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: J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

It reads:

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

Most people who have any recollection of Harry Potter are familiar with this quote. It is spoken to Neville by Dumbledore while he is passing out House points at the end of term.

Harry Potter is something I always seem to return to in times of turbulence or disorder within my life or the outside world. The story it holds is one eerily applicable to our present day. When I read this quote, I can’t help but see it as a guide to our role in this world right now. It’s a reminder of the importance of standing up for what we believe in even when it is against those who we view as friends or family. This is the moment to stand up and fight. Keep it up even when it seems, and is, tough.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: The Beatles’ “She Said She Said”

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We are excited to have our words provided by Issue 5 guest editor Grant Garland!

This Wordsmith Wednesday highlights the lyrics of “She Said She Said,” my favorite track from the iconic 1966 album Revolver by The Beatles. Anybody familiar with the Beatles discography can notice the psychedelic tendencies that begin to flourish on Revolver’s fourteen tracks, the well-documented result of the introduction of LSD to the band. The song is a McCartney-Lennon collaboration, John Lennon penning the lyrics after the band famously took acid with actor Peter Fonda in LA, during their tour of America in 1965.

The words themselves are:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

I said, “Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad.
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.
When I was a boy everything was right,
Everything was right.”

I said, “Even though you know what you know,
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

As I mentioned, the specific origin of these lyrics is well documented, down to the moment Peter Fonda spoke the opening line to George Harrison, referencing an accidental gunshot wound Fonda suffered as a child. LSD trips aside, the words are about life changing revelations, and perhaps the human tendency to resist such revelations. Lennon changes the “He” to “She” disguising the song as a love song, maybe because love is often the source of many of his revelations. The first stanza sounds to me like a lover, or somebody trusted (those are almost interchangeable in my mind), revealing knowledge of the afterlife to the speaker. “And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born” says that the speaker feels like they don’t exist, or that knowing the afterlife might make this existence seem meaningless. The second stanza, with its forceful question “Who put all those things in your head?” is the resistance to the revelations being presented. “Things that make me feel that I’m mad,” however, invites an admission of an already present tear in the fabric of the mind. The third stanza is an interaction between the two, a back and forth that reveals the speaker to be nostalgic for childhood, when “everything was right.”

Unpacking this bag one phrase at a time was very eye opening for me. It showed me why it has taken me so long to listen—and I mean really listen—to the Beatles. Everyone in my generation was likely made familiar with the Beatles at a young age (my parents were not fans, I don’t hold a grudge), but it wasn’t until their entire discography was finally made available on Spotify that I found the time to return to it as a young adult. I found that songs like “She Said She Said” suddenly seemed oddly profound to me. Words that used to feel too simple and not provocative enough suddenly struck me somewhere deep down. When I retrace my life—it doesn’t take long, I am young, after all—I can still place the moment that literary writing clicked for me. It was when I finally learned to realize that simple events can often be monumental. I’ve spent the last several years examining the quiet moments that have had profound effect on me. I have resisted many of those moments while they were occurring, attempting to trudge on the same path, to remain the same as I used to be “when I was a boy.”

It probably is no coincidence that as a twenty-seven year old I suddenly relate to words John Lennon wrote at twenty-five. Our experiences were obviously not similar, him likely having these types of conversations and revelations while hiding out from swarms of admirers at a Los Angeles mansion, and me usually having them in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on a Thursday night. But when the song comes on, and I sing the words, I am aware of myself and my longing for some sort that feeling—the feeling I used to get as a child—of everything being right.

– GG

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