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Lighthead: Poems (Penguin Poets) Paperback – March 30, 2010
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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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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...
In "Carp Poem," the poet is visiting the New Orleans Parish Jail to meet with 20 prisoners to talk about...poetry. As the poet walks by the cells, the prisoners become like fish in a pond, each prisoner's orange jumpsuit become the gold scales of the carp. Even prison is not what it seems to be.
There are other ways to slice Hayes' poems - through the filters of race, gender, experience, even age. But the tenuousness of life is what "Lighthead" seems to be most about, a tenuousness rendered with grace.