon it will be over,

which is precisely what the child in my dream said,
holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky
hurtling our way like so many buffalo,
who said it's much worse than we think,
and sooner
; to whom I said,
no duh child in my dreams, what do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?
Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you. Every day.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
December 26, 2018
Full of joy, hope, and thanks, Ross Gay's Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude consists mostly of speedy celebrations of common things. Echoing the twentieth-century odes of Pablo Neruda, Gay writes long poems made up of short lines that uniformly are in awe of their simple subjects: fig trees, spoons, armpits, feet, ants, drinking water. Images of gardening and farming, bounty and harvest, also link the poems together, as does the poet's tendency to break up his poems' lines in abrupt and unexpected ways. While the collection can feel a bit repetitive at times, Gay's warmth is infectious and much needed in such bleak times.
Profile Image for Laura McNeal.
Author 15 books278 followers
November 20, 2015
I don't know when I last read a set of poems that managed to convey such intense joy. I love Gerard Manley Hopkins, and although the comparison is imperfect, I swear I still felt an echo of "The Windhover" in certain lines and stanzas, especially the title poem, which I love intensely. I think it was Roger Rosenblatt who said art requires affection for life, and Ross Gay's affection is infectious here. His poems are like good music, good food, good weather, and good friends coming together at the same time, but with a necessary awareness of mistakes and sadness and death and disappointment so that the goodness never, ever seems false.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books968 followers
May 7, 2016
I have a little ritual I go through before I read a book of poetry. First, I count the number of poems in the collection. Here it is a nimble 24. Doesn't seem enough to flesh out a full book of poetry (this is not a chapbook), but once you enter, the mystery is solved. Gay mostly writes long, strung-out single-stanza poems, often with lines that consist of 2-6 words.

But back to the ritual. Acknowledgments. Ah, yes. The aspiring poet in me. I want to know where these have seen the light of published day. Often, it's a depressing exercise as I see a litany of top-drawer publications--the stuff of my rejections file. But in Gay's case, it's a motley-- and to me, somewhat inspiring-- set of obscure and maybe doable journals: Solstice, Gabby, Exit 7, Nashville Review, Bombay Gin, Oversound, etc.

As for the poems, I found myself engaged at the outset but lost some interest as the book went on. Perhaps I grew used to the canter of this one-trick pony style? Or was it that the book was top-heavy, with its best punches thrown in the early going? In any event, the metaphors and similes seemed to lose a little airlift as the pages blew by.

Here's another Ken habit. I write down cool phrases from poems as I read. I'm an apprentice with a lot to learn, and any published poet I am proud to call my master-of-the-moment. Here are a few I jotted down:

"pulling me down into the oldest countries of my body"

"mostly he disappeared into the minor yawns of the earth"

"purple skin like cathedrals of glass"

"filling the sky in my chest"

"cat's shimmy through the grin of the fence"

"his tongue drowsed slack as a creek"

"In that gaudy, cement-mixer Leavettown accent that sends lemurs scaling my ribcage to see"

And, to give you a sense for Ross's style, here's

To My Best Friend's Big Sister:

