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Terrance Hayes

1971–

Terrance Hayes was born in Columbia, South Carolina, on November 18, 1971. He received a BA from Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, where he studied painting and English and was an Academic All-American on the men’s basketball team, and an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh writing program.

Terrance Hayes is the author of eight collections of poetry, including American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (Penguin Poets, 2018), which received the 2019 Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award for poetry and was a finalist for the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry, the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, and was shortlisted for the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize; How to Be Drawn (Penguin Books, 2015), a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Poetry; Lighthead (Penguin, 2010), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006); Hip Logic (Penguin, 2002), which won the 2001 National Poetry Series and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Muscular Music (Tia Chucha Press, 1999), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

He is also the author of the collection, To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (Wave, 2018), which received the 2019 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism and was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Non-Fiction.

About his work, Cornelius Eady has said: "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."

He has received many honors and awards, including a Whiting Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, and three Best American Poetry selections, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2014, he was named a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017. He is currently Professor of English at New York University and resides in New York City.


Bibliography

Poetry

How to Be Drawn (Penguin Books, 2015) 
Lighthead (Penguin, 2010)
Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006)
Hip Logic (Penguin, 2002)
Muscular Music (Tia Chucha Press, 1999)

Criticism

To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (Wave Books, 2018)

Terrance Hayes
Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

By This Poet

17

At Pegasus

They are like those crazy women 
   who tore Orpheus
      when he refused to sing,

these men grinding
   in the strobe & black lights
      of Pegasus. All shadow & sound.

"I'm just here for the music," 
   I tell the man who asks me
      to the floor. But I have held

a boy on my back before.
   Curtis & I used to leap
      barefoot into the creek; dance

among maggots & piss,
   beer bottles & tadpoles
      slippery as sperm;

we used to pull off our shirts, 
   & slap music into our skin.
      He wouldn't know me now
	  
at the edge of these lovers' gyre, 
   glitter & steam, fire,
      bodies blurred sexless

by the music's spinning light.
   A young man slips his thumb
      into the mouth of an old one,

& I am not that far away.
   The whole scene raw & delicate 
      as Curtis's foot gashed

on a sunken bottle shard. 
   They press hip to hip,
      each breathless as a boy

carrying a friend on his back. 
   The foot swelling green
      as the sewage in that creek.

We never went back.
   But I remember his weight 
      better than I remember

my first kiss.
   These men know something
      I used to know.

How could I not find them
   beautiful, the way they dive & spill 
      into each other,

the way the dance floor
   takes them,
      wet & holy in its mouth.

What I Am

Fred Sanford's on at 12
& I'm standing in the express lane (cash only)
about to buy Head & Shoulders
the white people shampoo, no one knows
what I am. My name could be Lamont.
George Clinton wears colors like Toucan Sam,
the Froot Loop pelican. Follow your nose,
he says. But I have no nose, no mouth,
so you tell me what's good, what's god,
what's funky. When I stop
by McDonalds for a cheeseburger, no one
suspects what I am. I smile at Ronald's poster,
perpetual grin behind the pissed-off, fly-girl
cashier I love. Where are my goddamn fries?
Ain't I American? I never say, Niggaz
in my poems. My ancestors didn't
emigrate. Why would anyone leave
their native land? I'm thinking about shooting
some hoop later on. I'll dunk on everyone
of those niggaz. They have no idea
what I am. I might be the next Jordan
god. They don't know if Toni Morrison
is a woman or a man. Michael Jackson
is the biggest name in showbiz. Mamma se 
Mamma sa mamma ku sa, sang the Bushmen 
in Africa. I'll buy a dimebag after the game, 
me & Jody. He says, Fuck them white people 
at work, Man. He was an All-American 
in high school. He's cool, but he don't know 
what I am, & so what. Fred Sanford's on 
in a few & I got the dandruff-free head 
& shoulders of white people & a cheeseburger 
belly & a Thriller CD & Nike high tops 
& slavery's dead & the TV's my daddy-- 
   You big Dummy!
Fred tells Lamont.

Shafro

Now that my afro's as big as Shaft's 
I feel a little better about myself. 
How it warms my bullet-head in Winter,

black halo, frizzy hat of hair. 
Shaft knew what a crown his was, 
an orb compared to the bush

on the woman sleeping next to him. 
(There was always a woman 
sleeping next to him. I keep thinking,

If I'd only talk to strangers. . . 
grow a more perfect head of hair.) 
His afro was a crown.

Bullet after barreling bullet, 
fist-fights & car chases, 
three movies & a brief TV series,

never one muffled strand, 
never dampened by sweat-- 
I sweat in even the least heroic of situations.

I'm sure you won't believe this, 
but if a policeman walks behind me, I tremble:
What would Shaft do? What would Shaft do?

Bits of my courage flake away like dandruff. 
I'm sweating even as I tell you this, 
I'm not cool,

I keep the real me tucked beneath a wig,
I'm a small American frog.
I grow beautiful as the theatre dims.

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