A finalist for the 2015 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award
In How to Be Drawn, his daring fifth collection, Terrance Hayes explores how we see and are seen. While many of these poems bear the clearest imprint yet of Hayes’s background as a visual artist, they do not strive to describe art so much as inhabit it. Thus, one poem contemplates the principle of blind contour drawing while others are inspired by maps, graphs, and assorted artists. The formal and emotional versatilities that distinguish Hayes’s award-winning poetry are unified by existential focus. Simultaneously complex and transparent, urgent and composed, How to Be Drawn is a mesmerizing achievement.
Hayes delivers another stunner, following up his 2010 National Book Award winning Lighthead with a collection that sees the poet thinking more deeply about perception the public and private, the viewed and ignored. In the opening poem, readers receive a warning "Never mistake what it is for what it looks like" before being taken through a hall of mirrors, in each one a reflection of race, art, and the makeup of America today. Hayes cops from crime reports and q&as, charts and instructional guides, toying with form to paint the realities of life for modern black Americans. Scenes are drawn with razor sharp lines: NWA plays idly "at a penthouse party with no black people"; the ghosts of lynched slaves are invoked to haunt a "white man/ with Confederate pins." The poems pull from sources as seemingly disparate as Ol' Dirty Bastard and Vladimir Mayakovsky, and evoke the souls of Walt Whitman and Ralph Ellison. The work hurdles between violent beauty ("I want to be as inexplicable/ as something hanging a dozen feet in the air") and stark, philosophical truth telling ("Humanity endures because it is,/ at most, an idea"). Hayes manages not only to reassess the visual, but also to ask what we do with the information once we have it.