Watch Your Language

Visual and Literary Reflections on a Century of American Poetry

“Dazzling . . . a verbal and visual feast that defies genres.” —The Washington Post

“Hayes [is] one of the best and most important poets now writing.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Poetry

From the National Book Award–winning author of Lighthead, Terrance Hayes, a fascinating collection of graphic reviews and illustrated prose addressing the last century of American poetry—to be published simultaneously with his latest poetry collection, So to Speak


Canonized, overlooked, and forgotten African American poets star in Terrance Hayes's brilliant contemplations of personal, canonical, and allegorical literary development. Proceeding from Toni Morrison's aim to expand the landscape of literary imagination in Playing in the Dark ("I want to draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography"), Watch Your Language charts a lyrical geography of reading and influence in poetry. Illustrated micro-essays, graphic book reviews, biographical prose poems, and nonfiction sketches make reading an imaginative and critical act of watching your language. Hayes has made a kind of poetic guidebook with more questions than answers. "If you don't see suffering's potential as art, will it remain suffering?" he asks in one of the lively mock poetry exam questions of this musing, mercurial collection. Hayes's astonishing drawings and essays literally and figuratively map the acclaimed poet's routes, roots, and wanderings through the landscape of contemporary poetry.
Terrance Hayes is the author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, winner of the 2019 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award. His other poetry collections are So to Speak, How to Be Drawn, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music. He is also the author of To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight, winner of the 2019 Poetry Foundation Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. Hayes lives in New York City, where he is a professor of creative writing at New York University. View titles by Terrance Hayes
Praise for Watch Your Language:

“A dazzling homage . . . [Watch Your Language is] a verbal and visual feast that defies genres . . . exhilerating . . . Time and time again, [Hayes] introduces a phrase or form that appears familiar, then radically reinvents it. The results are strange, sometimes surreal and always sublimely surprising . . . [He] continues to devise language well worth watching.” —The Washington Post

“One reads a book like Hayes’s to feel at home in a strange land, to feel one’s enthusiasm answered and challenged, to soothe one’s uncertainty, and to excite it, in order to get more into poetry . . . I get giddy imagining the view if this were the first panoramic glimpse teenagers got of the poetry landscape . . . I don’t think there’s ever been a book like this before. A young Black poet reading this book will see the poetic tradition—the past, as well as the present—as it really is, not one tradition at all, but many, carried forward by many kinds of people who are connected not just by scholars’ analyses, but by community . . . they will feel invited to poetry, and by no less a host than Terrance Hayes, one of the best and most important poets now writing.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Poetry

“A wildly entertaining and honest view into a poet and artist’s rangy mind.” —The Millions

“When one of America’s great poets assembles his poetic origin story in a collage-like collection of mini essays, illustrations, prose fragments, and assorted feuilletons of a life in poetry, it behooves us all to pay attention. In examining his own path to poetry, Terrance Hayes also manages to excavate a century of nearly forgotten African American poets, reminding us all of the very narrow poetic canon that predominates to this day in the academy. Essential reading.” —LitHub

“A freewheeling work of creative originality . . . Equal parts zine, poetic bibliography, and interior atlas to Hayes' literary inheritance, this imaginative undertaking will intrigue aficionados of the author's expanding oeuvre and anyone looking for artistic inspiration.” —Booklist

About

“Dazzling . . . a verbal and visual feast that defies genres.” —The Washington Post

“Hayes [is] one of the best and most important poets now writing.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Poetry

From the National Book Award–winning author of Lighthead, Terrance Hayes, a fascinating collection of graphic reviews and illustrated prose addressing the last century of American poetry—to be published simultaneously with his latest poetry collection, So to Speak


Canonized, overlooked, and forgotten African American poets star in Terrance Hayes's brilliant contemplations of personal, canonical, and allegorical literary development. Proceeding from Toni Morrison's aim to expand the landscape of literary imagination in Playing in the Dark ("I want to draw a map, so to speak, of a critical geography"), Watch Your Language charts a lyrical geography of reading and influence in poetry. Illustrated micro-essays, graphic book reviews, biographical prose poems, and nonfiction sketches make reading an imaginative and critical act of watching your language. Hayes has made a kind of poetic guidebook with more questions than answers. "If you don't see suffering's potential as art, will it remain suffering?" he asks in one of the lively mock poetry exam questions of this musing, mercurial collection. Hayes's astonishing drawings and essays literally and figuratively map the acclaimed poet's routes, roots, and wanderings through the landscape of contemporary poetry.

Author

Terrance Hayes is the author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, winner of the 2019 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award. His other poetry collections are So to Speak, How to Be Drawn, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music. He is also the author of To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight, winner of the 2019 Poetry Foundation Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. Hayes lives in New York City, where he is a professor of creative writing at New York University. View titles by Terrance Hayes

Praise

Praise for Watch Your Language:

“A dazzling homage . . . [Watch Your Language is] a verbal and visual feast that defies genres . . . exhilerating . . . Time and time again, [Hayes] introduces a phrase or form that appears familiar, then radically reinvents it. The results are strange, sometimes surreal and always sublimely surprising . . . [He] continues to devise language well worth watching.” —The Washington Post

“One reads a book like Hayes’s to feel at home in a strange land, to feel one’s enthusiasm answered and challenged, to soothe one’s uncertainty, and to excite it, in order to get more into poetry . . . I get giddy imagining the view if this were the first panoramic glimpse teenagers got of the poetry landscape . . . I don’t think there’s ever been a book like this before. A young Black poet reading this book will see the poetic tradition—the past, as well as the present—as it really is, not one tradition at all, but many, carried forward by many kinds of people who are connected not just by scholars’ analyses, but by community . . . they will feel invited to poetry, and by no less a host than Terrance Hayes, one of the best and most important poets now writing.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, Poetry

“A wildly entertaining and honest view into a poet and artist’s rangy mind.” —The Millions

“When one of America’s great poets assembles his poetic origin story in a collage-like collection of mini essays, illustrations, prose fragments, and assorted feuilletons of a life in poetry, it behooves us all to pay attention. In examining his own path to poetry, Terrance Hayes also manages to excavate a century of nearly forgotten African American poets, reminding us all of the very narrow poetic canon that predominates to this day in the academy. Essential reading.” —LitHub

“A freewheeling work of creative originality . . . Equal parts zine, poetic bibliography, and interior atlas to Hayes' literary inheritance, this imaginative undertaking will intrigue aficionados of the author's expanding oeuvre and anyone looking for artistic inspiration.” —Booklist

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