Ross Gay Wins the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

American poet Ross Gay, winner of the 216 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

American poet Ross Gay, winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

The American poet Ross Gay ( 1974 – ) has won a lot of plaudits for his 2015 book Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude which won the 2016 Tufts Poetry Award, and earlier tonight, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry . It had been short-listed earlier for the 2015 National Book Award but lost out to Robin Coste Lewis’s The Voyage of The Sable Venus.

I first discovered Gay through a chapbook jointly written by Gay and his friend, the poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil ( 1974 – ), a much admired poet in her own right. Their chapbook, Lace & Pyrite – Letters from Two Gardens, published in 2014 by Organic Weapon Arts, planted itself in me with a taproot I can’t pull out. Its simple intimacies, grounded in both poets’ abiding love of their gardens, this invisible parade/ of dying and bloom, as Gay says in one of the poems, makes so real and visible the beauty that grows and dies each year around us, a beauty Gay and Nezhukumatathil remind me to cherish and see with a poet’s eye.

Here is a winter poem by Gay and a spring poem by Nekhukumatathil:
And yesterday,
looking from my chilly kitchen
over the garden ice-slicked and shining:
crumpled tufts of asparagus fronds
slumbering beneath the cherry tree;
the knuckled grape vine gripping
its rickety fence like a fighter
between rounds. Strange,

then, when the full summer bloom –
not just half-waft, whiff or hint –
but the giddy lilac gust, honeysuckle gale,
gaudy burst whole of rugose rose
sticker-thick and grabby;
the drag and flash of the apple’s giddy show,
crinoline or crepe (words the meaning of which
I don’t even know!), blowsing like a dancer’s skirt;
when ruckus and sweet and plain good like this
my good friend came to me,
some fragrant winter flower now,
his blend of incense and body
and wool overcoat frayed at the sleeves,
while a gaze of ice made all the bones of my garden shine.

Ross Gay from Lace & Pyrite, Organic weapon Arts, 2014
American poet Aimee Nexhukumatathil

American poet Aimee Nexhukumatathil

No shadows here, only mud.
Praise the caked up trowel, hand rake,
and grass scissor. I want to kiss each crumble
of sunbaked earth as my son's welcome iris
and drunk ants whirl-rush over each juicy peony bud.
After warm rains come the spring peepers shivering
out of the mud and sitting half in, half out of a puddle.
You must know the bees have come early
this year too: I see them visit aster, sweet Williams,
bleeding hearts, and azalea blossoms hardy enough
to not have crisped with the last late frost. Whatever light
bees give off after the last snow, I hold up to you now.

         I cannot explain the click-step of beetles.
You are on your own for thqat. I grew up with patience
for soil and stars. Lace & pyrite. I believe
in an underworld littered with gems.
In another life, I have to. Sometimes I lose track
of all the bees and their singing.

          You thought I said stinging.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil from Pyrite & Lace, Organic Weapon Arts, 2014

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