Poet Ross Gay has a single-minded focus: making the world a better place. Inciting Joy: Essays, a collection of 14 energetic reflections, investigates how to "make joy more available to us" and "how joy makes us act and feel," and displays Gay's gift for intensely observing the world around him, including his involvement in the creation of a community orchard in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., and his appreciation for the standup comedy of Richard Pryor. But the volume isn't a catalog of unalloyed pleasure. In "Through My Tears I Saw (Death: The Second Incitement)," Gay recounts the death of his father at age 58, a man with whom he had a difficult relationship, and his penultimate piece, "Grief Suite (Falling Apart: The Thirteenth Incitement)," surveys a wide range of male emotions and his own struggle with mental health issues.
Gay (The Book of Delights) concludes Inciting Joy with an essay on gratitude, describing Aretha Franklin's rendition of "Amazing Grace." One can almost hear the ecstatic voices of a gospel choir in Gay's admonition that "we belong not to an institution or a party or a state or a market, but to each other. Needfully so." It's a fitting ending to a consistently uplifting book. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer