So to Speak, a powerful, timely, dazzling new collection of poems from Terrance Hayes, the National Book Award–winning author of Lighthead, reminds us of the strange and lyrical grammar of thinking and feeling.
On the one hand, these fabulous fables, American sonnets, quarantine quatrains, and ekphrastic do-it-yourself sestinas animate what Toni Morrison called “the writerly imagination of a black author who is at some level always conscious of representing one’s own race.” On the other hand, these urgent, personal poems contemplate fatherhood, history, and longing with remarkable openness and humanity. So To Speak is the mature, restless work of one of contemporary poetry’s leading voices.
Terrance Hayes is one of the most compelling voices in American poetry. He is the author of seven books of poetry: So to Speak (2023); American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018), a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry and winner of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; How to Be Drawn (2015), longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; Lighthead (2010), winner of the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry; Wind in a Box, winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic, winner of the National Poetry Series, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Muscular Music, winner of both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
He is also the author of To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (2018), which won the 2019 Etheridge Knight Criticism Collection award from The Poetry Foundation; and, most recently, Watch Your Language (2023), a fascinating collection of graphic reviews, illustrated prose, and visualized poetics addressing the last century of American poetry.
Hayes is the editor of the anthology Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems. He has been a recipient of many other honors and awards, including a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, two Pushcart selections, eight Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Guggenheim Foundation. His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Fence, The Kenyon Review, Jubilat, Harvard Review, and Poetry. His poetry has also been featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Hayes is an elegant and adventurous writer with disarming humor, grace, tenderness, and brilliant turns of phrase, very much interested in what it means to be an artist and a black man. He writes, “There are recurring explorations of identity and culture in my work and rather than deny my thematic obsessions, I work to change the forms in which I voice them. I aspire to a poetic style that resists style. In my newest work, 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.”
Professor of English at New York University, Hayes currently resides in New York City.