Terrance Hayes


Terrance Hayes (1971) is een van de origineelste stemmen in de huidige Amerikaanse poëzie. De vier bundels die hij tot nu toe publiceerde werden alle bekroond met belangrijke prijzen. Daarnaast verschenen zijn gedichten ook in heel wat hoog aangeschreven tijdschriften als The New Yorker en de Kenyon Review.
In Hayes' gedichten worden het persoonlijke en het politieke op een vernieuwende manier samengebracht. Ze getuigen van zin voor avontuur, humor en inventiviteit. Terugkerende elementen in Hayes' oeuvre zijn ras, identiteit, familie en geschiedenis. Hayes' stijl is sterk beïnvloed door jazz, maar in Lighthead (2010) bijvoorbeeld ook door oude Japanse dichtvormen. Voor deze bundel, waarin de dichter de constructie van de ervaring onderzoekt, ontving Hayes de National Book Award voor poëzie 2010. Eerder verschenen Muscular Music (1999), Hip Logic (2002) en Wind in a Box (2006). Hayes is docent creatief schrijven aan de Carnegie Mellon University en woont in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



Letter to Paul Mennes


Dear Paul,

It was wonderful to receive your letter. I have returned to Pittsburgh now and look forward to meeting you for beer at Park Brugge, a wonderful neighborhood bar that specializes in Belgian beer. It is the only place in Pittsburgh that sells Tripel Karmeliet, a beer I first sampled at the Poechenellekelder, one of the famous old bars of Brussels. I remember not only the Poechenellekelder's eccentric décor (an assortment of trinkets, marionettes, and costumed Mannekin Pis dolls), but also the neighborly faces throughout the bar. Tourists and locals seemed indistinguishable amid the laughter and warmly lit wood furnishings.

Your cordial letter reminds me of Brussels's constant friendliness. I never found the city provincial though I met many who, like you, were highly self-conscious about Brussels. Many of the people I met seemed to have difficulty understanding why anyone would visit the city. They suggested I visit Antwerp, Ghent, and Brugge-strikingly different Belgian cities that were within hours by train. Often the conversation would turn to Belgium's diminutive dimensions.  At a pizzeria in Saint Gilles one night, my new German friend, who I'd met at an art gallery that afternoon, debated the size of Belgium with his friends. "It's the size of Maryland," he insisted. Someone else in the group argued it was the size of Rhode Island. "You can probably drive across Los Angeles in the time it takes to drive across all of Belgium," I was told. "With or without traffic?" I asked. "You can drive across all of Belgium in three hours," Simon's girlfriend said. "I thought it was an hour and one half," someone else interjected. "When I return with my family, I will make the drive and report back to you," I laughed. I assured them I liked Brussels enough to return. Yes, Brussels is a small city in a small country, but it never seemed provincial. The city reminds me of Washington DC because of its mix of expatriates, bohemians, professionals, government workers, service workers and natives. During my stay I heard Congolese, German, and Spanish in addition to Dutch and French. I am aware of Brussels's turbulent cultural history, but I saw the co-existence of so many languages and people as evidence of the city's openness and complexity.

Just as you feared I'd find Brussels provincial, I feared you'd find Pittsburgh small and uninteresting. Andy Warhol once said Pittsburgh is a place you only want to be from. Though it is no longer "hell without a lid," its winters remain so brutal commercials for cold and flu medicines are filmed here. The city's industrial strength, working-class image conceals its homey charms. Bountiful bridges stretch across the three rivers. The neighborhoods maintain distinct cultural identities. And as you noted in your letter, you can find a parade of Steeler t-shirts, jackets, hats and jerseys everywhere. When the Steelers are winning games, the city feels wonderfully unified. Of course beneath the uniform unity, you can find the same social and economic discord that exists in Brussels and elsewhere. There are the same dangers waiting down dark alleys, but I believe an alert and careful person can go just about anywhere. I found this to be true in Brussels. Walking the city alone I found amazing shops of books, art, vinyl records, Tintin comics, waffles, and Manekin Pis souvenirs. It's true I was never out alone after sundown, but the July sun sets late in Brussels. As late as 10 pm the sky still held a faint lavender glow. As I sat writing by the window of my flat late into the night, I could hear the city's energetic bustle.

Perhaps the liveliness of Brussels has to do with the commingling of so many cultures in a small geographic space. Or perhaps being the overlooked neighbor of Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam has made the people of Brussels supernaturally hospitable.  A French bookmaker friend invited me to a Sunday brunch that included a Hungarian graphic artist, a deejay from the Philippines, an Algerian nurse, a Korean chef and a Dutch painter with her two-year old daughter.  The loft was a swirl of languages and charity as the friends shared food and conversation. You might assume that motely group welcomed me as a sort of fellow expatriate artist, but I experienced the same warmth in the homes of native Belgians. I recall, in particular, a small birthday party one Saturday night. The host played his keyboard piano beautifully as rain fell outside his apartment window. He, the birthday girl, her brother and his fiancé made me feel like an intimate old friend.  We shared a red berry cake made by the birthday girl. Then I sat gleefully amazed as they played several YouTube of Belgian music videos: TC Matic, Plastic Bertrand, the Confetti's, and "Pump up the Jam" by Technotronic. When I exclaimed, "I can't believe 'Pump up the Jam' was made by Belgians!" they smiled proudly.

It is not landmarks like the Palace of Justice or the Atomium or the Grand Palace that come to mind when I recall the wonders of Brussels. Instead, I think of the diverse welcoming faces I encountered again and again. I hope you find the same generosity and adventure in Pittsburgh, Paul. I hope we can meet soon for Belgian beer in America!

Sincerely, Terrance



Lees hier het antwoord van Terrance Hayes op de brief van Paul Mennes. Beide verschenen in De Standaard der Letteren op vrijdag 21 oktober 2011.

passa porta
27.06.11 > 25.07.11

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