The Poem as a Bodily Thing: An Interview with Ross Gay
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The Poem as a Bodily Thing:
An Interview with Ross Gay

Ross Gay’s books of poetry include Against Which (CavanKerry Press, 2006) and Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). His poems have appeared in many magazines and journals, including American Poetry Review, MARGIE, and Ploughshares. With the artist Kimberly Thomas, he has collaborated on several artists’ books: The Cold Loop, BRN2HNT, and The Bullet. He is an editor with the chapbook press Q Avenue, whose recently published books include Chromosomory by Layli Long Soldier, Amigos by Matthew Dickman, Ad Hoc by Chris Mattingly, and Dolly by Kimberly Thomas and Simone White. Gay received his MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, and his Ph.D. in American literature from Temple University. He teaches in the low-residency MFA program in poetry at Drew University and in Indiana University’s English department.

td:

When do you remember “art” entering your world? Is there a particular book or painting or movie from your childhood that stands out? Also, what role did art play in your house growing up? Did your mom or dad have some art form—music, poetry, novels, et cetera—that they particularly liked and shared with you?

rg:

You know, I was immediately going to say that I don’t recall my childhood home being a place where “art” happened, but I should [End Page 141] say that I have a perfectly clear memory of my father drawing the Cat in the Hat, and being kind of mesmerized by how good the likeness was. I also remember my mother being like, “Oh, Dad’s just good at everything,” which is such a kind and lovely memory, given that my father worked in restaurants and was fired several times, and we were mostly broke. In other words, he wasn’t good at everything, but she remained impressed by him until he died, which I love to remember. That said, my father read constantly—spy novels, those kinds of things—and while he did it publicly, he didn’t really share anything about it. In fact, it was more like he retreated into his novels—we would often joke that the pages of his book were actually blank, that it was a good way for him to be with us, but also be alone. And both of my folks cooked seriously, my father I think very consciously, like it was an art. And my mother very convincingly—the pancakes this woman made, forget about it. Or her pound cake or just about anything baked was as good as anything. Her strawberry rhubarb pie! Apple crisp! It was truly beautiful, and truly artistic. Crafted things that she worked on for years and years (is still, in fact, working on—she made me a peach crisp for my birthday and I almost ate myself into oblivion). She also had a tiny garden—I think she’d have a tiny little patch of impatiens and a lily, both of which she was proud of and moved by. It meant a lot to me to plant the same kind of lily my mother grew at my house, with her. So whenever it’s blooming and sending out its beautiful smell, I get to think of my dear ol’ ma.

td:

Sports played a large role for you when you were young, and in some ways they continue to play a large role in your life, especially basketball. You played football at Lafayette College, you’ve coached basketball, and you work hard to remain fit in middle life. How does this physicality shape the way you write your poems? Is there anything about a particular sport that relates to your writing?

rg:

One friend told me after I ran a marathon—(which I’m not hurrying to do again)—that she thought probably the training of sport was very much like the training of one’s craft, one’s art. That there’s discipline, those kinds of things. Ability to be uncomfortable, et cetera. And I think that’s probably true. And though the stereotype is to the contrary, plenty of writers are really bodied people, by which...