Terrance Hayes spellbinds audience in Visiting Writers reading

Alex Hagen

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Distinguished poet Terrance Hayes was the latest writer to visit campus as part of the Visiting Writers Reading Series, delivering a lively and profound reading of some of his latest work on Thursday, Nov. 3.

Hayes, whose visit filled nearly every seat of Olin 130, read poetry from his National Book Award––winning collection “Lighthead,” as well as some unpublished poems.

Throughout the reading, Hayes spoke about his creative process, the themes behind his work and his various influences. Much like his style of reading, Hayes’ style of writing is filled with spontaneity.

“Writing poems is hard and frustrating and uncertain, and after every poem I think, ‘I could never do that again,’ but then, you know it happens . . . It’s not like it’s not without its trauma, but that’s what I like. I like that uncertainty, I like feeling like I may not be able to do it again,” said Hayes.

Some of Hayes’ work explores the connections between different types of media. Hayes discussed how visual art influenced his work, as well as the way he references musicians like Nina Simone and David Bowie in his poems.

Many of Hayes’ poems are deeply personal and are inspired by his personal relationships and experiences. One poem, which he described but did not read, focused on meeting his biological father for the first time. Because of their personal nature, Hayes’ work is complex and rich in detail.

“I think of my poems as sort of asking questions more than answering them,” Hayes said. “Sometimes I get closer to the mystery, [or] closer to the experience, but I don’t know if it’s always as clean as figuring something out.”

The audience found Hayes’ reading to be enchanting.

“I thought it was an amazing experience,” said first-year Rhiannon Clarke. “I think he’s got a very beautiful, velvety voice and a really nice cadence.”

The ideas and themes Hayes explored proved interesting as well.

“He does an incredible job making these authoritative claims you want to believe,” said junior Anna Conrad. “He is very well-spoken and has a beautiful presence.”

The Visiting Writers Reading series, presented by the English department, continues on Thursday, Feb. 9 with a reading by poet Camille T. Dungy.

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