Arts & Culture » Lit

Award-Winning Poet Terrance Hayes to Read at Boise State


If there's one word that characterizes the current state of Americans, it would have to be "anxiety." The Green New Deal, Black Lives Matter, the election of Donald Trump—they all point to a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and a hunger for something more.

The work of poet Terrance Hayes may not make anyone feel better about the deteriorating environment, mass incarceration, stagnant wages or any other plaguing ills, but Hayes may, at his reading at Boise State University next week, have something to say about elevating feelings about them above the white noise of social media and the kind of mental static that keeps people up at night.

"I'm chasing a kind of language that can be unburdened by people's expectations," Hayes said in a 2013 interview with Lauren Russell of Hot Metal Bridge. "I think music is the primary model—how close can you get this language to be like music and communicate feeling at the base level in the same way a composition with no words communicates meaning? It might be impossible. Language is always burdened by thought. I'm just trying to get it so it can be like feeling."

His most recent volume, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (Penguin Poets, 2018), was hailed by The New York Times as one of "the first fully fledged works to reckon with the presidency of Donald Trump—and one of the most surprising." The 70-poem work contains some of the most evocative and emotionally specific lines to be found anywhere: "Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous / Darkness. Probably all my encounters / Are existential jambalaya," he wrote in "Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous." Breaking a line between "dangerous" and "darkness" stares down racial anxieties over crime with shimmering heat and the ease of a pinky tapping the return key.

Hayes is one of the most accomplished and lauded poets of his generation, having taken home a National Book Award for Poetry in 2010 for his collection, Lighthead (Penguin Books, 2010); a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2014; a Pushcart Prize; a Guggenheim Fellowship and many more. His reading at Boise State in the Lookout Room on Thursday, April 11, is free and begins at 7:30 p.m.