Terrance Hayes: Redefining the Art of Verse and Voice

Terrance Hayes

Born on this day November 18, 1971, Terrance Hayes is indisputably a significant figure in contemporary American literature, his contribution to the world of poetry is both profound and transformative. Hayes, a National Book Award winner and MacArthur Fellow, has consistently demonstrated a remarkable ability to redefine the art of verse and voice through his work. His poetry is characterized by its innovative, expressive, and emotive nature, which resonates with a broad audience.

In 2010, Hayes published Lighthead, a collection of poetry that forever altered the landscape of modern verse. Lighthead is an embodiment of Hayes’ unique approach to poetry – one that combines traditional poetic forms with contemporary themes and explorations of identity, race, and culture. The collection is filled with an eclectic mix of voices and styles, reflecting Hayes’ belief in the power of poetry to articulate the full range of human experience.

Hayes’ work in Lighthead is a testament to his mastery of language and his capacity to breathe new life into the art form. He uses language in ways that are unexpected and challenging while maintaining an absolute clarity of voice. The result is a collection that is as intellectually stimulating as it is emotionally resonant.

Terrance Hayes doesn’t just write poetry; he shapes it, molds it and infuses it with a vibrant, pulsating life force. Through his innovative use of form, his weaving together of diverse themes and characters, and his unwavering commitment to the power of language, Hayes is redefining what it means to be a poet in the twenty-first century. His work doesn’t just push boundaries; it obliterates them, making space for new perspectives and voices in the world of poetry.

Terrance Hayes’ impact on modern poetry is undeniable. With Lighthead, he has shown us that poetry can be as varied and complex as the human experience itself. His unique approach to verse and voice is a beacon of innovation in the literary world, one that continues to inspire and challenge poets and readers alike.

What it Look Like

Dear Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I too like it raw,
I don’t especially care for Duke Ellington
at a birthday party. I care less and less
about the shapes of shapes because forms
change and nothing is more durable than feeling.
My uncle used the money I gave him
to buy a few vials of what looked like candy
after the party where my grandma sang
in an outfit that was obviously made
for a West African king. My motto is
Never mistake what it is for what it looks like.
My generosity, for example, is mostly a form
of vanity. A bandanna is a useful handkerchief,
but a handkerchief is a useless-ass bandanna.
This only looks like a footnote in my report
concerning the party. Trill stands for what is
truly real though it may be hidden by the houses
just over the hills between us, by the hands
on the bars between us. That picture
of my grandmother with my uncle
when he was a baby is not trill. What it is
is the feeling felt seeing garbagemen drift
along the predawn avenues, a sloppy slow rain
taking its time to the coast. Milquetoast
is not trill, nor is bouillabaisse. Bakku-shan
is Japanese for a woman who is beautiful
only when viewed from behind. Like I was saying,
my motto is Never mistake what it looks like
for what it is
else you end up like that Negro
Othello. (Was Othello a Negro?) Don’t you lie
about who you are sometimes and then realize
the lie is true? You are blind to your power, Brother
Bastard, like the king who wanders his kingdom
searching for the king. And that’s okay.
No one will tell you you are the king.
No one really wants a king anyway.

-Terrance Hayes

Curated by Jennifer

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