March 28, 2016 
By: Jessica Tower 

The poets January Gill O’Neil and Ross Gay read at Salem State University (SSU) on March 24, 2016 at 7:30pm in Vets Hall in the Ellison Campus Center as a part of the SSU Writer’s Series. The next Writer’s Series event will be held at Salem State on April 20, 2016 from 6-8pm in the MLK Jr. Room in the Ellison Campus Center. At that event, graduate students will read from their works of creative writing.

January Gill O’Neil, who is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival (which will be held in downtown Salem from April 29-May 1 this year), read first. Her next book, Rewild, is due out in 2018. Her previous two books were published in 2009 (Underlife) and 2014 (Misery Islands). Misery Islands is the book she read from at the SSU Writer’s Series event. This book is “about going through a divorce and transitions,” as she stated. The poems she read were “In the Company of Women” (which discussed going out for coffee with a friend to help get through a divorce), “Body Politic” (which had the wonderful line “no one but our lover can read the map to our hurting”), “The Blower of Leaves” (which was about doing yardwork without a husband), “How to Love” (in which she used her name [January] as she tends to do at times in her poetry), “Shampoo” (which was for her daughter), “The Rookie” (which was for her biracial son and had the powerful lines “but you’re not really black” and “where he’ll always play defense”), “Prayer” (which discussed being grateful for the little things, a lot like Ross Gay’s poetry), and the hilarious “What My Kids Will Write About Me in Their Future Tell-All Book.”

Ross Gay had been at SSU since 9am the day of the reading speaking to college students in their classrooms about poetry. He grew up in Pennsylvania, got his PhD from Temple University, and teaches at Indiana University. He has won a multitude of awards for his third book of poetry, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, which is the book he read four poems from on the evening of the event.

Gay began his reading with a rap song and this flowed into the way he spoke, almost spoken word-esque. He seemed very comfortable on stage. His book is about seeing the happiness and gratefulness in the little and even the bad things. The first poem he read was “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian,” which was about a fig tree that everyone took from even though it was not supposed to grow there. All of the poems he read were very humorous. The second poem he read was “Sharing with the Ants” in which he discussed a multitude of topics at first, then goes on to say, “but that’s not at all what I’m talking about,” where he switched gears and went into sharing fruit with ants. One of the powerful lines from that poem was “both of our mouths sugared.” The last poem he read was a thank you poem, which is titled the same as the book. In this poem, he discussed a community orchard project which he works for and said that we should create a “community in which we try to love each other.” One of the powerful lines in this poem was “I can’t stop my gratitude.”

The final part of the evening ended with a question and answer period. Some of the questions were the following. Rod Kessler asked a question Gay, “would you take a recording of the poems in this book or the actual book into the future?” Gay answered that he would take his recording with him because “it comes from the body.” The next question was “does being in the classroom influence your poetry?” Gill O’Neil answered “every experience I have influences what I do.” Gay responded “I love teaching” and added that “it feels good for my soul” and helps him to produce poetry. One of the final questions was “how has your poetry grown and evolved since you first started professionally writing?” Gill O’Neil answered that she “reads a lot” and this has helped her to “play with form.” Gay answered, “When I started out, I was really interested in mastery, now I’m so uninterested in mastery. I fiddle around.”

We hope to see you at the next Writer’s Series event!