One never knows
does one
how one comes to be
most ways to naked
in front of one’s pal’s
big sister who has, simply
by telling me to,
gotten me to shed
all but the scantest
flap of fabric
and twirl before her
like a rotisserie
chicken as she
and offers thoughtful critique
of my just
pubescent physique
which is not
a thing
to behold
what with my damp trunks
clinging to
my damp crotch
and proportion and grace
are words the definition
of which I don’t yet know
nor did I ask the
the mini-skirted scientist
sitting open-legged
and now shoeless
on my mom’s couch
though it may have been
this morning
while chucking papers
I heard through the Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
pulsing my walkman
a mourning
dove struggling
snared in the downspout’s
mouth and without
lowering the volume
or missing a verse
I crinkled the rusted aluminum
trap enough that with
a little wriggle
it was free
and did not
at once
wobble to some
powerline but sat on my hand
and looked at me
for at least
one verse of “It Takes Two”
sort of bobbing
its head
and cooing once or twice
before flopping off
but that seems very long ago
as I pirouette
my hairless and shivering
warble of acne and pudge
burning a hole
in the rug as big sis tosses off
Greek and Latin words
like pectorals and
gluteus maximus
standing to show me
what she means
with her hands on my love
handles and now
I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
a fantasy
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
the child
make of me
someone I wasn’t
make of this
experience the beginning
of a new life
gilded doors
kicked open blaring
trombones a full
beard Isaac Hayes singing in the background
and me thundering forth
on the wild steed
of emergent manhood
but I think this child was not
that child
obscuring, as he was, his breasts
by tucking his hands
into his armpits
and having never even made love
to himself
yet was not
really a candidate for much
besides the chill
of a minor shame
that he would forget for 15 years
one of what would prove
to be many
such shames
stitched together like a quilt
with all its just legible
patterning which could be a thing
heavy and warm
to be buried in
or instead might be held up
to the light
where we see the threads
barely holding
so human and frail
so beautiful and sad and small
from this remove.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,493 reviews378 followers
February 23, 2018
This is a warm-hearted volume of poems that constantly tricked me into tears. The reality of life as loss is very present here, inextricably connected to the joy of life's abundance. The author's experience of gardening inform the poems which are filled with images of the garden, the life and inevitable deaths.

There are so many lines that I treasured. To quote just a few:

and yes, it is spring, if you can't tell
from the words my mind makes
of the world


I swore when I got into this poem I would convert
this sorrow into some kind of honey with the little musics

I can sometimes make with these scribbled artifacts
of our desolation

and, so poignantly and so much what this collection seems about:

...what do you think
this singing and shuddering is
...other than loving
what every second goes away?

I can't wait to go find the rest of what Gay has written. And, of course, to reread this collection.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
September 17, 2015
This book of poems was just longlisted for the National Book Award, so I was happy to find a copy in my library.

Ross's poems are very steeped in nature, particularly a farm/orchard childhood (based on what he says). A lot on childhood, relationships, and one very touching tribute to a friend and colleague at Indiana University who was stabbed to death in 2009. (That poem is called "Spoon.")

My favorite little bit comes at the end of the poem "Feet," which starts with his thoughts on his ugly feet, and ends with:
"here, where we started, in the factory
where loss makes all things
beautiful grow."
As with Feet, these poems have great rhythm to them, and range from 1 page to 20.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
590 reviews10.4k followers
February 27, 2023
Many meandering poems that take you on a journey. A lot of nature. A lot of death. A log of gratitude. I liked this collection but never felt a gut punch in reading any of them.
Profile Image for Superstition Review.
118 reviews65 followers
November 3, 2017
Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is an uplifting and therapeutic poetry collection. He embraces the small things that make life wonderful as he reminisces his past and childhood.
His collection is imbued with beautiful imagery about the natural world; it is compellingly lyrical:

There is, in my yard, a huge and beautiful peach tree.
I planted the thing as a three-foot whip,
a spindly prayer with a tangle of roots so delicate,
so wild, I took ten minutes to feather them apart.

The self-aware narration is striking—

I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
a fantasy
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
the child

In addition to characterizing the speaker, it adds a humorous element especially for other poets and writers who are reading his work.

He also establishes intimacy by addressing the reader. Suddenly it feels not only relatable but personal.

I can’t stop my gratitude,
which includes, dear reader,
you, for staying here with me,
for moving your lips just so as I speak.
Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.

By Claudia Estrada
Profile Image for Alice.
779 reviews2,836 followers
July 10, 2016
I had quite high expectations for this, but I'm afraid I'm a bit disappointed. Though I found some of the sentences beautiful, especially those depicting nature, I couldn't find a personal connection. I was initially going to give this three stars, but after having thought about it for a few days, very little from this seems to have stuck with me. I do see the talent, but I just didn't find myself captured.
Profile Image for Esther.
291 reviews16 followers
July 18, 2022
I was reading this on a train called the Circumvesuvius because it’s route went around Mount Vesuvius, this absolutely gorgianna poetry (faves were the poems about the fig tree, his neighbor Don, and burial) paired so perfectly with the sights of the volcano, the lemon orchards, and the scratchy violinist playing for tips on the train, just such a perfect memory!!
335 reviews
April 4, 2018
I just reread. And found another poem I love - It describes a goldfinch eating sunflower seeds. The scene is a metaphor for love - poem is called (I think) Wedding Poem.

