Thursday 9 April 2020

Ross Day: The Book of Delights

I’ll postpone reviewing another television series until next week, in favour of a book of essays by Ross Day. Alright, these are not fiction, but they have many of its elements: character, emotional insight, inward thoughts, relationships. The author is someone who has published three books of poetry. One can think of poetry as the founding mode of fiction.

There are 102 essays in this book, most of them a couple of pages long. Essay number 10, called “Writing by Hand,” (pp. 31-33), starts with the poet Derek Walcott giving a class on the writing of poetry. He asked people in the class who wrote by hand and who wrote by computer. Some people raised their hands to indicate that they wrote by computer, and Walcott said in his voice which Ross Gay describes as “mellifluous and curt,” that they should leave the workshop. So they gathered their things and started off down the hall. But before they got too far, Wallcott called them back: “C’mon, c’mon, I’m just making a point.” Ross Gay then reflects on what this point might have been. He says he writes his poetry and most of his essays by hand, but he also writes prose by computer. He says that computer writing can make words disappearable by use of the delete button, which may be best for “a good deal of florid detritus,” that can occur.  But maybe these preliminaries shouldn’t just disappear because they have occurred on “the weird path towards what you have come to know, which is called thinking, which is what writing is” (pp. 31-33).

Another lovely essay is number 47, “The Sanctity of Trains” (pp. 134-135). Here Ross Gay reflects that when they are on trains, people often leave their bags and other stuff unattended for longish intervals, maybe to go to the washroom, or to the café several carriages away. On one train journey he noticed his neighbour, “across the aisle and one row up,” disappear “for a good twenty minutes, her bag wide open, a computer peeking out.” He calls the phenomenon “trust.”  He writes that all through our social lives we are “in the midst of an almost constant, if subtle, caretaking: “letting someone else go first. Helping with the heavy bags. Reaching what’s too high, or what’s been dropped.” He finishes his essay like this. “This caretaking is our default mode and its always a lie that convinces us to act or believe otherwise. Always.”
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