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Lighthead (Poets, Penguin) Paperback – March 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The deservedly acclaimed Hayes returns in his fourth book with the kinds of sly, twisting, hip, jazzy poems his fans have come to expect, but also with a new somberness of tone and mature caution. You can spend your whole life/ doing no more than preparing for life and thinking/ 'Is this all there is?' warns the book's opening poem. Later, in a book that thinks hard about fatherhood, family, and mortality, Hayes asks, Who cannot think// Our elegies are endless endlessly and the words/ We put to them too often unheard and hurried? Elsewhere, Hayes treats memory with his signature wit: I believe, as the elephant must,/ that everything is punctured by the tusks of Nostalgia. The book also contains a surprisingly effective series of poems based on a form called pecha kucha, which, Hayes explains, is a type of Japanese business presentation in which the presenter must riff on a series of slides or images; Hayes adapts this form by bracketing the title or slide he's riffing on (The Magic of Magic and The Function of Fiction are two examples) and following with a four- or five-line stanza. The poems free-associate through their triggers, but images and themes satisfyingly resurface. Hayes, now entering mid-career, remains one of our best poets. (Apr.)
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About the Author

Terrance Hayes received an MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. He was the recipient of a 1999 Whiting Writers Award, and his first collection of poetry, Muscular Music, was the winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award in 2000. He is currently an assistant professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

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Product Details

  • Series: Poets, Penguin
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143116967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143116967
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Terrance Hayes ( was born in South Carolina in 1971. His most recent book is How to Be Drawn (Penguin 2015). Lighthead, his fourth poetry collection, won the 2010 National Book Award. His third collection, Wind in a Box (Penguin 2006), was named one of the best 100 books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly. His other books of poetry are Muscular Music (1999), which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Hip Logic (2002), which won the National Poetry Series Open Competition. His honors include a Pushcart Prize, seven Best American Poetry selections, a Whiting Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. He is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Glynn Young VINE VOICE on July 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To read "Lighthead: Poems" by Terrance Hayes is to enter a world that's distinctly uncomfortable, almost jarring, as if the familiar has become dislocated. Perhaps it's like experiencing lightheadedness, except it's experiencing it as a state of normal. And you know this from the beginning of this collection of poems: "Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state, / I am here because I could never get the hang of Time. / This hour, for example, would be like all the others / were it not for the rain falling through the roof. / I'd better not be too explicit..."(from "Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy").

Time in these poems, for example, is itself not so much relative as tenuous, as if it's always slipping away or defined by other tenuous and temporary things. In a related poems group entitled "Three Measures of Time," his brother tells time by food ("The past is nutritious; the past is there on the table / with the hair you know is Ma's color..."); his father tells time by smell ("The smell / of barbeque in a sentence, the scent / long gone flat as money")' and his mother by "none of the hours jumping at the window. /By the joblessness of God and the body / beneath a floral bedsheet..."

Place, too, is something ephemeral, as in "Fish Head for Katrina:"

The mouth is where the dead
Who are not dead do not dream.

A house of damaged translations
Task married to distraction

As in a bucket left in a storm
A choir singing in the rain like fish

Acquiring air under water
Prayer and sin the body

Performs to know it is alive
Lit from the inside by reckoning

As in a city
Which is no longer a city...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jesse on March 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
In this book, Terrence Hayes does something that I've never quite seen done before; he's smoothly synthesized the sound-and-emotion-oriented style of spoken-word poetry with the artful arrangement and order of more conceptual, academic poetry. For that, I have to give him some five-star love, even though a lot of the poems talk a lot about African-American identity and racism in a way that I have a hard time taking into my own experience. Yet the guy also references David Bowie, Wallace Stevens, "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Antony and the it's blazingly clear that he isn't a one-trick rapper/poet.

Really though, some dazzling stuff here, particularly his invention of the "pecha kucha" form (based on a style of Japanese slideshow used for business presentations). The tension between the "slides"/stanzas and their individual titles fleshes out the concepts in an even deeper way, even beyond the surface-level puzzles that he puts forward, so that the pieces end up working on multiple levels and kind of driving you insane and force you to read them over and over, getting more and more out of them each time. There's some game-changing stuff in there.

As mentioned before, I love how omnivorous he is with his references and also with his themes; love, family, the personal vs. cultural/racial history, music...there's even some funny stuff in there too!

For all the brou-ha-ha about the National Book Award committee being so ivory-tower-y, I can't fault them picking this book, at least.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Smith on January 18, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was my first collection of Terrance Hayes work and I was hooked from the first. He expresses real passion in his writing. He crafts each poem, stating things with precision, choosing his words carefully so that the impact lies in the conciseness of his statements. Some of his poems are strong statements about the hardships in life and then you turn the page and find a delightfully humorous poem such as "Lighthead's Guide To Addiction." It was brilliant. Hayes is a professor and his literary background and skill is reflected in the masterful way he uses words. I enjoyed reading his works so much that I looked up Terrance Hayes on the internet and watched his acceptance speech for when he received the National Book Award for this work. He was a delightful man with a real twinkle in his eye, someone with verve who is passionate in expressing himself. I will definitely purchase more of his works.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Wilson Trivino on October 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
"I'm not shy, I'm sober" states Terrance Haynes in Lighthead and then follows that with "This is Not an Exit" means "Do not Enter" in a poem titled Twenty-Six Imaginary T-Shirts.
In Lighthead by Terrance Hayes the poems cover the gambit of sexuality, failure, and triumph.
In God is An American has a stanza "I love words. When we make love in the morning/ your skin damp from a shower, the day calms".
The soulful book captures the essence of change in a continuing shifting world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Luke S. Farrell on March 18, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is intense and smart, but I never felt like I was being talked down to.
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Sometimes I love Terrance Hayes and sometimes I like him. But his imagery of dripping moonlight on leaves and the subtle tones of night, the hums of living, and the anger under the surface of ordinary life scenes--it all makes his poetry glow. Some of the more humorous poems weren't that funny. They were kind of lame, to be honest. Or maybe they just rang flatter for me. But when he is on the theme of what it means to be a black poet in America and what the social stakes of that can be--how language is tied up in living and the image is tied up in movement- he is outstanding.
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