Terrance Hayes Interview and Reading


We are pleased to present, after a long delay, Terrance Hayes reading an original poem, “How to Be Drawn to Trouble.” We think you’ll agree that he gives a commanding reading. He was gracious with his time and expertise and answered a few questions from RiffPub contributing poet Ciara Shuttleworth. His responses are insightful, thoughtful, and interesting for anyone curious about how music influences his work. Enjoy.
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My ambition as a poet is to let people know that poetry is as diverse and as broad and as fluid as music is.

 

CS: When you read, you have a distinctive cadence—it goes beyond your voice…it is a rhythm you easily swing back into if you stumble over a word. Is this something you developed consciously?

TH: I’ve been told I have a distinctive cadence or rhythm when I’m reading my words, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a conscious thing. I mostly concentrate on trying, first of all to be natural or consistent so I don’t have to remember a certain rhythm and I mostly want to be responsive to the poem so that sometimes the reading is measured and slower and other times it has a bit more of a kind of a lilt to it. I think that’s a response to the poem and of course it’s just a response to who’s in the room as well, whether it’s a young audience or an older audience, whether it’s two people or twenty-two people or two hundred people. All of those things impact what I think of as my sort of rhythm and delivery method. But I would never say it’s, ah, it’s pre-determined, but I would say it’s natural. I just try to do what I always do without too much conscious performance.

CS: Do you listen to music while you are writing? If so, how does that influence the poem?

TH: I don’t really listen to music so much when I’m writing. I get that question quite a bit. If I’m responding to a piece of music I will. You know I have the James Brown reference in a poem. In that poem, I guess the poem grows out of first listening to the music and sort of being struck by a certain intonation and then trying to respond to that. But generally I don’t listen to music. If I’m going to listen to something in would be like Burial. I like this sort of, I mean he’s not dub-step, he’s more kind of electronic or tonal, the music that he does. There are kind-of-words but they’re not narrative. Before burial, you know, maybe it was Miles Davis when he’s doing Kind of Blue, so something fairly mellow. But generally, no, I don’t think that I have to have music on or that it’s something that I think about when I sit down to write; I just mostly want to sit down to write.

CS: You bring up David Berman’s 1999 book, Actual Air, in interviews and during readings. Do you listen to his music as well? Do you see the two (his poetry and music) connected? What in this book has kept you talking about it for 15 years?

TH: David Berman (SP) is a poet who I have talked quite a bit about since his 1999 book Actual Air. And he remains of interest to me, primarily because I just think of him as someone with this very audacious imagination and I think some of that emerges in the music. I’ve taught his music with the book in a class that I taught on music in poetry, but I’m really more interested in him as a poet and I first came to him as a poet. And now, you know, after fifteen years I know him a little bit and I, like everyone, am just waiting for him to publish some of these new poems that Ive heard over the years. We’ll see, we’ll see what happens.

…if I never send [a poem] out that just means it’s not good enough to be a gift, it’s not a worthy gift yet.

CS: You’ve said that once the poems are published, they belong to the reader. Are there poems you never let go of, never publish, to keep them “yours”? Are there poems you wish you’d never published so they still belonged to you?

TH: When I’m writing my poems, I think of them as my poems, but once the poems are published I do think that they are [owned by] whoever bought them. When you buy my book of the bookshelf and you hand over your money, how you engage the work is really your business more than mine. I sort of say that as a way to let the poems go, to not have so much control over them. If I never send the poem out and it’s never in a book, does that mean it’s mine? I think that means it’s unfinished. So the ambition is to always get the poem into the world and a large part of my revision process is thinking about the reader who will someday own the poem, and if that reader never sees it, if I never send it out that just means it’s not good enough to be a gift, it’s not a worthy gift yet. But the ambition is to always make a thing that is mine a gift for others.

CS: Can poetry have a universally agreed upon emotion like music can?

TH: Can poetry have a universally agreed upon emotion like music? I think poetry is music: I think that poetry is music where the primary instrument would be the breath, the mouth, the body. I think you probably could say this about dance as well, that the primary instrument in dance is the body. But I think of voice and I think of speech as an even more fluid instrument, an instrument that is even closer to what we think of as a conventional instrument, a horn instrument, a wind instrument. So I think if that’s true, if the instrument in poetry is the voice and the breath, then I think it can convey a lot of the same ideas and lot of the same kinds of suggestiveness, same kinds of tones that we get in music, but the thing that sort of be an impediment to that is narrative.

I don’t think we only rely on narrative music, music that tells a story, obviously there are whole genres–there’s classical music, jazz–whole genres of music that aren’t tied exclusively to narrative. So, my ambition is to get poetry, and to get language, to work as music without words works. So that’s mostly what I’m working towards, it’s not just telling stories, but having a certain kind of tone be communicated without narrative.

CS: How does the role of the poet differ from the role of the musician?

