Friday, February 27, 2004

Terrance Hayes - Columbia, SC

Terrance Hayes and I were set to meet in Pittsburgh, PA, earlier this week (where he teaches and lives with his wife - the poet Yona Harvey - and their two children). But he got a chance to read at a book fair in his hometown of Columbia, SC, today, so we opted for that location instead. (The forecast was for snow throughout the mountains of Pennsylvania, and South Carolina would make a nice rest stop on our trip back to reclaim Winnie Cooper, our beloved but abandoned motorhome, still resting in Savannah, GA.)

So with much relief, we packed up in Providence, RI, and headed south, seeking the more temperate climes, grateful that our month in the northeast was free of snow, ice, and any other falling winter goodies.

The relief lasted until Dunn, NC. We woke up at yet another Holiday Inn Express and stared out at snow piling up against the window, falling gracefully on the Ford Escape with Georgia plates.

By the time we were on Interstate 95, we were pushing straight into the teeth of a "weather-maker" that would dump 12 inches of snow in about 4 hours. We were skirting the eastern edge of the storm, but we still got hemmed in behind a ton of drivers inching through the slushy - then freezing - meltings of the earlier snow.

Suddenly, a few dozen miles into South Carolina, the snow began to turn into sleet, then a cold rain. When we reached Columbia, it was 35 degrees and raining softly. We found our Holiday Inn Express, called Terrance, and made a time for the next day. Terrance has brought his 9 month old son on the trip - to allow the grandparents some time to dote and fuss - and so thinks it might be quieter to meet at our hotel.

It's the first time a poet is coming to me on this trip and it feels weird. Usually I'm circling some foreign neighborhood, running over curbs and consulting a map of my own evil design, arriving with a giant bag of recorders and cameras. I slam around inside, knocking books and knick knacks onto the rug, my incredible belly bowling over any children or animals who may be too confused or slow to clear a way.

But today I set up my camera and recorder, ate the outstandingly mediocre continental breakfast (watery orange juice, warm milk, hard cinnamon roll, and gelatinous boiled egg), and waited.

Terrance arrived and I welcomed him in room 218. We talked a bit about his being back home for a visit, his reading coming up, and the trip I'm on. We sat at a chintzy hotel room table and talked about poetry, Pittsburgh, sports, his painting, etc.

A word Terrance used early on was "compartments." He is able to keep the parts of his life and work separate from one another, sort of like - he says - the greens and the potatoes on a plate of food. He's a teacher and a writer, a poet and a painter. He acknowledges that these things have something to do with one another, but doesn't see vital or obvious connections. "I'm always asked that," he says, when I ask if the painting impacts the poetry or vice versa. But he sees them as different things. Different arts.

We go down to the front of the hotel to shoot some 35mm shots. I instantly have great regrets about not seeing his new house in Pittsburgh, or his parents' house here in Columbia, but I think of this as a rare home game after a continuing and endless road trip.

Terrance leaves me a copy of his second book, Hip Logic, a lyrical and elegant collection. It features a stunning collage of Terrance's on the cover, a sort of snarling and distorted face, "shards" of newspaper clippings in the background. Inside the book, he's signed it and written a little note, a welcome gift. We shake hands under the Holiday Inn Express awning, and he heads for the parking lot; I head for the elevator.