Visiting poet blurs boundary between music, lyrics, poems

Visiting poet Terrance Hayes blurs lines between music and poetry.

“If you are addicted to company, try starlight and silence.” read Terrance Hayes, at the Carter Auditorium Wednesday night from his poem “Lighthead’s Guide to Addiction.” 

Every year the Marcia Kinsey Visiting Writer’s Series invites a poet to campus. This year Hayes winner of the 2010 National Book Award for “Lighthead” and professor of English at University of Pittsburgh spoke.

Hayes spent the day with writing students and faculty, which influenced his selection for the reading.

“One of the first responses to questions I got asked was about poems I never read so I thought ‘Oh of course, I should read some poems that I’ve never read out,’” he said.

The first poem Hayes read “The Rose Has Teeth” was a long meditation on what attempting to play the piano is like for Hayes. 

Throughout the evening the selection of poems included numerous references to music and musicians.

For Hayes music often acts as trigger for an idea of a poem. 

“Underneath this poem, like in the basement is Kendrick Lamar,” Hayes said of his poem “The Carpenter Ant.” 

The poem plucks a hook from the Lamar song “His Pain,” and put in the voice of Hayes’ character the line: “I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,” takes on a meaning of awe and whispered intonation. 

Hayes’ poetry is often characterized by repetitions, or as Hayes refers to them “refrains” just as musical lyrics are.

“The distance between music and poetry is like non-existent for me. So I think every poem has behind it some kind of musical strategy, because it’s all music,” Hayes said. “I mean it’s just that the instruments — it’s like language and it’s breath.” 

When Hayes was introducing his poems he pondered aloud about what each poem might mean to the audience, but when he read, the flow of the poems was elegant and natural.

Willa Goldberg, a senior double major in global studies and English writing and rhetoric attended the reading. 

“Listening to Hayes even whenever he was just talking about his poetry is such an amazing experience because it is so exceptionally lyrical and so poignant,” Goldberg said.