“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” With these lines, Terrance Hayes opens his recently released book of sonnets, “American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin,” foreshadowing the political implications of the poetry that follow.
Hayes will visit campus Thursday as part of the John Christophe Schlesinger Creative Writers Reading Series. He will perform a public reading of a selection of his works at 5 p.m. in Room 318 of Linsly-Chittenden Hall. He will also attend two English department classes, “Introduction to Creative Writing” and “Poetry and Objects,” to discuss his poetry.
“What he does with his sonnets is to include that which is ugly, that which is scary, that which is impolite,” said English professor and Director of Creative Writing Richard Deming.
Raised in Columbia, South Carolina, Hayes graduated from Coker College and earned his MFA at the University of Pittsburgh. Hayes has received wide recognition for his poetry, including a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship, Whiting Award and 2010 National Book Award. Hayes is now a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he serves as co-director of the school’s Center for African-American Poetry and Poetics.
Hayes was invited to campus by Karin Roffman, the professor of the “Poetry and Objects” course Hayes will visit on Friday. Roffman’s class, alongside Hayes, will visit the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to discuss the records of the Cave Canem Foundation — a nonprofit founded in 1996 to boost the representation of black poets in MFA programs — and what they reveal about his work.
“Hayes writes about what it means to create art from every angle and perspective. His poetry is moving and challenging, and it stirs thought and feeling in every direction,” Roffman said.
“American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin” was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award in poetry. Most of Hayes’ poetry focuses on the black male experience in America. The book comprises 70 sonnets, or 14-line poems, all sharing the same title of his book. Some sonnets are explicitly political — one references “Mister Trumpet” — while others are less explicit. All are artistic representations of American life under President Trump’s administration.
Sophie Lefens DIV ’19, a student in “Poetry and Objects,” expressed appreciation for Hayes’ willingness to talk about current events in his new book. She added that reading poetry about controversial current events was a welcome break from the day-to-day rhetoric of mainstream news.
“I think a lot of times there’s a risk in writing poems that are so explicitly political, but there’s sort of a formal precision and wildness of these poems that I think will just make them last far beyond their context,” said Lefens.
Hayes’ other works include 2015’s “How to Be Drawn” and 2010’s “Lighthead.”
Lindsay Daugherty | firstname.lastname@example.org