Matt McBride: Lately I’ve been reading Terrance Hayes’s newest collection, Lighthead (Penguin, 2010). Hayes, who is the current Elliston Poet-in-Residence here at UC, is one the few poets who can use form—both conventional forms such as acrostics and found forms like Pecha Kucha (a sped-up Japanese version of Power Point)—to make poems stranger as opposed to using form to rein poems in. What I admire most of all in Hayes’s poetry, though, is its ability to stay in motion. Hayes poems are like wind-up search engines, moving through culture and integrating allusions ranging from Wallace Stevens to Elizabeth Cotten, from James Joyce to Tupac Shakur. Mixed with these allusions is the personal—indeed, Hayes collages a self from all these differing cultural representations of human existence and identity, and while doing so conveys his experience as an African American. Further, all this is accomplished with a language lithe enough to keep up with the speed of Hayes’s consciousness but substantial enough to support the significance of what he has to say. It is a poetry that can jump from “I’d rather have what my daddy calls ’skrimp.’/ He says ‘discrete’ and means the street/ just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive” to “that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry,” without skipping a beat or collapsing under the weight of its pronouncements.
If you’re interested in reading a more thorough review of Hayes’s Lighthead, check out Lynnell Edwards’s “A Chorus of Selves: Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead” from issue 8.1.
And if you happen to be in the Cincinnati area, make sure to attend Terrance Hayes’s talk about poetry on May 25 at 4:00 p.m. in the Elliston Poetry Room, 646 Langsam Library on the University of Cincinnati’s main campus.