And everything I said before still applies:

I love, love, love this book. It truly lives up to the title.

I plan to quote from several of the poems. Since there's no plot to be revealed, I don't think it's technically a spoiler, but for those who don't want to read excerpts, be advised.

I first heard of this author when I happened to catch a radio interview with him on my car radio. WFIU, Bloomington. He teaches poetry at Indiana University. He is also on the board of the Bloomington Community Orchard. The interviewer asked about the connection between his work with orchards and teaching poetry.

Ode to the flute
A man sings/by opening his/mouth a man/sings by opening/ his lungs by/turning himself into air/a flute can/be made of a man/nothing is explained/a flute lays/on its side/and prays a wind/might enter it/and make of it/at least/ a small final song

Nature fills his poetry - fruit, flowers, trees, insects, shit, puke, sex and death. Exuberantly short lines roll down the page. Even his longer poems keep pulling me along, and providing, from time to time, marvelous nuggets of insight.

In the poem Patience, he talks about his springtime garden and some bees. The flowers are compared to lips: "the way this bee/before me after whispering in my ear dips her head/into those dainty lips not exactly like on entering a chapel/ and friends/as if that wasn't enough/blooms forth with her forehead dusted pink/like she had been licked/and so blessed/by the kind of God/to whom this poem is prayer.

Feet is about his ugly feet and a girl who told him he had pretty feet. ""the poet says/I wish I could tell you,/truly, of the little factory/in my head: the smokestacks/chuffing, the dandelions/and purslane and willows of sweet clover/prying through the blacktop/. . ./in the factory/where loss makes all things beautiful grow.

The poem Spoon is in memory of his gay black friend who was murdered. The poem spells out just how unwelcome a black man can feel in this part of the Midwest. The poet is a black man himself.

The title poem is a long one. Those who know my taste realize that I generally prefer poems that will fit on a single page - or maybe two. This one goes on for twelve pages. I'll quote a part near the end. "I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude/over every last thing."

He can even find joy in the simple act of putting on (or taking off) his clothes. He called the poem "Ode to buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt".

In the poem Burial, he tells about planting a tree, and deciding to add some of his father's ashes (cremains, the funeral people call them) in the soil. "watering it in all with one hand/ while holding the tree/ with the other straight as the flag/to the nation of simple joy/of which my father is now a naturalized citizen" and concluding with the fruit of that tree. "almost dancing now in the plum,/in the tree, and the way he did as a person,/bent over and biting his lip/and chucking the one hip out/then the other with his elbows cocked/and fists loosely made/and eyes closed and mouth made trumpet/when he knew he could make you happy/just by being a little silly/and sweet.

Enduring the estrangement
from my mother's sadness, which was
to me, unbearable, until,
it felt to me
not like what I thought it felt like
to her, and so felt inside myself - like death,
like dying, which I would almost
have rather done, though adding to her sadness
would rather die than do -
but, by sitting still, liked what, in fact, it was-
a form of gratitude
which when last it came
drifted like a meadow lit by torches
of cardinal flower, one of whose crimson blooms,
when a hummingbird hovered nearby,
I slipped into my mouth
thereby coaxing the bird
to scrawl on my tongue
its heart's frenzy, its fleet
nectar-questing song,
with whom, with you, dear mother,
I now sing along.

