Fjords Reviews

HOME | BOOK REVIEWS | How To Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes
How To Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes



Fjords Review, How To Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes

How To Be Drawn
By Terrance Hayes

Penguin Poets
97 pages
ISBN 978-0143126881


by Zachary R. Wood


October 22, 2015

How often do we consider the possibility of there being a difference between what it is and what it looks like? In How To Be Drawn, Terrance Hayes complicates the meaning and significance of perception and representation. Although the book is divided into three parts, Hayes’ poems flow freely and mindfully between themes of race, identity, masculinity, history, family, art, and language.

The author of five books of poetry and a winner of the National Book Award in 2010 for his fourth book of poetry, Lighthead, Hayes is widely (and rightly) considered one of the most inventive and imaginative poets in America. To be sure, this book, throughout its many tangled and newfangled twists and turns, attests to Hayes’ unique ability to repurpose formal poetic conventions and often create new forms and structures. In a three-part poem about the great Etheridge Knight, Hayes adroitly employs nuanced table charts as templates to affect our experience of and rumination on the content of his language.

This reader found himself pausing and re-reading passages several times, trying to catch all of the tricks at work. As a poet, Hayes is often as playful as he is skillful. His writing is full of devices and contrivances that seem to lead you one way and go another, or expose one side of the coin while faintly intimating and then obscuring what is on the other. In this sense, How To Be Drawn is at once complex and transparent.

For example, in the poem, “How To Draw An Invisible Man,” Hayes alludes to the existential themes probed in Ralph Ellison’s classic, Invisible Man. In doing so, Hayes explores what it means existentially to be rendered invisible and how one can be made visible:

“Before America thought to release anyone
from its dream, the waterlogged monologues
one who is unseen speaks burst suddenly
from Ralph Ellison’s body and because I mean to live
transparently, I am here, bear with me,
describing the contents: the fictions envisioned
by Emerson and immigrants, the dogmas,
aboriginal progeny, scholastic recriminations,
dementia, jubilee, hubris in Ralph Ellison,
Duke Ellington’s shadow, a paragraph
on the feathered headdress of Marcus Garvey,
some of it was pornography, some of it alluded
to Negroes who believe educating black kids
means teaching them to help white people feel
comfortable, some of it outlined the perks
of invisibility, how we are obliged to eschew
the zoo, the farm animals, it had something
to do with captivity...”

Here we see invisibility viewed through a racial lens with references to Ellison’s body, Ellington’s shadow, and Garvey’s headdress. Yet we are also given Emerson, immigrants, dogma, doctrine, and the American dream. In this regard, Hayes situates his reflections on invisibility within the context of American values and idealities—democracy, freedom, individualism, and plurality of thought—all of which are sharply at odds with marginality, captivity, and invisibility.

With felt urgency and mesmerizing linguistic multiplicity, How To Be Drawn, invites us to step into an ambit of poetic creation unlike anything we have seen before, with multiple maps, graphs, plot charts, novel forms and new styles that compel us to contemplate not only how African-Americans are perceived and represented but also how we perceive and represent ourselves.

In one of my favorite poems from the book, “Wigphrastic,” Hayes writes with humor, wit, and incisiveness about the stereotype of black women wearing wigs. Hayes says, “Let’s wear ready-made wigs, custom-made wigs, hand-tied wigs, and machine-made wigs...Let’s get higher than God tonight like the military wives of Imperial Rome smiling in the blonde and red-haired wigs cut from the scalps of enemy captives. Somebody slap me...Wear your wig. Your wig is terrific.”

Regardless of how one feels about the frequency of unfamiliar devices and unusual constructions used in this book, How To Be Drawn will prove to be enterprising in its ambition, compelling in its thought, and pathbreaking in its innovative experimentation.


And Then by Donald Breckenridge

Dear Everyone by Matt Shears

Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones

Intimacy by Stanley Crawford

Lunch Poems by Deborah Kuan

The Best American Poetry 2016

One with the Tiger by Steven Church

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

The King of White Collar Boxing by David Lawrence

They Were Coming for Him by Berta Vias-Mahou

Verse for the Averse: a Review of Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry

That Other Me by Maha Gargash

Simone by Eduardo Lalo

Swimming by Karl Luntt

Ghost/ Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher

Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

Bad Light by Carlos Castán

Diaboliques by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly

Staying Alive by Laura Sims

Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Fireflies by John Leland

Maze of Blood by Marly Youmans

Tender the Maker by Christina Hutchkins

Little Anodynes by Jon Pineda

Conjuror by Holly Sullivan McClure

Someone's Trying To Find You by Marc Augé

The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Now You Have Many Legs to Stand On by Ashley-Elizabeth Best

The Knowledge by Robert Peake

The Darling by Lorraine M. López

Watershed Days: Adventures (A Little Thorny and Familiar) in the Home Range by Thorpe Moeckel

[INSERT] BOY by Danez Smith

Demigods on Speedway by Aurelie Sheehan

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Singing Bones by Kate Schmitt

Knuckleball by Tom Pitts

Wandering Time by Luis Alberto Urrea

Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton

Domenica Martinello: The Abject in the Interzones

Control Bird Alt Delete by Alexandria Peary

Twelve Clocks by Julie Sophia Paegle

Love You To a Pulp by C.S. DeWildt

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

ESSAY 2:12 A.M. by Kat Meads

Revising The Storm by Geffrey Davis

Quality Snacks by Andy Mozina

Midnight in Siberia by David Greene

Strings Attached by Diane Decillis

Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging by Joshua Dolezal

The New Testament by Jericho Brown

You Don't Know Me by James Nolan

Phoning Home: Essays by Jacob M. Appel

Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova

Murder by Danielle Collobert

Sorrow by Catherine Gammon

The Americans by David Roderick

Put Your Hands In by Chris Hosea

I Think I Am in Friends-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

Third Wife by Jiri Klobouk

box of blue horses by Lisa Graley

Review of Hilary Plum’s They Dragged Them Through the Streets

The Sleep of Reason by Morri Creech

The Hush before the Animals Attack by Carol Matos

Regina Derieva, In Memoriam by Frederick Smock

Review of The House Began to Pitch by Kelly Whiddon

Hill William by Scott McClanahan

Seamus Heaney Aloft

The Bounteous World by Frederick Smock

Review of The Tide King by Jen Michalski

Going Down by Chris Campanioni

Review of Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade by Rob Cook

Review of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor

Review of The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish

Review of Life Cycle Poems by Dena Rash Guzman

Review of Saint X by Kirk Nesset

Review of Jessica Treadway's Please Come Back to Me

Eve Asks by Christine Redman-Waldeyer