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Against Which (New Voices) Paperback – October 31, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


“He cannot allow himself to forget the darkness, he is so given over to the honest and accurate rendering.” ―from the foreword by Gerald Stern

About the Author

ROSS GAY was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and grew up outside of Philadelphia. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and Atlanta Review, among other journals. Ross is a Cave Canem fellow and has been a Breadloaf Tuition Scholar. In addition to holding a Ph.D in American Literature from Temple University, he is a basketball coach, an occasional demolition man, a painter, and a faculty member at New England College’s Low-Residency MFA program.


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Product Details

  • Series: New Voices
  • Paperback: 92 pages
  • Publisher: Cavankerry; First Edition edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933880007
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933880006
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #422,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The newest addition to the CavanKerry Press 'New Poetry' series, "Against Which" showcases the poetic talent and highly original voice of Ross Gay as he explores such painful issues as physical brutality, carnality, violent loss, the transcendence of death, and grim aspects of human experience. His is a poetry that slams the attention of the reader with considerable force wrought with linguistic eloquence. The result is verse that lingers in the mind as such thoughtful and thought-provokingly illustrated images inevitably will. 'Leaving New Orleans': I'm leaving a city where the living and dead mix,/ when the dank summer air's reek is more ghost/than any town needs. The plane knifing through/night. I met someone here whose eyes drip/with the scars of some slaughter, the echo/whispering. There's a pain you can't even begin/to know. And 33,000 feet down, a human galaxy's/mute burn.
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Is poetry the genre that has the most fraught relationship with autobiography? It would seem not. There is an entire classification of poem just for confessing. There are entire poetries existing as testaments to experience and identity. My issue is that people compartmentalize what certain poetries are supposed to be doing. The poetry of autobiography can speak most emphatically to the condition a poet is born into. He or she has no choice to live in the world gay or as a woman or African-American or Native American. And it is through their experiences, through a singular examination of their identity, that they come upon insight and truth--a truth that can speak to the larger human condition. But to what degree must the poetry of autobiography remain faithful to and unfailing in its factuality? If it does not come directly from the poet's experience does that mean the poet is lying to us? I'm not sure if this is a resolvable question. I couldn't possibly read Marie Howe's What the Living Do if I thought she was fabricating her brother's death. However I may appreciate the fictional or the fantastical in poetry, I fear what I would feel about Howe's book if it weren't based on fact.

In terms of Ross Gay's Against Which, how should I incorporate what I take to be poems from an imagined speaker, or poems of an exaggerated truth, when it feels that one of the book's central events is Gay's father's death? The effect is not to cause a dissonance as fact runs against fiction. Instead, what I find is a book whose overwhelming argument is life. And the humanity that roots that life to us will use whatever means necessary to testify to its existence. Violence. Ego. Racism. Adoration. All sentiments, every sentiment is at play here.
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Ross Gay's book of poems, Against Which, begins with a forward from the legendary Gerald Stern explaining that the book we are about to read yolks together harsh, violent reality and softer, equally real, tenderness. By the time I finished two thirds of Against Which I found myself vehemently agreeing with the statement. There is something angry and aggressive in many of Gay's poems, but there are also subtle (and not so subtle) moments of tenderness and love. Often times both sides of the spectrum manifest themselves at once.

After Stern's foreword (in which he devotes space for a full transcription of two of Ross's poems) we get into the poetry. The first line that Gay presents, "maybe, since you're something like me", sets the tone for the rest of the book. I got the feel that he intends to treat me as a kindred spirit and so I buckled up and let him take me on this ride. The poetry shines particularly bright like diamonds (Gay seems to especially like diamonds, using the image in multiple poems) when it feels autobiographical. In one poem he addresses what it's like growing up as a half African American in the United States. We see Gay repressing his anger when he shares an experience of being jeered at for keeping the company of a white girl. After this he arrives home to his white mother who has made sloppy joes--as American as apple pie--from scratch for dinner. He walks home with fists balled in his pockets, but doesn't mention the incident to his mother.

The entire first segment explores ideas of unfairness and the anger and gratitude that the unfair can elicit. In "Hernia" he writes an ode to basketball, shamelessly telling the sport, "I love you". In this poem he explores the depth of love he feels once something he values is taken away (even if only for a month).
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