UCI Illuminations hosted a virtual poetry reading featuring multi-award winning contemporary African-American poet Terrance Hayes via Zoom on January 14.
In addition to being a 2014 MacArthur Scholar, Hayes was 2017-2018 Poetry Editor for The New York Times Magazine and was guest editor of “The American Best Poetry 2014”. Before becoming a professor at New York University, he taught at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh in 1997. Having taught classes from Columbus, Ohio to southern Japan, Hayes is no stranger to change and certainly not to large crowds.
Despite the online format, more than 150 attendees filled the Zoom room, not wanting to miss an opportunity to listen to Hayes talk about topics including race, politics, family, food, love and sex.
Hayes read selections from his book “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” which was published in 2018 and was a finalist for the National Book Award, LA Times Book Award, and TS Eliot Prize, among others.
The first poem he read from the book was titled “I’m Locking You in an American Sonnet That’s Part of Jail,” which talks about the past and current state of American society and is featured on the YouTube channel. of the TS Eliot Prize.
Hayes also read plays such as ‘Continuity’, a gripping poem about two lovers, and ‘Pseudacris Crucifer’, a poem written for his son – both of which were published in The New Yorker. He also posted visual cards with a short poem he created honoring other black writers, such as Patricia Smith and Yusef Komunyakaa.
Print wasn’t the only medium featured, as Hayes also starred in a number of video poetry shorts that pushed the line between word and image.
One of the video poems, titled “”Capra Aegagrus Hircus”, was written for his daughter and filmed in black and white, switching between different images of goats as Hayes spoke in a voiceover.
After the reading, the audience had the chance to ask the poet questions.
Asked about his reasoning for including visual aspects to his poetry, Hayes spoke of his early days as an artist, when he studied painting in addition to English at Coker College.
“I started out as a visual artist…if you asked most people I went to college, high school, college, elementary school, they would say [I] would have been a visual artist. I’m still working on it, I feel like the future will be less about gender and more about hybridity,” Hayes said.
An audience member asked if the story had been stable when it came to racial violence.
“I just think in America it’s never going to be that simple…you can go from a black president to Trump, so I’m exploring the American Sonnet, when you put that adjective in front…but again. The principle of the name [the word “Sonnet”]“, said Hayes.
Another person asked about Hayes’ thoughts on illustration and if he considers himself a “multi-genre artist”, with Hayes responding that he doesn’t want to limit himself to one form or medium.
“I think the future is moving where we can worry less about these gender issues…I embrace that more than anything…Everything I show you has a kind of black and white graphic dimension because it’s not okay not be a color book. I just want it to be able to sit on the page effectively,” Hayes said.
Praise filled the Zoom chat at the end of the event.
“Nice session. I have been deeply nourished by your poetry for years. Today I particularly appreciated the illustration of the creative process and exploration, and the educational compassion of your presence. Need to go. Deep bows of gratitude,” an audience member said.
Helena San Roque is a Campus News intern for the Winter 2022 term. She can be reached at [email protected]