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AASA hosts Poet Terrance Hayes for community forum

Tyler Steffen
Poet Terrance Hayes read his poetry and answered students questions at an event hosted by the African American Student Affairs on Feb. 23.

On Friday, Feb. 23, African American Student Affairs invited award-winning poet Terrance Hayes to participate in an open forum where students could comment and ask questions about his work. 

AASA is an organization on campus that provides a system that encourages excellence and provides an African American cultural experience on campus. AASA holds events to promote growth, helps students academically and provides a space for minorities. 

For the entire month of February AASA has been hosting forums, activities and more in honor of Black History month. This specific event was to put a spotlight on the achievements of black poets such as Hayes. 

Hayes is a poet and educator born in South Carolina. He received his Bachelor of Arts at Coker College and his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s taught literature, poetry, creative writing and more at many universities, including NYU. 

“My job as a teacher isn’t to get you to agree with me; my job is to get people to respond to a work of literature,” Hayes said.

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He has won multiple awards for his work in poetry including the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. 

Hayes began the forum by reading a few sonnets from his most recent publication “American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassins.” In the poetry, there are some lighthearted works and some more heavy on the heart, addressing racial tensions following the most recent presidential election. 

Hayes described his word choice process as being based on figurative language. Though the audience may take the meaning of a word to be literal, there may also be a figurative meaning behind it and Hayes’ job as a poet is to take a word and define it as something completely different. 

When choosing words that fit into his pieces, Hayes said, “It’s gotta cast a shadow, when a word has enough presence, it will.”  

Hayes references black icons in his work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the poem is about that person, as there is more meaning to his poems than the surface level. 

The piece of poetry that moved him to want to pursue this career was “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks. 

“I wanted to be a writer because I had never looked at a painting that moved me like that,” Hayes said. 

As a writer, he writes every day but “that doesn’t mean it’s always good.”

When deciding what to publish he questions first if the piece is private or is it worth sharing and when doing literature workshops, he tells his students to “write something no one has written before.”

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As a poet, he has an appreciation for the sounds in life and gets some of his poems inspired from the music that surrounds him.

“Poetry’s closest parallel would be music,” Hayes said. “Being a poet is like trying to make language into music.”

The poetry reading is one of the many events that AASA put on for Black History month and will continue with an AASA block party on Feb. 28. 

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