The day after President Donald Trump won the election, critically acclaimed poet and educator Terrance Hayes immediately began writing. The result? A collection of more than 30 sonnets titled “American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassins.”
More than 70 students and faculty members gathered Tuesday night inside the University of Michigan Museum of Art to listen as Hayes read excerpts from his anthology of work, discussing concepts of race, popular culture and modern masculinity in a lyrical manner.
The poet received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2014 for outstanding creative work and is the author of “Lighthead,” winner of the 2010 National Book Award. His most recent publication, “How to Be Drawn,” was a 2015 National Book Award finalist.
Hayes said explicitly that most of the sonnets were written in response to his thoughts regarding a Trump presidency, and he said one sonnet was printed on orange paper — to emulate the color of the president’s skin.
“Are you not the color of this country’s current threat advisory, and the poms-poms of a school whose mascot is a clementine?” Hayes read. “Light as a featherweight monarch, viceroy, goldfish.”
Aside from the compilation of sonnets, Hayes also read longer poems from his 2015 work “How to Be Drawn.” In “American Sonnet for Wanda C.” he mused on the ways femininity is both portrayed and stereotyped.
“Who I know knows why all those lush-boned worn-out girls are whooping at where the moon should be, an eyelid clamped on its lightness,” Hayes read. “Nobody sees her without the hoops firing in her
ears because nobody sees. Tattooed across her chest she claims is bring me to where my blood runs and I want that to be here where I am her son, pent in blackness and turning the night’s calm loose and letting the same blood fire through me.”
Rackham student Colin Walker said he first heard Hayes speak when he was an undergraduate student at Kenyon College with a burgeoning interest in poetry. Walker remarked that he was instantly awed by his command of the written word and playfulness with language, and left the room feeling electrified.
“After reading ‘Lighthead’ for the first time I thought to myself — this dude must have come straight out of the womb fully formed, and here I am struggling to write sonnets for my long-distance girlfriend,” Walker said. “Yet, as I walked myself back through his catalogue, I began to see that Hayes’ playfulness on the page is apparent in his comfort with language and form of work.”
LSA junior Lindendeary Himawan said he attended the event because he took a class from one of the event organizers and is interested in writing especially through his English creative writing sub-concentration.
“A bunch of my friends said they were going here, and I know that the organizer of the event was one of our instructors,” Himawan said. “I heard that on Thursday there’s going to be another talk with the author, and Jamaal May will be interviewing him.”