Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast

Hear from the editors of Poets & Writers Magazine as they offer a behind-the-scenes preview of the new issue, talk with contributors and authors featured in the magazine, and discuss the lighter side of writing, publishing, and the literary arts in this decidedly DIY podcast.

Episode 23: Ross Gay, Justin Phillip Reed, Cowboy Poetry & More

In the twenty-third episode of Ampersand, editor in chief Kevin Larimer and senior editor Melissa Faliveno discuss the inspiring work of poet and essayist Ross Gay; the National Book Award–winning poetry of Justin Phillip Reed; and the poetry, music, dancing, and folk art exhibits that have made the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering a cultural institution in Elko, Nevada, for the past thirty-five years. Gay is one of seven authors featured in this issue’s interview series “Portraits of Inspiration,” along with Sally Wen Mao, Morgan Parker, and others; Reed is among the ten poets who are featured in “Wilder Forms,” our fourteenth annual look at some of the year’s best debut poets; and Thea Prieto’s article on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is the lead story in our News and Trends section.

00:01 Ross Gay reads an excerpt from The Book of Delights.

The portrait-interview with Ross Gay, as seen in the new issue. Photo by Natasha Komoda.

04:28 One of the seven authors featured in this issue’s “Portraits of Inspiration” is poet and essayist Ross Gay, whose new collection of essays, The Book of Delights, is out in February from Algonquin Books. The Book of Delights is the result of Gay’s commitment to write a short essay about “something delightful” every day for a year. “It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar,” he writes in a preface to the book. “Or maybe it was something like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.” We asked Gay to share some of that delight with us, and he graciously agreed to read two essays from the new book. 

Justin Phillip Reed, author of Indecency (Coffee House Press), winner of the National Book Award in Poetry. Portait by Eugene Smith.

10:50 “Wilder Forms,” our fourteenth annual look at debut poets by Dana Isokawa, features interviews with ten poets on their inspirations, influences, and writer’s block remedies, as well as the paths to publication each followed on the way to releasing that all-important first book. You can read the feature in full online and listen to original audio recordings of the poets reading from their work, but we wanted to share a few of them here, including Justin Phillip Reed reading from his new collection, Indecency; Fatimah Asghar reading from If They Come For Us; Analicia Sotelo reading from Virgin; and José Olivarez reading from Citizen Illegal

Cowboy poet Joel Nelson recites “Lasca,” a poem by Frank Desprez, at the 2013 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Courtesy of Western Folklife Center.

19:04 In the News and Trends section of our new issue, Thea Prieto takes a look at the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held each January in Elko, Nevada. The event attracts poets, musicians, and folklorists for “six days of poetry, music, dancing, folk art exhibits, and workshops on everything from storytelling and rodeo swing dancing to rawhide braiding and spit cooking.” Kevin and Melissa listen to cowboy poet Joel Nelson recite a dramatic poem by Frank Desprez and a song by Caitlin Belem and her father, David Romtvedt. 

30:04 The cohosts look forward to 2019 and vow to take a little extra time to celebrate the kind of joy and delight that Ross Gay writes about in his new collection—starting with the pleasure of bringing each episode of Ampersand to you, dear listeners. Thank you for inviting us into your ears. 

This episode is brought to you in part by the Key West Literary Seminar, which welcomes readers and writers to a subtropical island city with an intriguing literary heritage. Programs include the annual seminar and writers' workshop program, scholarships for teachers and librarians, awards for emerging writers, and an online audio archive with more than 500 unique recordings. Learn more at

Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast is a production of Poets & Writers, Inc., and is edited and mixed by Melissa Faliveno. Music for this episode is provided by YACHT, Broke for Free, and the Insider. Comments or suggestions? E-mail