Ross Gay headshot and Inciting Joy book cover

Inciting Joy

Late in his fall 2022 book Inciting Joy, essayist and poet Ross Gay confronts criticism he’s received for the writing he’s done on Joy. Most of it amounts to, the author says: how can a black man write about flowers in a time like this?

Earlier on, he gives his answer: Sorrow doesn’t need any help; “I think sorrow’s gonna be just fine.”

It’s an energizing and beautiful collection. I strongly recommend it. I share my notes for future reference below.

My notes:

We think of joy as being without pain, but that’s not life. We think it unserious and Frivolous “but I t strikes me as a particularly dangerous fantasy – by which I also mean it is sad, so goddamn sad”

  • “joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another”
  • Zadie Smith says joy needs “the intolerable” to exist
  • Sorrow doesn’t need any help; “I think sorrow’s gonna be just fine.”
  • Waiting for Godot, we are all born “astride a grave”
  • Gardening is sharing and with health and potable water are things all should have access too, “life, though it is a gift, is not a privilege”
  • Seeds kept by those who love us without knowing us: “gardens archive that love”
  • Vandana Shiva we live “in dependence”
  • “Unworking technologies,” or innovations that aren’t supposed to work but mask some great plunder
  • “Poetry might make nothing happen”
  • Skateparks as “a kind of legal protest corral “
  • Laughter is one way we convey peaceability
  • “Laughter is our way of letting the universe know we agree with the passage of time”
  • Volta of sonnet in comedy
  • Emily Dickinson: “ if I feel physically as if the top of my head is taken off, I know that is poetry”
  • Shabbos goy for technology use
  • Rhizomatic learning recognises that learning is a complex process of sense-making to which each learner brings their own context and has their own needs.
  • Hoop Roots : Wideman
  • In Pickup basketball, you are a perpetual guest, calls 10 not a swarm but a “murmuration”
  • Philly authors he named includes Widemans, Wayward Lives by Saidiya Hartman (mentions the neighborhood that holds Seger park which was authors park from 1998-2006, his home park), and Don Belton
  • Called pickup basketball “plein air frottage” it is “kin-dom of joy” all cousin and negotiate
  • Melville’s Cereno is not just about racism and slavery but about worker revolt and unity
  • We are obscuring that we are living in “the ruins,”
  • Criticizes the “outcomes” section required of modern syllabus: “by definition if the learning is real, the outcomes are unfathomable”
  • Highly critical of university and the leaders and the “units,” as one administrator called students. Need university to become more like school (root word: leisure)
  • Moten: get together to learn how to get together
  • Says of “grit,” “a more capitalist concept I do not know”
  • “Good students” are usually the best trained and most compliant
  • “Inside the tumult of a system in the throes of collapse” of university and America
  • To poets, get past your “desire for mastery, for making it right or doing it well, because a poem isn’t like that.’ A poem is often naughty if not outright bad. Disobedient, at the least. Well-behaved, god please no. Hates the clothes you think it should wear. At its best, a good poem, like any good art, is unruly, insubordinate, uncoachable, insolent, and churlish. Surly sometimes, too. Knows your little rules inside and out and thumbs its nose. Sometimes a good poem just don’t wanna.”
  • He criticizes workshop, rare to get truly curious questions and feedback. He cautions against “I need more” like you’re “asking for more Parmesan on your spaghetti”
  • Dance: “We went free” from any burdens or any cops, even those who police whether you dance well enough or this or that
  • Biracial college football player who also is so well read
  • Eileen Myles in “Books I Want” on men digging deeper, men only react to “a woman, a queer or oddly behaving man”
  • Of “breaking down players”: “the desired outcome of this motive instruction…. In addition to some wins, is that the broken children, so completely internalize the techniques of breakage, that, in addition to deploying the techniques when we ourselves become coaches, teachers, lovers, parents, bosses, etc., we regulate each other and ourselves, at least as brutally as we were taught. We are never good enough we could always be better. We are deputized in our own unmaking, thirsty for approval, for whom to obey. At which point they’ve done what they were paid to do”
  • Frequently asked to speak about masculinity but he is hesitant to reinforce “the plague”of that “ridiculous and remedial binary” of masculine and feminine
  • “Deep in the lonely dream of our tangled life, and murdering the world to stay asleep” of false matching of masculinity and manhood
  • If poemsmake nothing happen is any more fitting than Gwendolyn brooks
  • “compassion, too, is a muscle. Which relies sometimes on this other muscle called courage.”
  • It was her time to pass, “which certainly flavors the sorrow, though it doesn’t take it off the stove”
  • “Grief is the metabolization of change”
  • Couples therapy: makes us uncomfortable and have to want to know we are wrong
  • Many equity gestures at institutional level are “More about laundering one’s image than changing one’s soul”
  • Stanley Kunitz: Remind me who I am
  • Author gives lots of music and poetry recos
  • The criticism he receives that amounts to: how can a black man write about flowers in a time like this? (Maybe this is my lede) “the more something is shared, the greater its value becomes” That’s not have gratitude for what has been taken or withheld, but that they can. The gift economy is about reciprocity and resiliency, not the “theft economy”, that’s extortion (232)
  • 2018 Guardian article: until 2015, English white enslavers were paid a reparations for giving up slaves, paid by those former slaves too
  • A definition of joy: holding each other through the sorrow
  • Haiti burnt Monsanto-donated seeds after earthquake
  • Toi Derricotte: “joy is an act of resistance”
  • I think that’s what the writer Toi Derricotte means, in her poem “The Telly Cycle,” when she says that “joy is an act of resistance.” The luminous, mycelial tethers between us, our fundamental connection to one another, the raft through the sorrow, the holding through the grief joy is, reminds us, again and again, that we belong not to an institution or a party or a state or a market, but to each other. Needfully so. Which we must practice, and study, and sing, and story, and dream, and celebrate. Belonging to each other as though our lives depended on it.”
  • Mycelial ballet

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