Ross Gay Finds the Right Ground at the Radcliffe Institute

Photo by Kevin GradyPhoto by Kevin Grady
Harvard Magazine
March 1, 2016
By Lydialyle Gibson

By the end of the hour, Ross Gay had people all but swaying in the aisles. A poet and professor at Indiana University whose 2015 collection, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, was a National Book Award finalist, Gay is a Bate Fellow this year at the Radcliffe Institute. And on a Wednesday evening in mid February, four dozen people filled up a room at Fay House in Radcliffe Yard to hear him speak.

It was scheduled to be a lecture on the “Black Georgics,” Gay’s work-in-progress (barely begun, he confessed later), conceived as a black writer’s response to Virgil’s book-length agricultural poem. But Gay had something else on his mind that night. Last fall he gave an interview to Poetry magazine, and the interviewer, Kyla Marshell—a friend and a fellow member of the Cave Canem group of African-American poets—had asked him about all the flowers in his book. By turns euphoric, elegiac, or edgy, and sometimes all those things at once, the poems in Catalog wind a tight orbit around his garden back in Bloomington: its fruit trees and honeybees and universe of flowers. This is the emotional and imaginative center that the book returns to again and again. 

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