February 22, 2019

Claremont Delights: a photo essayette

The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay

This month, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights came out. I have been lucky enough to hear some excerpts in advance. Two days ago, I saw 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award winner, Yona Harvey, post about Gay’s new book on Instagram. Nary 30 seconds went by before I had it coming my way. (I know, I know. Amazon is the worst thing to happen to independent bookstores, and I’m sorry, oh poetry gods. But one of Claremont’s few shortcomings is its lack of one. Normally I shop at Vroman’s. Honest.)

In the preface, Gay outlines the project of the book: “I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful . . . I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for a year; begin and end on my birthday, August 1; draft them quickly; and write them by hand.”

In late February 2016, the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards were announced, and Gay won the former. He spent a week in residence at Claremont Graduate University that October, which fell within the year of Gay’s project. Two essayettes in the collection take place in Claremont.

There is something extraordinarily special—if not magical—that comes with visiting a place where your favorite writers have been and written about. Walden Pond, Dickens’s house—even 221B Baker Street, where a fictional character lived—are all etched into the consciousness of anyone who has loved these authors. There are a few places, and a few characters, from his week-in-residence that Ross Gay writes about in The Book of Delights: “House Party” and “Hummingbird.”

Here they are.

p.51: “A guy named Milt who ran around the halls of Cal Tech as a kid”

Milt Wilson, with 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award winner, Patricia Smith

p.51: “The place, like so many retirement communities, has gardens in the name.”

Mt. San Antonio Gardens

p.53: “Yesterday I visited a class of about twenty-five students at La Verne University in California.”

p.53: “we were heading out to get some food at a Greek place”

Argo’s, a Greek place in La Verne, California

p.55: “Today as I was walking down Foothill Boulevard to do laundry . . . While I’m writing this, sitting on the curb outside the Laundromat, a young woman walked by wearing a winter cat hat with pointy ears, walking a mini Doberman pinscher wearing matching pink booties, skittering across the asphalt. I swear to you.”

Claremont Laundromat, off Foothill Boulevard

Though I could not find the woman in the winter cat hat, nor the Doberman in pink booties, I felt it necessary to include them in this excerpt. She’s out there with her pink cat hat, and that—my friends—is enough.

I took the liberty of revisiting these places—in part for me, so I can reminisce about that week—and in part for you, with the hopes that you will be able to do what David Foster Wallace (who, coincidentally, also lived in Claremont) discussed in his 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College, “This is Water.”

“It will actually be within your power,” Wallace said, “to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”

In a recent interview on NPR, Gay told Ari Shapiro that “this book sort of really helped me to clarify that my objective in my work is to sort of study joy complicatedly.”

We should all work to study more joy.

—Emily Schuck