The final installment of the 2017-2018 Creative Writing Reading Series took place to the sound of a sorority party happening next door. The bellows of Taylor Swift, celebration, and Greek chants penetrated through the walls. But even that couldn’t overshadow the vigor, humor, and emotion of Ross Gay’s reading.
For the first time, an ASL interpreter was present, providing accessibility for the evening and future Creative Writing Reading Series events. Ross Gay was part of a week on the Environmental Humanities, concluding by a presentation from Thomas Davis, a visiting English professor from Ohio State University.
Before the reading even began, Gay’s books sold out. Following an opening by Camille Dungy, MFA candidate Kelly Weber introduced Gay, explaining her amazing experience hearing him read at conference. She promised that Gay would have the room laughing and crying by the end.
Since the entire English department communications team attended the reading, we decided it would be fun to include all our responses in this post.
Katie Haggstrom: I’ll be honest. Going into Ross Gay’s reading, I knew only that he was a poet and he was esteemed among my peers, especially for the joy he exudes during readings. Even with this warning, I was not prepared for the sheer presence Gay would have during his reading. From an image of Gay carrying a tomato seedling through airport security or peeing in his car from the lack of public restrooms in New York City to his height allowing him to look out the mesh window at the top of a porta potty, I was entranced. He swiftly moved between his poetry and essays, creating a dynamic reading that perfectly captured his raw, humorous voice.
I was one of the lucky few who purchased a copy of his collection catalog of unabashed gratitude before they sold out. I immediately went home and read it cover to cover. But what stuck with me most was his idea of “delights,” a string of essays he wrote over the course of a year. Each day, he would think about what delighted him, perhaps a piece of advice I should follow in my own life.
Jill Salahub: I’ll confess, getting up off my couch on a Thursday evening after a long day/week/year of work during one of the final weeks of a long, especially busy semester wasn’t easy. And yet, everything I’d heard, read, and seen about poet Ross Gay led me to believe it would be worth it — and oh wow, was it worth it.
Ross Gay is the embodiment of joy and delight. After his reading, a colleague and friend asked Gay if he’d always been a joyful person, or if he’d found joy later and how, to which I added “and where can we get some of that?” Gay’s answer was that to him joy was big enough to include grief, that there was space for that too, and that joy is a practice. He said that actually he’s a melancholy person, but that joy contains sadness too, because to be joyful is to have an awareness that we are going to die, that everything we love is going to die, and being joyful can carry that, keeps the dead near us. “That’s a long way of saying, ‘I don’t know.’”
The room that night was full, of joy and people, standing room only, with (as Katie mentioned) a party going on next door. When Gay got up to read, he thanked us for having him, calling Fort Collins a sweet place, and adding, “what do you all do to make it so sweet?” He also said that on his way in, when he heard the noise of the party, he thought it was coming from the reading, that the party was ours. Even though he was wrong about that, I think he was totally right — the celebration was ours.
When Gay reads, he draws the audience in with his cadence and energy, a rhythm of both words and body — a long look, a careful pause, a joke, a laugh, a rush of words — swaying between joy and grief, his voice rising and falling like the music next door. Reading his final poem, “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” (with Abba’s “Dancing Queen” playing in the background at one point) there’s a line, “I just want us to be friends now, forever” and as a reader, as his audience, you want that, nothing more than to be friends with this sweet, melancholy, creative, brilliant, funny giant of joy.
Michaela Hayes: I don’t know where to begin with Ross Gay. More than that, when I walked into the Cherokee Ballroom last Thursday, I didn’t know where I was beginning there either. I didn’t know I was beginning anything– most readings I attend at CSU are amazing, deeply enjoyable, often inspiring experiences but they don’t leave me feeling as though I’ve been shoved into some new life territory. The Ross Gay bug crawled under my skin and I’ve been scratching at it ever since. But in a pleasant way?
Before the reading began, as I was walking into the ballroom, I passed a tall man in a blue shirt, hair shooting in every direction. I met his eye briefly and felt a flicker of warmth before I averted my eyes and kept walking. I decided that this must be Ross Gay.
I liked him as soon as he began speaking. He has the widest smile I’ve ever seen. If I tried, I probably could’ve counted his teeth. He read poems from his newest book, catalog of unabashed gratitude, which came across as easy but profound at the same time, and always with humor. He even graced us with an erotic poem about sharing a fig with an ant, a subject matter I didn’t know I needed in my life.
He also read from a new book of essays coming out in February in which he describes small delights from each day. I found myself falling into each essay as he read, wading in the depths of each experience and soaking up some of the joy myself. I also found myself laughing with great, detoxing vigor. Ross Gay, thank you.
Join us next year for another great Creative Writing Reading Series. And if you’ve enjoyed these events, consider making a donation to help them continue.