Thursday, March 17, 2016

Poet Spotlight: Terrance Hayes

Last week, we had the good fortune of having Terrance Hayes on our campus, visiting classes and talking with students. My composition students probably don’t know how lucky they are to have had this award-winning poet talk to us about his work for an hour, but I sure got a lot out of it! Terrance also attended our graduate nonfiction writing class, where we peppered him with questions about his writing process. 

I asked Terrance about the longevity of his writing career and how his writing material has evolved over the years.  This was fantastic his response:

“You can’t outrun your obsessions. Behind every revelation is another question. So I poke at my obsessions, I play with form. I try to do something different—go in thru the trap door—but it’s always different angles of the same obsession.”

As a writer at the very beginning of what will hopefully be a long writing career, I am starting to see these patterns that he’s referring to. The more I write, the more I realize that I am often circling the same topics, sometimes even referring to the same event in different essays or stories. Similar themes show up in everything that I write, whether it be fiction, memoir, or children’s lit.

He said something else that was a great image for the writing mind:

“The mind is a junkyard. I keep rooting around, putting things in a box, then a bag. I try different containers until I get it right. I stockpile my writing, looking where to shelve it.”

We pull from our life experiences, so it makes sense that we return to some of the same ideas again and again, but hopefully in a refreshing and illuminating way each time, getting deeper and deeper into the center of that obsession. 

Some more great Terrance quotes:

On poetry:
Poems are about poetry.
My poems travel without me.
The job of poetry is not to correct history but to engage history.
Poems are living things. They are constantly changing.
The point of poetry is to get the things we can’t express into the world.
What else would I be doing if not failing at poetry?
Poetry is the thinking mind.

On writing:
I wish to achieve surprise, exhaustion, discomfort in a poem. As a writer, I'm interested in the place of not knowing.
The mind is a junkyard. I keep rooting around, putting things in a box, then a bag, different containers until I get it right. I stockpile my writing, looking where to shelve it.
We are walking consuming creatures, and all of that we ingest will show up in our writing.
I assume everyone is smarter than me.
Get away from thesis/argument/aboutness.
Challenge your rituals to create different kinds of work. Observe changes, mess up.
I know what comes natural to me
Write without worrying, even if it doesn’t come together right away
The unification, thread, harmony of a piece might come together differently than you expect.
Write for writings sake – find joy in the process.
Trust your intuitive sense. It’s a dangerous slope to trust what other people think is good
Vulnerability is a useful tool, and maybe a kind of weapon. The alternative is silence and shame, and not much art would get made it we focused on that.

On revision:
Revision process is endless. I could revise forever.
Infinite failures, infinite successes.
Sending work out as part of the revision process.
I want a poem to sound easy and natural even if it’s taken a whole lot of work.
If you’ve offended someone, maybe it’s not done yet.

  • A new piece out in the world! "Night Owl" at Cleaver Mag
  • Leading a 6 week memoir workshop at Temple Terrace Library!
Upcoming Readings:
  • 6 x 6 on March 25 at Felicitous Coffee 
  • There Will Be Words in Orlando, April 12 at The Gallery at Avalon Island