Adoring the fleet world

What struck me most about poet Ross Gay, during a Q&A at Smith College this afternoon, was his response to many questions: a huge smile, a pause, and then a thoughtful “I don’t know.”

When people asked his intentions in any particular poem, and stated what they themselves had taken from it, he often answered, “Maybe. I like that way of looking at it. Sure. I don’t know.” He seemed to have a poet’s need to express himself via experience and poetry itself, rather than metadiscourse.

Only when he entered the “thinginess” of things, escaping from intellectualizing, did he light up and suddenly begin speaking. His comments were full of people, basketball, experimental teaching methods, making meals together with friends, gardening, mulberry birdshit, making puppets. Nouns. Actions.

He did, however, have wonderful comments about his newest book, A Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, and the drive behind it.

“Isn’t that what we do, to write poems we wish were in the world?” he said, when asked if he writes for any particular group in society. “Really what I’m doing is assuming other people have similar hopes and fears and desires [as me].” He said he never assumes people will read his poems, that it’s always a surprise.

He spoke a great deal about the vitality of writing what we love: but that there’s a risk in doing so.

“I’ve spent a lot of time writing against things, things that I don’t want. But it’s also important to write about love.”

Asked about the relationship in his poetry of joy and loss, he said, “Maybe that’s the way I’m made up, to adore things because of the going-away-ness of them. Even the title, it’s about wanting to adore the fleet world.”

“To adore things is also to make space for others to adore them. In my poems, I want to love people. And the earth, and other things, but – people.”

“What I notice about my grad students, is that there’s a reticence – it makes you vulnerable, to love something. Sometimes people think love is not rigorous, joy is not rigorous in the way critique is. But they don’t realize that love can be critical.”

“Good feelings are never just good feelings. Joy is joy to me because it contains sorrow. Joy is a complex feeling, it’s rich.”

In perhaps my favorite comment of the evening, he added, “Writing with profound attendance requires that we see fractures in things. It’s not just all joy, joy, joy, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful all the time. It just isn’t.”

Asked how he sits with sorrow, he said, “I’m still learning that. Part of writing this book is recognizing that there’s an aversion to sadness. An abiding aversion to sadness. It’s like self-mutilation.”

Currently, he’s working on a “Book of Delights,” a series of mini-essays or prose poems on delight that he tries to write daily. He dug into his bag to read us a gem of a prose poem in progress, titled “Irrepressibles” and detailing an escaped amaranthus plant poking up from the asphalt, attended by bumble bees (ballerina bees, Gay called them) and his memory of the “irrepressible” intellectualizing of his bookish father: that by the laws of physics, the bumblebee cannot fly. “That’s impossible!” exclaims his father, pointing to a ballerina bee waltzing by.

Gay also spoke at length of his experimental teaching style. He values play, and runs a course where students make puppets, or sing, or discuss their dreams with one another, then choose the dream with the best narrative elements and create a three-minute performance. Gay described his class as exercise for the imagination.

As a a boy, he said he didn’t like to read, but rather to play sports and play pranks – like leaving fruit in his locker on Friday to attract clouds of fruit flies by Monday. At home, he remembers hearing through his headphones, as he read the back of an album cover, his father say to his mother: “At least he’s reading something.

He described his admiration for a particularly creative basketball maneuver by famous player Dr. J (Julius Erving). Gay stood up, tall as a beanpole, to act out the maneuver. He explained how Dr. J’s layup, dodging around two top-class defenders and coming in from the back of the baseboard, resembles poetry: one can’t go in a certain direction, because there’s a brick wall, so another route must be found.

“Duende,” said a member of the audience.

“Duende,” agreed Ross Gay, and laughed.

Water Street

I have a new chapbook of poems coming out from Finishing Line Press. Very exciting!

The collection is called Water Street and explores the tension between freedom and domesticity. I spoke more about the book in this interview.

Of the book, poet Doug Anderson, author of The Moon Reflected Fire, Horse Medicine and other books, said

Naila Moreira is a natural born pantheist. Her day job is writing articles on sustainability of the environment and her poetry is reflexively in love with the earth. The health and sickness of our souls is held tenderly in this lover’s touch. There is no digging out of meaning: it is there if we are able to see it: our “high journeys” will take us “Pole to pole, senseless and invincible, great arcs, like the travelings of the stars.” A fine book with more love than pain and pain held lovingly.

The collection will be out in March, and you can preorder it by clicking here or on the cover image above.

A few sample poems: Frogs, Tractatus, and Lines from Base Camp. The beautiful cover image is by photographer Stephen Petegorsky.

*

Update: Poet Deborah Gorlin also has graciously given a thoughtful review:

In these urgently engaged poems, the natural world serves as witness and accomplice, muse and mirror, companion and liberator. Hearth and home chafe against wildness, habitats of freedom and promise and untrammeled exploration. Domesticity and desire duke it out in the poet’s quest for profound experiences nothing short of cosmic. By the end of the book, the drama calms, and opposites reconcile, as the poet puts her faith in the instinctive wisdom, mystery and contradictions of the heart, “a dark water that shines.”