In his award-winning first collection of poetry, Terrance Hayes displays a delicate yet broad-shouldered attentiveness, revealing the interior textures and melodies of a thoughtfully evolving black male self. Employing tones that range from sporting playfulness to elegiac sobriety, Hayes interacts with a mix of haunting and familiar images of racialized and gendered selfhood--popular, mythological, familial and historical--that have peopled his developing consciousness since childhood.
As figures as diverse as Betty Shabazz, Orpheus and Fat Albert stand and fall alongside one another, the persona of the poet also emerges, quirky and likeable, a palatable version of black masculinity unavoidably juxtaposed with contemporary media images of gun-toting, boisterous endangered black male predators. Through the collection's title and unifying concept, a provocative gesture alluding to Yusef Komunyakaa's idea of "muscular lyricism" Hayes speaks to the breadth of his influences.
In four movements, the inhabitant voice grows in stature as readers experience the poet's flexing. Though not immediately compelling, Hayes' skillful manipulation of conventional forms from couplets to prose poems tingles with invention. His images are often oddly fresh and appropriate, combining seemingly disparate elements to suggest the isolation that accompanies the universal struggle to define one's self.
Hayes' inclination to yank readers from their fantasy of bearing witness and return them to the longing of the self, perhaps, highlights the entire collection's greatest ambition and its greatest weakness--tenderness. Just as Hayes is careful to attend to the heart and the individual's need for social contact at the center of Muscular Music, thus the hard edge that runs as an undercurrent to these poems has been tempered or suppressed entirely. With rare exception, there is little sense of urgency as the speaker's ponderings are apparently undermined by the passivity of acceptable thought and emotion. However, Muscular Music remains an original, provocative read and Hayes a poet to watch.
Duriel E. Harris is poetry editor for Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora, and a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Program for Writers.
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|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2000|
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