Screen Porch

Gratitude & Gardening: Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude


Elisabeth Moss

In this, our final Screen Porch post in a series celebrating poet Ross Gay's visit to Nashville, we are delighted to share a reflection on Gay's collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, written by our Spring 2024 intern Elisabeth Moss. Moss is studying Gay's work at Belmont University, and she'll graduate in May. We'll miss her deeply, but we can't wait to see what she does next!

Gay will appear in conversation with poet Tiana Clark at our annual fundraiser, DELIGHT: Celebrating Our First Decade, on April 5th at 7 p.m. You can purchase tickets to the fundraiser here and attend Gay's free reading and signing at the Nashville Public Library's Main Branch on April 6th at 3 p.m. —Ed.


Not only is Ross Gay an award-winning writer, he is an avid gardener and a founding board member of Bloomington Community Orchard, an all-volunteer nonprofit devoted to growing year-round produce free for the community to enjoy. His writings, centered around gratitude, are inextricably tied to his work as a gardener, celebrating the little joys found in tending to the land. In the Cultivating Place podcast, Gay says that his “creative life is really informed by that community gesture of how do we care for our neighbors—which I think is really the fundamental question of that orchard.” 

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude follows Gay’s observations as a community orchardist in an unapologetically weird collection of topics ranging from fig trees to feet. Gay’s poetry, with limited punctuation and unexpected lineation, flows from one thought to the next, reading like a story told by a friend, twisting with the rhythm and diversions of conversation. His work frequently explores the unity between man and nature. Below are excerpts from a few poems from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude that I think best present the connection between Gay’s appreciation for beauty and his work as a gardener.

From "Wedding Poem:"

“being, simply, glad,

which such love,

if we let it,

makes us feel.”

This poem, written for a wedding, celebrates love by means of a goldfinch eating a sunflower that Gay observes in his garden. Joy radiates from this poem through the address to readers as “friends” and the childlike excitement of Gay blushing, rocking on his tippy-toes, witnessing the intimacy of such a moment. While many of the poems in this collection stretch from one image to the next, “Wedding Poem” is focused, because love, as seen through the flower and the goldfinch, is simple: It is glad. 

From "Patience:"

“Call it sloth; call it sleaze;

call it bummery if you please;

I’ll call it patience;

I’ll call it joy, this,

my supine congress

with the newly yawning grass

and beetles chittering 

in their offices 

beneath me”

In “Patience,” Gay celebrates the onset of Spring by lying in the grass, admiring a weed in his garden that has “burst gorgeous forth and beckoning,” ushering in lush descriptions of the life blooming before his eyes. This poem particularly ties the knot between humankind and nature, ascribing human behavior and anatomy to plants, such as the weed’s “vaginal blooms” and the pears “howling forth their pungence / like a choir of wet-dreamed boys / hiking up their skirts.” It encourages close attention to the world around us, a reminder that joy can be found simply by observing the miracle that is a bee entering a flower.

From "Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude:" 

“there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana,

it will make you gasp.

It might make you want to stay alive even”

Gay’s titular poem holds nothing back in the way of gratitude in twelve pages of giving thanks to the things that make everyday life special. He assigns the utmost importance to the seemingly mundane, following “Friends, will you bear with me today” with an image of a robin, or “Here ye! Here ye!” with the manure and maggots he stood in to help start an orchard. Gooseberries, dreadlocks, bumblebees, a corduroy couch—everything is worthy of gratitude, and Gay’s is so tangible that you can’t help but echo it after reading this collection. 


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