Wordsmith Wednesday: Ross Gay’s “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude”

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Our words this week come from Ross Gay’s eponymous poem “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” from his 2015 poetry collection.

The stanza is:

“And to the quick and gentle flocking
of men to the old lady falling down
on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently
with the softest parts of their hands
her cane and purple hat,
gathering for her the contents of her purse
and touching her shoulder and elbow;
thank you the cockeyed court
on which in a half-court 3 v 3 we oldheads
made of some runny-nosed kids
a shambles, and the 61-year-old
after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door cut
from my no-look pass to seal the game
ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods
and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar
grinning across his chest; thank you
the glad accordion’s wheeze
in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.”

Gay’s ability to shine warmth and love into dirty crevices and tease beauty from everyday experiences is what I believe puts him at the forefront of contemporary poetry. He doesn’t stray away from darkness or sadness, but he also doesn’t wallow; he shows it and says “This is what being alive and being human is” with an inspiring generosity. In a poem in which he expresses gratitude for a number of things from a lone lady on the bus to a patient, listening ear to finding the dreadlock of a murdered friend, I chose this passage because I find the images breathtaking, moving snapshots of human goodness and strength and life. I love the gentle men helping because it’s the right thing to do, I cheer and laugh for the old man proudly patting the pacemaker in his chest. These tiny actions, these little victories are the most beautiful parts of being alive to me and Ross Gay’s ability to show that beauty without overstatement and with a knowing smile is what keeps me waiting on his work.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: The Roots’ “Make My”

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Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week is Black Thought’s verse from The Roots’ song “Make My” off their 2011 album, Undun.

The lyrics are:

“Trying to control the fits of panic/
Unwritten and unravelled/
It’s the dead man’s pedantic/
Whatever, see it’s really just a matter of semantics/
When everybody’s fresh out of collateral to damage and/
My splaying got me praying like a mantis/
I begin to vanish/
Feel the pull of the blank canvas/
I’m contemplating that special dedication/
To whomever it concern, my letter of resignation/
Fading/
Back to black/
My dark coronation/
The heat of the day/
The long robe of muerte/
That soul is in the atmosphere like airplay/
If there’s a heaven I can’t find the stairway”

Without delving too deep into personal connection with these lines, the masterful manipulation of language, or focusing on the fact that this verse is a curtain call on a classic tragedy of a concept album that unrolls in reverse, I want to highlight that these words always floor me with their effortless density and brilliant darkness. Black Thought expresses a dying man’s internal monologue, whether his fate is sealed by his own hand or by the hand of another man, eloquently navigating those final moments with a emotional and lyrical fabric that’s as beautiful in its bleakness as any exploration of the psychology of death I’ve ever read. This verse is the black diamond on an album full of lyrical gems.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Do Make Say Think’s “A With Living”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is off of Do Make Say Think’s 2007 album You, You’re History in Rust, from the song entitled “A With Living.”
 
It reads,
 
“Lying down beneath the stars alone at last, I rest
feeling right feels good but being right is best
upshooting stars have their effect, perfect things left lain
oft our hands are held as perfect as our sleep
 
Heavy hearts come hold our hands took at last to understand
that light and dark are rust and all the rest is dust.”
 
 
As one of the few Do Make Say Think songs with lyrics, there is a heaviness, a weight, to these words that lull me into a sense of serenity with the weightlessness they are presenting. When I hear this song, in combination with his voice, there is this beauty that puts me at ease. Reminds me that everything in the world is small and malleable and we can make it into whatever we choose it to be.
 
– KK
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