A powerful, timely, dazzling new collection of poems from Terrance Hayes, the National Book Award–winning author of Lighthead—to be published simultaneously with his latest work of literary criticism, Watch Your Language
The three sections of Terrance Hayes’ seventh collection explore how we see ourselves and our world, mapping the strange and lyrical grammar of thinking and feeling. In “Watch Your Mouth,” a tree frog sings to overcome its fear of birds; in “Watch Your Step: The Kafka Virus,” a talking cat tells jokes in the Jim Crow South; in “Watch Your Head,“ green beans bling in the mouth of Lil Wayne, and Bob Ross paints your portrait. 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.
About the Author
Terrance Hayes is the author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other poetry collections are American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, How to Be Drawn, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music, and he is also the author of To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Hayes lives in New York City, where he is a professor of creative writing at NYU.
Praise for So to Speak:
“These are pieces that fuse trauma and humor, erudition and silliness in ways that somehow preserve those disparate qualities.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Hayes is a maestro of poetic forms and these poems sing with a musical dexterity that embraces vulnerability and ambiguity . . . [So to Speak] reads like an ambitious mixed-media project questioning the role of art in representing suffering . . . Soul-searching questions ripple through a series of electrifying American Sonnets about James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Octavia E Butler, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, reimagining the works and voices of many black cultural icons.” —The Guardian
“Hayes’ poems never fail to play, thrillingly, with the constraints of form, and they engage with culture, past and present, while remaining deeply rooted in the personal. Don’t miss this one.” —Lit Hub
“[A] polyphonic, multivalent collection of poetry . . . Hayes' role as an oracle of the auricular remains remarkable . . . The poet's nimble knowledge of music and visual arts is notable . . . Throughout, Hayes continues to stretch the limits of language and explore the far regions of English, while his formal experimentation shines . . . May this poet's brilliance always shine.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Across three various and virtuosic sections, Hayes examines the personal and public, from fatherhood to the murder of George Floyd, in his muscular and meditative seventh collection. With a masterful eye for image and description . . . Hayes’s writing unfolds musically and dynamically . . . These original, ruminative poems showcase one of the most rightly acclaimed poets writing today.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Like the great composers and musicians—like Thelonious and Miles, like Bach—Hayes is ever witty and elegant. His concerns are unexpected and yet right on time. His verse is so close to music, you’ll wonder if you’re reading words or notes. Solemnly elegiac and brokenheartedly playful, So to Speak is poetry of pure genius.” —Toi Derricotte
“Hayes’ new work is as vital and energetic as ever, but there’s also a new tone in many places here—penitent, self-inculpatory. These are the poems of a certain age: scars so old others must tell you how they are made. Hayes’ invention allows his poetry to house almost anything: from the political to the sensual, from a magic goat to a talking cat. He is a singular poet, and this book a singular achievement.” —Nick Laird