The reading series for this revived journal that combines art and social-justice activism got off to a nice start last night at the New Hazlett Theater.
The readers were Terrance Hayes, Pittsburgh’s resident National Book Award-winning poet, and visiting poet Saeed Jones.
Hayes focused on work he’s written since his award-winning Lighthead, including a riff on artist Jenny Holzer’s famous “Protect Me From What I Want” installations and “How to Draw An Invisible Man,” a dazzling take on author Ralph Ellison and his legacy.
Jones, of San Francisco, edits BuzzFeedLGBT. He read some explicitly political work, including one about a victim of anti-gay violence in Africa he memorialized thus: “My tongue is a kingdom; you live there.” (Jones noted that there are 76 countries where being homosexual is effectively illegal.)
He also read “Kudzu,” inspired by his late mother’s comment that the prolific invasive vine was “slutty” — and by Jones wondering if she was actually talking about him: “Soil recoils from my hooked kisses, pine turns it back on me … all I’ve ever wanted was to kiss crevices.”
Afterword, with HEArt founder and poetry editor Leslie Anne McIlroy, Jones and Hayes briefly discussed poetry and politics.
“The striving for complexity is political,” said Jones — meaning, in part, that the more poets’ voices can show the complexity of individuals, the harder it becomes to stereotype.
“What I’m interested in in a political poem is vulnerability, ambiguity and gray areas,” said Hayes. “We have a pretty good sense of right and wrong, except when we’re walking down the street.”
The HEArt series continues in 2014, with appearances by nationally known poets Tim Seibles and Martin Espada.