Be Holding: A Poem

Through four books of poetry and an essay collection (the aptly named Book of Delights, one of Shelf Awareness's Best Books of 2019), Ross Gay has proven his ability to ramble to good effect. His winding, conversational poems often expand far beyond where they begin, and his book-length poem Be Holding is no exception. It begins as a paean to "Dr. J" Julius Erving, whose basketball wizardry Gay confesses to watching in slo-mo video clips in the wee hours. But it soon draws in not only the other pros on the court but Gay's own experience playing summer basketball, "all that Negro gathering/ and celebration and care and delight."

Gay goes on to explore several photographs portraying Black people and their pain: one Pulitzer Prize-winning image displayed for white audiences who are "mostly not noticing," and another of a Black woman standing in a doorway with a young boy. These images lead Gay to muse on the white gaze, sharecropping, the violence continually done to Black bodies in the U.S., and the ways in which he might himself be "a docent/ in the museum of black pain." His expansive gaze, though, is as intent on joy as it is on suffering, and he writes about the boy holding an origami bird, which leads to dreams of flight, constellations and "all the beloving/ that is the child." Gay's poem asks urgent questions ("how do we be?") and provides, at least, a way toward a hope, if not an answer: "we in here/ talking about joy." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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