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“I want to be a human above the body,” Terrance Hayes writes in his poem “Cocktails With Orpheus.” He knows that’s a pipe dream, and much of his work wrestles with what we have to do instead: reconcile ourselves with our willful, messy, ecstatic fleshiness. It makes sense that he gravitates toward themes of music and sex—it’s stuff that gets a body moving—and his poems are impassioned and lyrical. But the word “romantic” doesn’t quite apply. Spiky political lines run through his 2010 collection, Lighthead, which reckons with war, Hurricane Katrina, and racism as well as Marvin Gaye, Wallace Stevens, and Fela Kuti. He’ll celebrate the body and cut it down in the same line: “If you are addicted to dancing, polio will cure you,” he writes. Poetry enjoys a more prominent place at the now two-day National Book Festival than it has recently; Hayes is one of its most rightfully celebrated younger practitioners.
Terrance Hayes reads his work at 1:55 p.m. and holds a book signing at 3 p.m. at the National Book Festival’s Poetry & Prose pavilion on the National Mall, near 7th Street & Madison Drive SW. Free. (888) 714-4696.