TH: I am a storyteller, I guess, I do like stories. But I think part of my ambition as a teacher, and perhaps as a poet, is to really convey the very different ways we can tell stories, rather than thinking that poetry and storytelling and fiction, novels, cinema, that those things are so closely related. I really don’t of them as all that necessarily related. I mean obviously there is a relationship but my ambition as a poet is to let people know that poetry is as diverse and as broad and as fluid as music is. You never hear a person say ‘I hate music,’ but you hear people say ‘I hate poetry’ or ‘I don’t understand it’ and my response is always ‘but, you know it is music.’ So it’s just about being exposed to enough of it to fully appreciate it. It’s really not about dismissing a whole way of being in the world.
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Learn more about Hayes and his work by visiting his website at TerranceHayes.com.  “How to Be Drawn to Trouble” is the title poem from How to Be Drawn. Purchase the book online here.

Learn more about Ciara Shuttleworth and her work at CiaraShuttleworth.com.

Interview: Rapper Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell)

A few months back, RiffPub had the privilege of sitting down with Andy Bothwell, better know by his stage name Astronautalis, to chat about poetry, hip hop, pop music, and vintage radio microphones. The talk went in a lot of directions, but we managed to always bring it back to our favorite topic: the intersection of poetry and music. We hope you enjoy this ten-minute clip from the interview:

Interview Excerpt:

“I try really hard to change the language that I use from album to album. The most formal of my records was the record Pomegranate which was written with an active desire on my part to abandon the caasual nature of rap language and really go full bore into a more heightened, literary form. And a lot of that was influenced by Shakespeare. There’s a chunk of the…the first chunk of “The Case of William Smith” is written in iambic pentameter. Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poem called “The Windhover” was a huge influence on that. He talks about watching a windhover fly. It’s this really, incredibly complicated and incredibly ahead of it’s time poem about the windhover and comparing it to the grace of God and all these other things and it’s really amazing.

“That Pomegranate record is so dense with language. This Is Our Science is slightly lesser, but still pretty dense with language. I mean those choruses are like tons and tons of words. I wanted to try to think more in an efficient use of words. With previous records, the goal was always to add more: add strings, find more words, find the exact word for it even if it’s some dead old word.

“I got on this tear for like two weeks where I could not stop listening to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.”

“The goal with the current record was to do more with less. And so, sometimes it’s much more maddening because you’re sitting there and your’e trying to write two lines and you really have to thread a needle. The times when it was off-the-cuff for this record were really magical. It was, it was the first record that was fun for me to make. They’re always challenging, and the challenge is its own kind of fun, but it’s definitely not stereotypical fun. When I’m working on a record I don’t sleep. I’m a total basket case. This was a lot more fun to actually make, and I think it will come out in the music as well.

“I think pop music is important and beautiful and there are a ton of pop songs that I love. Man, I got on this tear for like two weeks where I could not stop listening to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. A lot of people discount it because it is Miley Cyrus or whatever. But not only does she kill the performance of that, kills it, but that song is—you know she didn’t write that song—but that song is so beautifully written that if you go back and listen to it…. Imagine Dolly Parton playing it on a grand piano. It would cut you in half. If you had someone that you really admired singing it, it would cut you in half. It’s such and incredible song. I remember listening to it and being like I’ve got to figure out a way to write a song like this. It’s just amazing.

“Pop music’s great, I just think that there’s the potential to make pop music that’s still important. (RiffPub: “How do you know when you’ve done that?) It’s magic. It’s like that thing where you won’t know it unless you see it, and when you see it you know it. That’s when it becomes truly magical. I think a lot of times, it’s when something leaves you still. Some of the most incredible experiences of my life—as a person and as an artist—as creating art and living life and also being around and watching it…. Those moments that are the most impactful are the moments where you are just still. And you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything, you just don’t want to move because you don’t want the thing that is happening around you, the magic and lightning around you, to end.”


Astronautalis is an active Facebook user, be sure to follow his page here. To purchase his music, find tour dates, and learn more about Andy Bothwell, visit his official website.

“The Truro Bear” -A Poem by Elizabeth Bradfield

The poet Elizabeth Bradfield reached out to Riff Pub way back in May. It was wonderful to have her voice featured in the cast of readers for a previous Intonation feature. We are particularly excited to bring you her voice reading an original poem. It’s a real stunner.

 

Bradfield was kind enough to answer a few of our questions regarding the poem/song relationship. Her insights are sharp and her tone warm. We’d play clarinet with her any day.


“The reason that I wanted to read this poem is that sometimes for me poems begin with a line, and usually the line is there because it has some kind of musical reverberation. And that line I am lonely for the bear just kept running through my head. This kind of origin of a poem used to happen a lot more frequently for me, and less so now, but this is one of the more recent poems where it began that way. And then the job of the poem is to figure out what that means. Why is that loneliness so important? What’s in that song? Part of it is the word lonely and what a long and mournful word it is in and of itself.

