5 Questions with Ross Gay
Vermont Studio Center: Do you have any routines or rituals while you work?
Ross Gay: I don’t have any interesting rituals, I’m sorry to say. I’ve noticed myself procrastinating a good bit, cleaning the house or doing laundry when I’m planning on getting down to work. That might be sort of like a ritual, the way the neighbor cat, when she visits, will kind of turn a few circles on my chest, looking around, mushing my shirt around, before plopping down to rest for a while.
VSC: What material/tool/item could you not work without?
RG: I have a very hard time writing without a pen or pencil and some kind of paper—I’m a writer after all! It’s not a special pen or special paper or special notebook. I do get into the feel of given pens time to time, and I might even try to assign them some kind of mystical properties (“Oooh, yeah, the Bic 280 ZX is really doing it for me, let me buy another 500 of those!), but then I forget where it is and borrow a pen from the coffee shop and that one works just as good.
VSC: What medium outside of your own influences you the most?
RG: I don’t know that I have one medium that most influences me—I’m moved by photographs, film, paintings, sculpture, installations, dance. Oh, dance…that might be it. But music, too, means everything to me. And so many other things that are maybe media in some sense of the world also influence me, probably just as much as the aforementioned forms: things like gardening and basketball and stand-up comedy. I’m ruining your very sound and precise question to tell you I have no precise answer, that I am influenced by it all.
VSC: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
RG: I don’t know, I really don’t know. I like the advice to always receive a basketball in a hop, so that you can use either pivot foot. I’m glad for the football coach in my imagination (I don’t know if he actually existed, but let’s pretend) who told me not to hit with my head. And hallelujah to the advice to prune your peach trees open enough that a bird can fly through. But for the time being I’ll land on this little anecdote: my college painting teacher Barney, seeing a big sloppy canvas I put together, which I was quite proud of having put together, ripped the canvas off the stretcher, explaining to me how it was loose and baggy, how it had to be pulled snug, how the corners had to be perfect—all of which he showed me, with his hands, how to do. I hated him for a little while for criticizing the little thing I made and was proud of. But he was just being honest and showing me how to make something well. I love that.
VSC: Karaoke is a Saturday night tradition at VSC. If you could choose any song ever written, what would your dream karaoke performance be?
RG: That’s easy. Luther Vandross’s rendition of “A House is Not a Home.”
Ross Gay is a poet based out of Bloomington, Indiana. He was a Visiting Writer in September 2014.