A bit of advice addressed to his unheeding students in poetry class, he writes in the poem To the mistake: "the mistake/I say is a gift/don't be afraid/see what it teaches you/about what the poem/can be"

Another long poem, The opening, is an extended meditation on memory, family, philosophy. It begins with a kind of out-of-body experience. "You might wonder what I am doing here/in the passenger's seat of this teal Mitsubishi//with the hood secured by six or seven strips of duct tape,/sitting next to Myself, who sits in the drivers seat,//. . . //you wonder rightly what it is I am saying/quietly in the ear of Myself, and what I am pointing at//with one hand while the other rests on Myself's shoulder,/tenderly if not a bit tentatively, for Myself//is still a very big man, and quick, and trying hard/not to take anyone with him over the ledge on which he stands,//. . .//given the long prayer he found himself giving/the chickadee that met its death on his windshield//"
Later he remembers birds trapped in an attic and they become metaphors, "And the birds I'm talking about are not birds at all/but common sorrow made murderous simply by nailing//the shingles tight, and caulking with the tar always boiling out back/all possible cracks" and later, "the roaring in his head, which was nothing//more, it turns out, than the sounds of not weeping, the sounds/of sadness turned back. Nothing savage, nothing cruel or vicious,//not a bird in sight - just sadness. Which is to say/in other words, just being alive."

I think the poem I liked best, however, was the one called Weeping. It tells about a day spent by his niece Mikayla with her little friend Emma, "who left without saying goodbye." In the course of the poem, we learn that Emma is able to fly and land on Mikayla's finger. Emma' wings are brown and gold. Later in the poem we also learn that Emma has multiple legs. A butterfly. Emma spend the day around Mikayla, but the little girl is sad, is weeping when Emma leaves without saying goodbye. The sadness is there in the poem, but I was amazed by the miracle that Emma would stay nearby for an entire day.
Profile Image for André Carreira.
24 reviews25 followers
June 18, 2016
I am trying, I think, to forgive myself
for something I don't know what.
But what I do know is that I love the moment when the poet says
"I am trying to do this
or I am trying to do that."
Sometimes it's a horseshit trick. But sometimes
it's a way by which the poet says
I wish I could tell you,
truly, of the little factory
in my head: the smokestacks
chuffing, the dandelions
and purslane and willows of sweet clover
prying through the blacktop.
I wish I could tell you
how inside is the steady mumble and clank of machines.
But mostly I wish I could tell you of the footsteps I hear,
more than I can ever count,
all of whose gaits I can discern by listening, closely.
Which promptly disappear
after being lodged again,
here, where we started, in the factory
where loss makes all things
beautiful glow.

Aphoteosis! Eternal Spring!
Ross Gay's surname seems to have been fitted to suit his expression of life exultant, his melifluous poetry, written in blank verse. It is fertile; it is the poetry of the earth and of the moving spirit which encompasses the radiance and sound of laughter that comes with the breeze, or with the leaf's autumnal descent. A poetry which is hope exponentiated can only bring one who reads it hope: rosy spectacles in which to feel the magic of movement and the beauty of ressurection in the magic of all things. Especially things lost.

This is what I miss most in the vast majority of portuguese poets: the unrestrained joy of feeling.
I can't help but rejoice at the thought that there is great poetry being written and recognized as an expression of human excellence.
Profile Image for Anandi.
65 reviews9 followers
August 1, 2015
Devoured this delicious book of poetry during breaks at Soulfire Farm's Black and Latino Farmer Immersion.

I loved listening to, meeting and communing with permaculture poet Ross Gay. There is no substitute for the animated way he reads his work. Definitely go see him reading live if you have the opportunity.

A must-savor collection for anyone who digs nature, gardening, farming, orchards, the outdoors and vibrant imagery. The way Ross sees the world, his divine diction and rhythm, playfully (and sometimes painfully) etched with tiny heart-opening moments of the abundance of the simple life is a gift to us all. Thank you!
Profile Image for Hannah Notess.
Author 5 books71 followers
December 28, 2015
Ross was my professor, so I am not exactly objective, but this book is so good. I wish it won all the awards. The poem "Spoon," an elegy for Don Belton, is unforgettable.

An undercurrent of these poems:
Gratitude and joy can subvert the cruel and racist systems of domination that grind people down. Reveling in beauty &etc.
Profile Image for Ebony (EKG).
100 reviews353 followers
November 20, 2022
poems on the beauty in grief, loss, and nature. some of these poems were pretty long-winded (which isn’t my favorite poetry to read) but i adored ross gay’s hopeful perspective and insight. reading this felt like spring and a warm, comforting hug.

