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Arts & Life

Book Review: 'Catalog Of Unabashed Gratitude,' Ross Gay

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Tomorrow, the National Book Award winners will be announced, and Ross Gay will find out if his latest poetry collection, "Catalog Of Unabashed Gratitude," will be among them. Our reviewer, Tess Taylor, says win or lose, the poems themselves are like one big celebration bursting with joy.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: The book starts with an ode to a local fig tree and weaves outward, including in its sweep praise for buttons, compost piles, Gay's father's ashes, insects, the birds, Gay's feet, Gay's neighbors and the world. Gay's poems burst forth in leggy, unexpected ways, zooming in on legs furred with pollen or soil breast-stroking into the xylem. Gay's praise is Whitmanesque, full of manure, mulberry-stained purple bird poop, dirty clothes and hangovers, but also the pleasure of bare feet, of pruning a peach tree, of feeding a neighbor.

In the poem "Burial," Gay sprinkles his father's ashes on the roots of new trees, both hoping to coax him back and celebrating the magic dust our bodies become. Thank you for what inside my friends' love bursts like a throng of roadside goldenrod, he writes. (Reading) But also, thank you for not smoking meth with your mother.

In one poem, a robin tells Gay to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones, the whole rusty brass band of gratitude. Whether you're feeling like you have an whole brass band of gratitude or if you're feeling like you only have rusty horn, read this book. Gay even thanks you for reading it, saying I can't stop my gratitude, which includes, dear reader, you for staying here with me, for moving your lips just so as I speak.

CORNISH: The book is "Catalog Of Unabashed Gratitude" by Ross Gay. Poet Tess Taylor had our review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.