Winners of the 2010 National Book Award were announced Wednesday night, and Pittsburgh poet Terrance Hayes took the prize in the Poetry category for his collection Lighthead.
Hayes often speaks kindly of Pittsburgh’s literary scene in his interviews, and Pittsburgh returns the love. Hayes has been a featured reader in CLP’s very own Sunday Poetry and Reading Series and teaches at a local university. Recently, ‘burgh-based Sampsonia Way online magazine featured an article of a conversation between Hayes and Lynn Emanuel,* another celebrated Pittsburgh poet.
Terrance Hayes’ talent isn’t limited to local recognition, though. Comprehensive national poetry websites Poetry Foundation and Academy of American Poets’ Poets.org include pages about Hayes, and PBS Newshour offers streaming video of an interview with him.
If you haven’t discovered the poet’s work yet, you might want to try any of his three previously published collections, Hip Logic, Muscular Music or Wind in a Box while you wait for your turn in line for Lighthead.
In this video from the From the Fishouse reading series, Hayes gives a lively reading that opens with several poems from Lighthead:
Here is the title poem from the award-winning collection:
LIGHTHEAD’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking,
“Is this all there is?” Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.
To watch videos of the award ceremony, visit the NBA’s homepage. You can view all previous winners of the National Book Award for Poetry on this list on the NBA website.
*This page of the Sampsonia Way site is best viewed in Firefox.