How to Be Drawn

Once you're "drawn" into Terrance Hayes's latest collection of poetry, How to Be Drawn, prepare to be puzzled, surprised, educated and exhilarated. He has honed his craft with four previous books, including the 2010 National Book Award-winning Lighthead. An artist (he has illustrated most of his book covers) and a poet, he employs visual, often lyrical, language. His subject matter is wide ranging: race, pop culture, music and identity.

This book contains 30 poems, 10 each in three sections: "Troubled Bodies," "Invisible Souls" and "A Circling Mind." One additional poem, "Ars Poetica for the Ones Like Us (after Mark Rothko & Leonard Cohen)," a sort of epilogue, brings the book to a close. This is more than a mere collection of poems. Each poem is a contribution to the book's overall structure. As he writes in this last piece: "the poem could be/ Thought of as a house..../ From inside the poem I was asked to map/ The world outside and the adventure to unfold."

Hayes loves to invent formal constraints. One poem about Etheridge Knight is in the form of a crime report. Another is a Q&A, but only the A's are there, the Q's missing. The powerful "How to Draw an Invisible Man," about what he finds inside Ralph Ellison's corpse, is one long, labyrinthine sentence:

I discovered his body had been hoarding...
...tendons of syntax
unraveled from his bones and intestinal cavities,
the froth of singing, stinging, stinking ink,
reams of script fraught with the demons,
demagogues, and demigods of democracy....

Hayes just keeps getting better. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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