“Pay Attention to What You Love and Share It”: Ross Gay Demystifies Poetry

Many Andover English instructors use the work of Gay in their

Reading “An Abundance of Public Toilets” from a collection of short essays called “The Book of Delights,” visiting writer Ross Gay elicited laughter and applause from the Andover community. In addition to the humorous essays, Gay read aloud poems and initiated profound conversation with his audience in his reading last Friday in Kemper Auditorium, according to Eric Wang ’25

“I was surprised by how relatable he was. I know a lot of his poems are down to Earth, but I was surprised by how cool he was in general. He’s very in-tune with the audience and could vibe with the entire room… The remarks he read during the reading. He didn’t strictly adhere to what he wrote and made small comments here and there where he found appropriate. It felt more natural,” said Wang.

Audience member Chloe Kim ’25 echoed Wang’s comment about the accessibility of Gay’s presentation, elaborating on how he moved away from presenting poetry as an esoteric or “high-sounding” genre.

“Seeing him as a poet demystifying poetry, making it more accessible for people made me connect and feel the same way. Sensing the relatability was very cool because this is the first time I went to a poetry reading… Poetry isn’t some abstract, high-sounding effort. He deals with deep human and profound things and drowns it in concrete detail. This is something I took away for my own writing as well,” said Kim.

Many of Andover’s English teachers included Gay’s writing in their curriculum. For example, Claire Wang ’26 created an English video project incorporating her favorite poem by Gay — “Ode to the Fig Tree on Ninth and Christian.” Wang appreciated the welcoming and casual nature of Gay’s reading.

“It felt so wholesome and cute to see people not being against each other and people being together to enjoy something so simple — eating figs. It reminds me of my grandma’s community back in China. Everyone knew each other, shared fruit and the grandpas smoked together,” said Claire.

Eric also touched on the emotional nuance that Gay conveyed through his reading, such as comparing the tragedy of death with the wistful happiness of life.

“He read a lot from his ‘Book of Delights.’ It made me feel delighted, but there were also some other different emotions mixed together. There were brief moments he talked about someone’s death, but at the same time, you could also feel the joy that person brought into the world, so you’re not completely sad either,” said Wang.

After reading several of his poems, Gay hosted a question and answer session with the audience. He believed the session gave him an opportunity to listen to the audience — a connection he described as “beautiful.” Overall, Gay aimed to help students develop a sense of care and wonder around poetry.

“Someone asked a question about performance and I said one of the ways you learn how to read is to listen to the audience. It’s not just the audience listening to you but also you listening to the audience. During the Q&A session afterwards, we were trying hard to listen to each other, which was so beautiful. Reading can sometimes be like that… [I encourage students to] pay attention to what you love and share it,” said Gay.