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NPR Arts & Life

Book Review: 'How To Be Drawn,' Terrance Hayes

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A vital voice that explores race and art and the roving power of language - that's what poetry reviewer Tess Taylor says about Terrance Hayes. Hayes, a winner of the National Book Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, has a collection of poems out called "How To Be Drawn." Here's Tess with a review.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: The title of Terrance Hayes's "How To Be Drawn" actually poses a tricky question. Does being drawn mean to be made the object of a work of art, or does it mean to be pulled in, to become a questing subject who's called to go further? And is art what draws us in or what draws us, or both? It's fitting that the title of Hayes' fifth book is slippery with riddles. After all, his writing is full of puns and fake outs, leads and dodges, all encased in muscular music.

The poems touch on, among other things, Hayes' mother, who was a guard at the prison where James Brown was once briefly imprisoned, police violence and the struggle to name the world for his own kids.

Hayes is restless in rhythm, in syntax, in subject matter, and he pits poetry against deeper confinements. He reminds us there are theories about freedom, and there's a song that says none of us are free. There are poems that talk about berry picking, deer or New York rooftops, but these poems also exist to see where the music of thought can lead language. Hayes' lines often make language fork. They lead to contranyms, words that pull in opposite directions, the way cleave can mean both to cling to and to cut apart.

Even as these deft poems pass by, they ring. Hayes leaves resonance cleaving the air. Hayes makes us alive to shimmer to doubleness, to vibration. He draws us in deeper to get crafted in his music, even as we fall further into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Tess Taylor with her review of "How To Be Drawn" by Terrance Hayes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.