Poetry News

Observing Etheridge Knight, Terrance Hayes Observes Ancestry

By Harriet Staff
Terrance Hayes, To Float in the Space Between, cover

New York Times journalist Ed Pavlic reviews Terrance Hayes's latest volume, To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation With the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight (Wave, 2018). "Hayes, now in his mid-40s, has become one of the most acclaimed poets of his generation," Pavlic writes in the introduction. "Hybrid and slippery as this book is — part memoir, part study of the poet’s own influences and ancestors, part meditation on poetics and selfhood — 'To Float in the Space Between' is Hayes’s first full-length prose work, illustrated by sketches demonstrating the writer’s deft graphic skills." From there: 

As is the case throughout Hayes’s work, “To Float in the Space Between” is a meditation on family; from the first, Hayes has fingered the grain of black families, whether linked by blood or duty or sexual tension or aesthetic kinship. “To Float” movingly bridges these concerns. The title invokes the career of Etheridge Knight, who began writing poems in prison in the 1960s and carved out a singular career through the 1970s and ’80s. The 19 sections in Hayes’s book take their titles and focus from phrases in Knight’s most celebrated poem, “The Idea of Ancestry.” Thus this collection offers a deep textural (as opposed to textual) encounter between two important and mercurial minds.

Since the beginning of Hayes’s career, his poems have presented a syncopated and constantly shifting subject, a speaker insisting he’s agile, hip, logical, bruised, both guttural and highfalutin and who refuses to be drawn into any box of fixed dimension. Hayes’s speakers are always aware they’re being watched both by well-wishers and enemies. They’re also aware it’s often unclear which is which. So his poems shift between notions of survival and excellence in performance — and again, it’s not always clear which is which.

Learn more at the New York Times.

Originally Published: December 13th, 2018