A garden of gratitude: Poet Ross Gay

"I've learned a lot from working with trees. More important, I've worked with people on imagining how to love each other."

Ross Gay teaches in the creative writing program at Indiana University and works with the Bloomington Com­munity Orchard, a publicly owned orchard maintained by volunteers. The orchard’s harvest is available to everyone in the community. Gay’s books include Against Which (2006), Bringing the Shovel Down (2011), and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 2015.

Can you say something about the stories behind some of your poems, like “Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt” or “Feet” or “Armpit”?

The “Buttoning” poem comes from the very real and mundane pleasure of buttoning a shirt. I was in the mind of Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who would say things like, “This is not something to take lightly.” As for “Armpit,” I was meditating on the beauty and sexiness of someone’s hairy armpit. The poem traveled to a place that wonders where desire originates and about the overlapping of desires.