Hybrid and slippery as this book is — part memoir, part study of the poet’s own influences and ancestors, part meditation on poetics and selfhood — To Float in the Space Between is Hayes’s first full-length prose work, illustrated by sketches demonstrating the writer’s deft graphic skills ... To Float in the Space Between doesn’t show all Hayes’s powers, but it does transform the fast-twitch shift of his poems into a slower sense of drift. Reading To Float after Hayes’s poems feels akin to hearing Coltrane switch from 'Giant Steps' (where he sometimes changes keys twice in one measure) to something like 'Flamenco Sketches' (where he often remains in one scale for bar after bar after bar) ... A reader’s conversation with To Float will deepen the more he or she knows about the main figures Hayes claims as poet-fathers: Knight, Langston Hughes, Yusef Komunyakaa, Christopher Gilbert. But even if you’ve never heard of these writers, Hayes’s readings function as apt introductions. It’s a gift to encounter writers through the precisely calibrated curiosity of a wide-open searcher like this ... Through such deeply felt and finely wrought eddies of narrative drift, To Float in the Space Between confronts the reader with many such moments of angular reflection and renewed recognition.
Poets should write books about other poets. There’s an intimacy comes of hearing about what attracts one poet to the work of another that is endlessly engrossing ... It is in just such fashion Terrance Hayes delivers the goods on Etheridge Knight. Hayes has no qualms acknowledging he approaches the project as a poet, not a scholar ... There’s arguably more detailed insight into Hayes provided here than there is that of Knight. This isn’t altogether a bad thing, either ... Hayes proves a generous and agreeably easy-going guide to an entertaining journey of what turns out to be, at least in part, his attempt to sort out the business of becoming a poet ... In the end, perhaps the most memorable portraits of Knight that Hayes turns up are provided by older poets who knew Knight personally. This doesn’t detract anything from the accomplishment of Hayes’s work either.
A companionable guide through the gap, Hayes pivots between assertion and nuance, unshakable conviction and shaky speculation ... This is how To Float in the Space Between behaves, circling back to comment on Knight’s life and poems, then riding a vector to a topic more personal to Hayes ... To Float in the Space Between circles around Knight, peering at his character and accomplishments without pursuing a biographer’s agenda.
Throughout, Hayes challenges genre constraints, bringing together personal reflections, drawings, and poems by Knight and himself, and constructing a work that is part speculative biography, part autobiography, and part critical essay ... In the text’s most effective moments, Hayes links his life’s details to Knight’s.