INTERVIEW WITH HALSEY HYER
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: “Boy Has Miscarriage” subverts expectations again and again, unsettling us in a deep way. The last lines of the poem are especially devastating, with the enjambment transforming the butterfly into the knife. Can you talk about how you developed the images in the poem?
Halsey Hyer: The images here came from gaining knowledge of my body—in some first-hand accounts, I read that pregnant people can feel twinging in their lower abdomen when they first become pregnant, and then that feeling moves to “flutters” when the fetus gains the ability to kick. The word “flutter” to me is a butterfly verb, though butterflies have little to do with blood. This is where the enjambment happened, the surprise—like miscarriage can be surprising, I wanted this line to be also—knives also cause the type of bleeding which can be controlled by whoever’s cutting, whereas the blood of a miscarriage is one that cannot be.
RR: We’re struck by the premise of the poem, and the way it upends gender norms feels really exciting and important to us. How do you approach these complicated ideas of gender and sex in your work?
HH: My work has direct inspiration from Jennifer Jackson Berry’s The Feeder. She explores ways to manipulate language and experience to reframe sociocultural ideas that, as a society, we may not typically give thought or pose question to. She tackles this phenomenon through a persona she refers to as, “Fat Girl.” This persona upends sex and gender norms in her own, fabulous way through an exploration and celebration of sex, eating, and the body. I hope to do the same with my poems.
RR: What does your process look like for writing a poem? Where does one begin, and how do you know when it’s done?
HH: Poems are finicky, wondrous, & absolutely have a mind of their own—I never know when they’ll happen to me. I don’t hold a regular writing practice; I enjoy experiencing the world & making observations which bubble up & spill out onto the page whenever they feel like it. One of my teachers, Jan Beatty, always reminds me: whether a poem comes out in five minutes or twenty years, it still takes all your life to write. When a poem lands itself on the page, I’m reminded of another teacher, Kayla Sargeson, who tells me: write until you feel like you’re going to puke. For me, it’s important not to hold back, especially because I want to be a part of these narratives that have been censored because trans/non-binary people exist and disrupt the conventions of gender.
RR: Outside of your writing and studying poetry, what are some of your other interests?
HH: Aside from poems, I really love biking, specifically bike touring. This summer I rode from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland along the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and spent many days along the Youghiogheny River staring at cardinal flowers. I also love writing music and singing, dissecting reality TV about relationships and watching documentaries about anything at all, and meandering the Allegheny Cemetery.
RR: What can we look forward to in terms of your writing? Are there any new exciting projects you’re working on?
HH: I’m currently sending out my first chapbook-length manuscript, Ritter’s Psychiatric Diner which explores toxic relationships, madness, gender, and sex through the lens of intergenerational trauma. I have three poems forthcoming in the next issue Up North Lit and just had a poem featured on Pittsburgh band Anna Karina’s new single, “We Are Passing.” I’m currently working on a folk split with fellow artist Grackle. We’re set to record and release the split in the summer of 2021.
Halsey Hyer’s work in Issue 8.1: