Wanda Coleman’s “American Sonnets” and Terrance Hayes

Sunday, February 11

This weekend I’ve been preparing to lead a discussion of MFA students about Terrance Hayes’s “American Sonnets for My Once & Future Assassin.” I’ve just finished jotting down notes on each of his sonnets and realized that I should have assigned Wanda Coleman’s sequence to them, too. While it’s too late for me to insist that they do so, I would like to post this brief note today (at 5:45 p.m., PST) to let my readers know that they can be found on-line:


There are dozens of poets whose work deserves close attention and at least some brief commentary, and the sad part of being a devoted reader of contemporary American poetry is the fact that no one could meet that demand, even if she or he were paid a full-time salary. Nevertheless, it’s almost incumbent on any serious reader to record a small portion of their insights into a few poets.

In Hayes’s case, I would like to apply a rule I heard about years ago that claimed anyone who wanted to know what one of Shakespeare’s plays was about only had to read the line of poetry that was at the exact center of the play. I thought that was an interesting premise, even if it was nothing more than a premise meant to bolster and augment one’s motive for indulging in Bardolotry.

In the “Once and Future Assassin” collection of poems, the rule turns up a haunting line, which in fact circles back to the very first “American Sonnet.” You’ll find that line in the middle of the sonnet on page 43: “To be dead and alive at the same time.” That kind of simultaneity is exactly what happens when Orpheus draws an “X” across the eyes of the beloved.

Hayes is an astonishing poet, and I have more to say about this book on another morning.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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