cover image Be Holding: A Poem

Be Holding: A Poem

Ross Gay. Univ. of Pittsburgh, $17 trade paper (86p) ISBN 978-0-82296-623-4

The brilliant fourth book from Gay, his first since winning the National Book Critics Circle Award with 2015’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, continues his now-signature inquiry into feeling. Shaped as a single poem in a long sentence of center-justified couplets, the drama of this unfolding sentence is impeccable, a suspension that mirrors its subject: basketball Hall-of-Famer Julius Erving’s midair “baseline scoop” in the 1980 NBA finals. An invocation of a video of Erving opens the poem’s investigation into flight, falling, and Black genius: “[H]ave you ever decided anything/ in the air?” Gay asks in an interjection. In the space of that air, he crafts a book of associative digression, exploring photography, his own upbringing, and the afterlife of slavery in the U.S. “[T]he cotton, the unshared crop,/ let’s hereon call it what it is,” he writes, “loot, plain and simple,/ which, too,// my great grandfather’s body was,/ loot, and his life, loot.” When, in interjections and asides to the reader, a period does appear, it is not as a halt or a command but a gesture of care: “But let’s breathe first./ We’re always holding our breath.// Let’s stop and breathe, you and me.” This extraordinary book offers an unforgettable flight from the conventional boundaries of the sentence. (Sept.)