BY NOW, MOST FOLKS who read or claim they read poetry know that Terrance Hayes won the 2010 National Book Award for poetry for his fantastic fourth book Lighthead. 2010 has been a phenomenal year for poetry, especially considering all of the collected/selected poems that have appeared. Compedia by heavy-hitters such as Kay Ryan, Edward Hirsch, Gerald Stern, Robert Hass, James Schuyler, and Maxine Kumin, plus new books by Charles Wright, C. K. Williams, Bob Hicok, Tony Hoagland have already made overlapping "Best Of" lists nearly impossible.
Even more unlikely is that amidst all of these great books--even books that span a lifetime of poetry--Hayes captured the coveted NBA with a book that thumps both high and hip-hop culture with an odd but alluring backbeat of pecha kucha. Lighthead made my top 5 books of poetry for 2010, and it really is like nothing else out there.
Sure, Hayes addresses race, and yes, motifs of light and dark illuminate the collection here are there, but what is particularly enjoyable about the book is the near-perfect marriage of voice and form. Hayes plays with poetic form in pretty cool ways, but it's never gimmicky, and even though his voice modulates to fit the form, it always sounds like Hayes' voice.
In 2008, I was an early advocate for Hayes to be President Obama's Inaugural Poet, and as I say in my forthcoming piece in The San Francisco Chronicle, when Obama gets re-elected, I hope this time he taps Hayes for that honor.