Terrance Hayes is a wonder. He is also a POET in every cell of his body. Poetry isn’t a compartment of his life, it IS his life. But that doesn’t mean he’s writing poems in isolation. He’s a husband and father, teacher and activist, using poetry to think and feel his way through the world. I just saw him at Hugo House in Seattle, talking about Linda Hull’s poems and reading some of his own, and it was electrifying to listen to him. Even though he’s a virtuoso, he isn’t after a gleaming finished product, something static. All his poems are a process: asking questions, thinking aloud, making hypotheses, trying out possibilities. Everything is at stake, and he’s willing to try on one possibility after another, to get it wrong, to fail. He’s a master craftsman, and it was a pleasure to hear him focus on that. He’s devoted to working hard–something that comes in part from his days as a basketball player. I came home energized, challenged, rededicated to working harder and better. Read him, listen, watch him online and in person.
Here’s the first poem of his I read that set me on fire. Makes me think of Frost: “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting.”
WIND IN A BOX
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 capet–. 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 woman 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.
Thank you for introducing me to this poet, Sharon. I love that the process is so visible in his poetry. It gives me courage to be a little less tidy.
Sharon, I so agree about Terrance. I find both him and his work so powerful and moving and inspiring. I’m interested to know about what he had to say about Lynda Hull, too. You probably know this: for YEARS, and I do mean YEARS, Dianne Blakely was trying to get a publisher for a collection of essays about Lynda’s poems. I’m not quite sure why nothing happened; all kinds of good people were involved. Yusef K had done or was going to do the introduction, I think. I think that maybe Graywolf was interested, and I’m not sure what the problems were–periodically Dianne email that she was still working on it. I never saw a final table of contents, but I assume Terrance has an essay in there, too. After Dianne died, I don’t know what became of the project, but I would like to know. In fact, I just came across my essay for the book today. I think mine was one of the few that hasn’t been published somewhere. I’ve never sent it out, for some reason, even though I think it’s quite publishable.
I didn’t know that about the book of essays. You might want to email Terrance Hayes about it–I think you can do that through his website. He talked about obsession, and the ways her poems gave him permission to follow that. He mentioned lists, repetitions, poems with the same title. It was fascinating.
I’ll do that, Sharon. His talk sounds fascinating.
Glad to know you are well and inspired in Seattle. I love that poem but haven’t explored his work further. I will now.
I think that the fact that he takes risks of his own, but stays in conversation with poets who came before is inspiring.
That is one dynamite poem.
In “The Golden Shovel,” first of all it’s the sheer audacity of taking a sacred text in American literature, which the Brooks’ poem surely is–and, more specifically, in African-American literature, because only a black poet would dare to do what Hayes does and Hayes is one of a very small number of those with the status to do it (and maybe here he’s claiming that status). And then to use it as he does, differently and brilliantly in both parts of the poem, to create this new thing, this poem, that only he could have written, which is in dialogue not just with Brooks but with, I think, all of American poetry. I, too, am just in awe.
I don’t even think it’s status, I think it’s openness and guts. That just seems to be who he is, questioning everything. He read a poem here that alludes to Walcott’s treatment of women, and I thought, “Thank you for that!” Nothing is off limits. It is so refreshing.
from Eileen Cleary: I think that the fact that he takes risks of his own, but stays in conversation with poets who came before is inspiring. And Pat, good lucky with your writing.