“Terrance Hayes is a poet who reflects on race, gender, and family in works marked by formal dexterity and a reverence for history and the artistry of crafting verse. Employing an almost improvisational approach to writing, Hayes conjoins fluid, often humorous wordplay with references to popular culture both past and present in his subversion of canonical poetic forms.” —MacArthur Foundation
“First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.” —Cornelius Eady
One of the most compelling voices in American poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of five books of poetry; How to Be Drawn (2015), longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; Lighthead (2010), winner of the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry; Wind in a Box, winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic, winner of the National Poetry Series, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Muscular Music, winner of both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He has been a recipient of many other honors and awards, including a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, two Pushcart selections, eight Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Guggenheim Foundation. His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Fence, The Kenyon Review, Jubilat, Harvard Review, and Poetry. His poetry has also been featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Lighthead, his most innovative collection, investigates how we construct experience, presenting “the light-headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time.” The citation for the National Book Award described it as a “dazzling mixture of wisdom and lyric innovation.” In Muscular Music, Hayes takes reader through a living library of cultural icons, from Shaft and Fat Albert to John Coltrane and Miles Davis. In Wind in a Box, he explores how identity is shaped by race, heritage, and spirituality, with the unifying motif being the struggle for freedom within containment. In Hip Logic, Hayes confronts racism, sexism, religion, family structure, and stereotypes with overwhelming imagery.
Hayes is an elegant and adventurous writer with disarming humor, grace, tenderness, and brilliant turns of phrase, very much interested in what it means to be an artist and a black man. He writes, “There are recurring explorations of identity and culture in my work and rather than deny my thematic obsessions, I work to change the forms in which I voice them. I aspire to a poetic style that resists style. In my newest work, I continue to be guided by my interests in people: in the ways community enriches the nuances of individuality; the ways individuality enriches the nuances of community.”
A professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Hayes lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and children.
Terrance Hayes is the author of How to Be Drawn; Lighthead, which won the 2010 National Book Award for poetry; Muscular Music, which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award; Hip Logic, winner of the 2001 National Poetry Series, and Wind in a Box. He is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania.
HOW TO BE DRAWN (2015)
In How to Be Drawn, his daring fifth collection, Terrance Hayes explores how we see and are seen. While many of these poems bear the imprint of Hayes’s background as a visual artist, they do not strive to describe art so much as inhabit it. Thus, one poem contemplates the principle of blind contour drawing while others are inspired by maps, graphs, and assorted artists. The formal and emotional versatilities that distinguish Hayes’s award-winning poetry are unified by existential focus. Simultaneously complex and transparent, urgent and composed, How to Be Drawn is a mesmerizing achievement.
LIGHTHEAD (Poetry, 2010)
“[A] new collection in which the political and the personal converge in innovative and beautiful ways. The deservedly acclaimed Hayes returns in his fourth book with the kinds of sly, twisting, hip, jazzy poems his fans have come to expect, but also with a new somberness of tone and mature caution. “You can spend your whole life / doing no more than preparing for life and thinking / ‘Is this all there is?'” warns the book’s opening poem. Later, in a book that thinks hard about fatherhood, family, and mortality, Hayes asks, “Who cannot think // Our elegies are endless endlessly and the words / We put to them too often unheard and hurried?” Elsewhere, Hayes treats memory with his signature wit: I believe, as the elephant must,/ that everything is punctured by the tusks of Nostalgia.” The book also contains a surprisingly effective series of poems based on a form called pecha kucha, which, Hayes explains, is a type of Japanese business presentation in which the presenter must riff on a series of slides or images; Hayes adapts this form by bracketing the title or slide he’s riffing on (“The Magic of Magic” and “The Function of Fiction” are two examples) and following with a four- or five-line stanza. The poems free-associate through their triggers, but images and themes satisfyingly resurface. Hayes, now entering mid-career, remains one of our best poets.” —Publisher’s Weekly
WIND IN A BOX (Poetry, 2006)
“In this searching follow-up to the acclaimed Hip Logic, Hayes bluntly concludes that “everyone/ is a descendant of slaves” and, more tentatively, wonders “if outrunning your captors is not the real meaning of Race?” A series of “Blue” poems (“The Blue Bowie,” “The Blue Terrance”) considers twentieth-century representations of race, culling wisdom, and impressions from poet-activist Amiri Baraka, filmmaker and performer Melvin Van Peebles. and even Dr. Seuss: “Blacks in one box. Blacks in two box / Blacks on / Blacks stacked in boxes stacked on boxes.” Utilizing a range of forms and voices—Dante’s terza rima, jerky blues in the spirit of Langston Hughes, Frostian lyrics, contemporary prose poems—Hayes brilliantly delivers the aeolian flux promised by the title: “a signature of wind, / my type-written handwriting reconfiguring the past.” —Publisher’s Weekly
GOD IS AN AMERICAN
I still love words. When we make love in the morning,
your skin damp from a shower, the day calms.
Schadenfreude may be the best way to name the covering
of adulthood, the powdered sugar on a black shirt. I am
alone now on the top floor pulled by obsession, the ink
on m fingers. Sometimes what I feel has a difficult name.
Sometimes it is like the world before America, the kin-
ship of God’s fools and guardians, of hooligans; the dreams
of mothers with no children. A word can be the boot print
in a square of fresh cement and the glaze of morning.
Your response to my kiss is, I have a cavity. I am in
love with incompletion. I am clinging to your moorings.
Yes, I have a pretty good idea of what beauty is. It survives
all right. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.
WIND IN A BOX (one)
This ink. This name. This blood. This blunder.
This blood. This loss. This lonesome wind. This canyon.
This / twin / swiftly / paddling / shadow blooming
an inch above the carpet-. This cry. This mud.
This shudder. This is where I stood: by the bed,
by the door, by the window, in the night / in the night.
How deep, how often / must a women be touched?
How deep, how often, have I been touched?
On the bone, on the shoulder, on the brow, on the knuckle:
Touch like a last name, touch like a wet match.
Touch like an empty shoe and an empty shoe, sweet
and incomprehensible. This ink. This name. This blood
and wonder. This box. This body in a box. This blood
in the body. This wind in the blood.
—from Wind in a Box
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