Terrance Hayes is in his thirties, and Hip Logic is his second book. In the world of poetry that makes him “up and coming.” What struck me about Hip Logic is how it rises above much of the strife plaguing contemporary poetry by blending multiple genres, rather than conforming to one. Hayes takes elements of form and turns them upside down: his “Sonnet” consists of one line repeated fourteen times: “We sliced the watermelon into smiles.” He writes a pair of poems in the manner of his contemporaries, Wanda Coleman and Tony Hoagland. References to Mr. T, Shaft, and Hip-Hop deejays sit comfortably alongside quotes from Pablo Neruda’s poetry and Paul Robeson’s music. He even includes several poems written following a method that utilizes the word jumble that appears in most daily newspapers. These yield some of the most interesting lines in the book. From “stupor:” “Because sooner or later it will all go sour/the two of you whipped by the sport/of high-ball and boogie, that ‘Don’t stop/ til you get enough’ rhythm reduced to a spot/on the tongue.”
What truly makes Hayes worth reading is his ability to infuse lines with raw emotion without soaking them in sentimentality. Two examples are the poems “Touch,” which presents a deceptively simple anecdote of a teenage football game, and “The Same City,” a reflective poem on the nature of modern family relations. I recently saw Hayes perform, and he read the latter poem at my request. I still get chills thinking about it.
Hip Logic lives up to its title. Hayes approaches poetry with a fresh intelligence that doesn’t leave the reader behind, and a powerful emotional sincerity that is never overbearing or sappy. This book exemplifies everything that’s good about contemporary poetry. Go to the poetry section of a bookstore. Pick up Hip Logic and read five poems. Just five. If you like those, read five more. If you like those, buy the book. Bringing art back to life is as simple as that.