Credit: ebradfield.com“What’s the primary difference between a song and a poem? Well, musicality, an attention to the sound of something. In a poem, it’s an attention to the way the words create a rhythmic pattern and the way that hard and soft sounds bounce off each other, for me, the way the line break works against and with the sense of the sentence. But you don’t have a drum set, you don’t have harmony, at least tonally, and so that’s how they’re different than a song. You have to do it all right there with a poem. I guess it’s more like a solo of an instrument like a trumpet or a woodwind, where you can’t create two notes at once. All the music has to be in that simple utterance, just that one voice coming through.

You have to do it all right there with a poem. I guess it’s more like a solo of an instrument like a trumpet or a woodwind, where you can’t create two notes at once.

“I love music. I can’t listen to it when I read or when I write, so it doesn’t play as often as it might in the house. Actually, playing clarinet as a kid and through in to college was really important to me. Classical music, and it wasn’t that it was classical, but the experience of playing in a band, in an orchestra, and having all that noise around you and teasing out how all the little parts came in an out of one another and watching the conductor make all of that happen – I loved that experience. And I think part of what I loved was in losing the sense of self. Just being in that sound, or being really attentive to the self within that sound. It was really important to me. I miss it quite a bit. I keep trying to figure out how I can get back to that.

“Musicians or songwriters more aligned to the world of poetry than most: Im pretty in love with Neko Case. Songwriters like her who really challenge me with their lyrics and bring in, oh, a world of reference, are really exciting to me. Joni Mitchell too, wow! What an amazing poet she is. The list could of course go on, but those are two who immediately come to mind.

“Poems are songs. This is why we listen to them.”


Elizabeth Bradfield is author of the poetry collections Interpretive Work and Approaching IceHer third book of poems, Once Removed, is forthcoming in 2015 from Persea. Her work has been published in numerous venues including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Believer, and Poetry. She runs Broadsided Press, one of the hippest poetry projects on the internet. Learn more about Bradfield and her myriad endeavors at ebradfield.com.

Intonation: “Sestina” -A Poem by Ciara Shuttleworth

Intonation features a single poem by a living poet. Five readers, including the poet herself, perform the poem. Monday-Thursday of the selected week feature readings by poets, voice artists, and musicians. On Friday RiffPub presents the poet’s own voice. How will individual readers affect the meaning of the poem? What, sonically, will each reader emphasize? Discover with us.

This Intonation explores a poem by Ciara Shuttleworth.
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Monday, September 1st:

Elizabeth Bradfield’s work has appeared in The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyPoetry, and elsewhere. Her books include Interpretive Work and Approaching Ice.

Tuesday, September 2nd:

Wrigley is a Moscow, Idaho based poet. His honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. More info on Robert Wrigley.

Wednesday, September 3rd:

Performance poet Lyrically Blessed (LB) can be seen and heard scoring perfect tens at poetry slams around the country. See video of two LB performances online here.

Thursday, September 4th:

Jeremy Loeb is a reporter and radio host for Alabama Public Radio, where he hosts the station’s broadcast of Morning Edition from NPR.

Friday, September 5th:

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About the Poet: Ciara Shuttleworth has become an advocate for the RiffPub project, actively seeking new voices for us to record and feature. Her poetry has been featured in numerous journals, including Tahoma Literary ReviewYemasseeCutthroat, and The Southern Review. “Sestina” was originally published in The New Yorker. Learn more about Shuttleworth and her work at CiaraShuttleworth.com.

Special thanks to WHQR  and Alabama Public Radio for assisting with some of these recordings. Follow RiffPub on Facebook for content updates.
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“When Our House Was Old” -A Poem By Malena Mörling

This poem by Malena Mörling appears in the collection Astoria and was recorded in the public radio studios of WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
malena_morling Mörling’s books of poetry and translation include Astoria, Ocean AvenueFirst Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, and Prison, Nine Haiku (Tranströmer).

Malena was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about the relationship between poetry and music, and how the two play a role in her creative life as translator and poet. Learn more about Mörling, her work, and find links to purchase her books online at MalenaAMorling.com

Intonation: “County” -A Poem by Robert Wrigley

Intonation features a single poem by a living poet. Five readers, including the poet herself, perform the poem. Monday-Thursday of the selected week feature readings by poets, voice artists, and musicians. On Friday RiffPub presents the poet’s own voice. How will individual readers affect the meaning of the poem? What, sonically, will each reader emphasize? Discover with us.

This Intonation explores a poem by Robert Wrigley. Featured readers are Ben Nichols, Michael McGriff, Elizabeth Bradfield, and Terrance Hayes.
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Monday, June 9th:
Singer-songwriter Ben Nichols is frontman of the band Lucero. To find tour dates, purchase music, and learn more about Lucero visit LuceroMusic.com.

