Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

"But I prefer to answer zero questions about it": An Interview with Terrance Hayes

by Ilana Masad

A few weeks ago, I received an advanced reader copy of Terrance Hayes's new book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, out June 19 from Penguin Poets. I set up an interview with the poet through his publicist, and then sat down to research everything I didn't know about him. Of particular interest was this video from the MacArthur Foundation, where I discovered that Hayes is a visual artist and musician as well as a poet. Imagine my surprise when, after writing to Hayes with my questions, he responded with a question of his own: since this is a blog, he wondered, would he perhaps be able to incorporate images in his response? I told him he absolutely could, imagining he may use one or two to illustrate his points or to give examples of something else he was working on. Instead, Hayes apparently used a snowy day to, as he put it, "engage with" my questions. Oh, he engaged with them, all right, and the result is something quite unlike any interview we've published before. Plus, he provided a video of what can only be termed performance art, with zero context, and indicated he would rather not give it any. To see the video for yourself, click here, then, please enjoy the following interview...


1. Your sonnets in this book engage with so many themes, where words like "assassin" can take on so many meanings, from the person you see in the mirror to assassins remembered by history to the stranger on the street who can shoot you for no reason. What made you think of this term, assassin, when you set out to put together this book?

ANSWER: C1 / C2 / C3


2. I noticed in the sonnet index at the end of the book that each sonnet grouping is 14 lines, so that the first lines of each 14 sonnets make up their own kind of sonnet. You're known for this kind of formalistic play. What interests you about form, and how does it inspire you?



3. There are several refrains in this book: But there never was a black male hysteria is one, and Probably all my encounters are existential jambalaya is another and The names alive are like the names in the graves is a third. How do you choose what lines to repeat and how to repeat them? Is it the sounds, the rhythm, the meaning you find in them?



4. In general, there's a lot of linguistic play in your work, but particularly in this book. There's no attempt to hide the way you play with sound and language, the way words sound together and make rhythms and sometimes rhymes. Perhaps this question is too broad, but what do you love about language play?



5. You're a visual artist and a musician as well as a poet. What do different forms do for you? Are they all in service of poetry, or does poetry serve your musician and artist self? 



6. You often engage with masculinity in your work, and there's a line in this book that took my breath away, especially as a queer person: "...men like me / Who have never made love to a man will always be / Somewhere in the folds of our longing ashamed of it". Can you tell me more about this line?




Terrance Hayes


Terrance Hayes



Terrance Hayes