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THE WEEKLY MUSE - Terrance Hayes: Poems Not Poetry

In celebration of Black History Month, we will showcase four diverse artists whose energy and dedication to their chosen art forms make them excellent and inspiring examples for us all. This week we look at writer Terrance Hayes.

“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

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1971, Terrance has spent his professional life amongst words. He was Professor of Creative Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, later joined the faculty at the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh, and today is Professor of English at New York University.

His work is flavored by what he sees and hears around him. “This country is like a poem you can never figure out!” He’s often provocative, sometimes political; always challenging and engaging.

“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.”

His writing process is fiercely private, not out of shyness but to carefully preserve his authenticity and voice. No one sees or hears a work in progress, and he likens sharing and discussing work in progress as ineffective and detrimental, preferring to do the working out and the fixing by himself. This self-reliance preserves the fundamental need to keep himself in the moment.

“When I give a reading,” he says, “the thing that always makes me present is that I’m about to read something I’ve never read, that no one’s ever heard. And that makes me sweat, and that’s what I need.”

When asked about writing poetry, he likes to slightly distance himself from that term. “I don’t do poetry, I do poems.” A subtle distinction maybe, but it gracefully emphasizes his approach to writing: feeling over technique.

One of the most compelling voices in American poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of six books of poetry. His latest, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, was published by Penguin in 2018.

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