Poetry News

The White Review's Dinner Interview With Terrance Hayes

By Harriet Staff

Poet Rachel Long had dinner with Terrance Hayes, and documented it in an interview for the current issue of The White Review. "When you wake up, do you know whether it is a writing day or a painting day?" asks Long. More from this conversation, which included dining partners Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Kayo Chingonyi and Sarah Perry:

TH: Well, on Saturdays, I go to a figure drawing class. I was just telling someone the other day, cos you know, I ain’t getting out that much, on Saturdays, I’m like, I’m gonna see a naked woman today. There’s not usually a lot of eroticism in the class and I’ve been going every weekend but two Saturdays ago the model was late, so she had to run the whole way from the subway. Maybe she ran like three blocks, so when she came in she ripped her clothes off and she was dripping with sweat, and I was like… that’s really erotic, and I started to draw her but that whole class I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t draw for shit. You really need to not be distracted to figure out what you’re seeing, what you are really seeing. When you’re distracted you’re idealising, you’re drawing out of eroticism. What’s interesting to me is to not draw something you desire because that’s a common way of seeing things. I want to be able to see it for what it is and then see what I make.

VAB: Rachel invited a Black model in for a special Octavia life drawing class. We wanted to explore whether it makes a difference drawing a woman who resembles us. It was strange for me in that I hadn’t really seen a Black woman naked like that. OK, maybe I have but often in violent ways… For me it felt like seeing a sister. Because I hadn’t really seen many Black women naked apart from maybe, and rarely, my sister. I think I even wrote that, are you my sister?

TH: Oh, wow.

RL: I think that was a beautiful session, but an uncomfortable session. In a way we were seeing and drawing ourselves. Her nakedness, our nakedness. I wondered if she felt differently in that space with us — fifteen other women of colour — than she did in other rooms she sat for. We wrote poems from her body then halfway through the session, we put down our charcoal, picked up our pens and wrote from her body. It was a difficult thing to do. My hand kept wanting to draw rather than write the line. Have you ever written from your drawings?

TH: No, they’re very separate for me. I like not using words in that particular space. I want it to be not words. I have them in my head all the time. I got enough of words, so I know, at least once a week I can go somewhere and be quiet for three hours... 

More at The White Review

Originally Published: January 18th, 2019