3.75/5 🌿🌸🪺
Profile Image for Pete.
696 reviews1 follower
October 17, 2016
just like an overflowing bucket of human delight/sadness/the spectrum between. i am down with ross gay.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,688 reviews26 followers
December 5, 2019
This is Ross Gay’s third volume of poetry. It won the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the National Critics Circle Award for Poetry and a finalist for the National Book Award. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, he teaches at Indiana University. He was not a motivated student, but thanks to a few teachers along the way who saw his potential, he eventually earned a BA from Lafayette College, an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, and a PhD in English from Temple University.

This volume of Gay’s has poems that are light, and funny, that show his gardener’s love of earth and plants, and occasionally look into his life as a black man in America. This volume includes several odes which stand up well to the famous odes of Pablo Neruda. Like Neruda, Gay’s odes honor ordinary things in his life including “Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt”.
this is not something to be taken lightly
the gift
of buttoning one’s shirt
top to bottom
or bottom to top or sometimes
the buttons will be on the other side

The poem “To the mulberry tree” shows his gardener side. This excerpt is an illustration of his connection to plants and the earth, and his humor:
Everybody knows it’s good luck
If inconvenient
when a bird shits on you
but even moreso
good luck if the bird shits on you
when you’re plucking
gold current tomatoes
sweet enough to make your bare feet
lift just so
off the ground
and the beetles below scurry
and giggle

Included here is an interview with the author about this book https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwgMm...

Gay’s poems will pull you in, make you laugh and cry,
Profile Image for Ana.
132 reviews5 followers
May 2, 2021
"Thank you what does not scare her
in me, but makes her reach my way. Thank you the love
she is which hurts sometimes."

These poems sound like birds flapping their wings and the buzzing of bees and they smell of cow shit, honey and sweat. They taste like the juice of a peach running down my chin and staining my favorite shirt, like missing my mom, like figs.
Profile Image for Alessandra Simmons.
34 reviews2 followers
July 23, 2015
Ross Gay's newest book reminds me of why I love poetry. The sincerity and precision. The music. The seeing and cataloging what is beautiful and what is perverse. Though every word is well placed and every line well cared for, the poems wander, and wallow, and address themselves, and yet never loose focus. In poems the reader might wonder how she got from sexual innuendo to sharing a meal with small-miracle worker: the bee, and so be forced to re-read and retrace the steps that got her there. Gay's poem dare to the face both small, beautiful moments (most people would stumble over them without noticing) and the moments so large, so painful (most people would be rendered speechless and fearful).

In case you're wondering, I think you should go read this book. Right now.
Profile Image for Lynsy .
585 reviews46 followers
August 13, 2017
In short, I didn't like this book. Mostly, I didn't like the style. There weren't enough punctuation breaks, so the lines ran into each other and the rhythm got lost. There wasn't a single poem, or even a single line, that I liked. I don't understand why this won awards, to be honest.

Read the review on my blog here.
Profile Image for AJ Nolan.
807 reviews9 followers
January 14, 2017
Fantastic book of poetry! Dripping with love for the natural world and gardening, the book paints pictures of what is beautiful in this world, even when he is writing poems on grieving his father, and the title poem is simply stunning and a must read for everyone.
Profile Image for Peycho Kanev.
Author 23 books287 followers
October 3, 2017
ode to the flute

A man sings
by opening his
mouth a man
sings by opening
his lungs by
turning himself into air
a flute can
be made of a man
nothing is explained
a flute lays
on its side
and prays a wind
might enter it
and make of it
at least
a small final song
Profile Image for Stefanie.
467 reviews15 followers
March 6, 2020
I s loved Gay's essay collection Book of Delights, that I was primed to like his poetry. I was not disappointed. Not as quirky as his essays, the poems ramble across associations, feel intimate, pulse with joy even when bumping up against sorrow and grief. A real pleasure to read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 708 reviews

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