Tuesday, June 10th:
Michael McGriff’s books include Home Burial, Dismantling The Hills, and Choke. He is a founding editor of Tavern Books. McGriff was recorded by Beau Thorne.

Wednesday, June 11th:

Elizabeth Bradfield’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, and elsewhere. Her books include Interpretive Work and Approaching Ice.

Thursday, June 12th:

Terrance Hayes is the author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award. His other books are Wind In a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music.

Friday, June 13th:
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About the Poet: Robert Wrigley lives outside of Moscow, Idaho with his wife Kim Barnes. His most recent collection is Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems (Penguin, 2013). He is a professor at the University of Idaho. “County” was first published by Northwest Review and appears in the collection Beautiful Country.  For more information on Wrigley and his work, visit his bio at The Poetry Foundation.

Special thanks to WHQR for recording Nichols and WPTS for recording Hayes. Follow RiffPub on Facebook for content updates.

Interview: Ben Nichols of Lucero

Singer-songwriter Ben Nichols said he dealt with writer’s block before making the Lucero album “Women and Work” by allowing himself to lighten up lyrically and to write fun, straightforward rock and roll songs. He speculated for RiffPub about how a writer might deal with a similar creative block. He also spoke about his early experience learning the craft of songwriting. Of course, he directly addressed our favorite topic: Poem Vs Song.

Ben Nichols Interview:

 

“The goal is to communicate, the goal is the same.”

To hear how these concepts work into Nichols’ final work, we have two exclusive videos:


Follow our Facebook Page for updates and previews of RiffPub posts and keep your eye on the YouTube Channel for a forthcoming exclusive Ben Nichols video.

Ben Nichols is frontman of the band Lucero. To find tour dates, purchase music, and learn more about Lucero visit Luceromusic.com. These songs and the interview were recorded with studio time, equipment, and expertise donated by WHQR FM in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Intonation: “Catfish” -A Poem by Michael McGriff

Intonation features a single poem by a living poet. Five readers, including the poet herself, perform the poem. Monday-Thursday of the selected week feature readings by poets, voice artists, and musicians. On Friday RiffPub presents the poet’s own voice. How will individual readers affect the meaning of the poem? What, sonically, will each reader emphasize? Discover with us.

This Intonation explores a poem by Michael McGriff. Featured readers include Wiley Cash, Ciara Shuttleworth, Malena Morling, and more.
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Monday, April 7th:

Wiley Cash Performs “Catfish”

Cash is a bestselling novelist. His most recent book is This Dark Road to Mercy. Learn more about Cash and his work on his website. 

Tuesday, April 8th:

Ciara Shuttleworth Performs “Catfish”

Shuttleworth’s poetry has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Los Angeles Review, The New Yorker, and many other venues. Learn more about her work on her website.

Wednesday, April 9th:

Malena Mörling Performs “Catfish”

Mörling is a poet, translator, and educator. Her work includes Astoria: Poems and the translation Tomas Tranströmer’s First Poems & Notes From the Land of Lap Fever.

Thursday, April 10th:

Bob Workmon Performs “Catfish”

Workmon is a stage performer, operatic vocal soloist, and professional radio announcer. More info on Workmon is available here. He can be contacted at BWorkmon@WHQR.org

Friday, April 11th:

Michael McGriff Performs “Catfish”

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About the Poet: Michael McGriff’s books include Home Burial, Dismantling The Hills, and Choke. He is a founding editor of Tavern Books. Learn more about McGriff and his work at The Poetry Foundation. “Catfish” was first published in American Poetry Review and is available in McGriff’s collection Home Burial.  Special thanks to WHQR Public Radio in Wilmington, NC for production space and assistance with recording Workmon, Morling, and Cash.

Two Poems by Lyrically Blessed

Performance poet Lyrically Blessed (LB) recently recorded two poems and a brief interview with us. We’re pleased to present the performances in a simple video format.

“Labels As Curse Words”


Listen to the interview:

LB talks with us about his process, the relationship between hip-hop and poetry, and what he wants to leave his listeners with.

“Griot”

Special thanks to LB for joining the collection of creative voices here. Thanks also to WHQR FM for studio time. Stay tuned this month for more exciting content, including an “Intonation” feature.

Follow RiffPub on Facebook for updates.

“What Sings is The Drunk Boy’s Hands” -A Poem by Ciara Shuttleworth

This poem by New York based Poet Ciara Shuttleworth first appeared in Los Angeles Review and was recorded at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.Ciara Shuttleworth

Ciara has become an advocate for the RiffPub project, actively seeking new voices for us to record and feature. Expect to hear more of her voice and work on RiffPub. Her poetry has been featured in numerous journals, including The New Yorker, Yemassee, Cutthroat, and The Southern Review.