Poet Halsey Hyer examines trans experience with debut collection [deadname] | Pittsburgh City Paper

Poet Halsey Hyer examines trans experience with debut collection [deadname]

click to enlarge Poet Halsey Hyer examines trans experience with debut collection [deadname]
Photo: Elwyn Brooks
Halsey Hyer

A few lines in Halsey Hyer’s poem “Boy & I” reflect the journey the writer and poet went through writing about their trans orientation.

I want to double down on multiplicity/Name each part of me/fall in love with & honor all my forms

Hyer said the poem was a response to a question they were asked during a graduate workshop at Florida International University: “Where are you in your poems?”

“As I came to know myself and understand my political position in relationship to gender — because I would also consider myself a gender abolitionist in some sense — and I think that there is a serious tension that exists within the ways in which the content is presented on the page, like my personal politics,” Hyer says. “I think that ‘Boy & I’ was an attempt to talk about the fact that the `I’ deserves to be deconstructed. I think that the `I’ is much more plural than a lot of people give it credit to be. So, ‘Boy & I’ was an attempt to integrate, say I’m myself but ‘boy’ is also part of me, and both of these things can exist in tandem.”

Hyer, who serves as an editorial assistant for Seven Kitchens Press, a collective member of The Big Idea Bookstore, and events coordinator at White Whale Bookstore, recently released [deadname] (Anhinga Press), their first full-length poetry collection. A quote from fellow poet Denise Duhamel on Anhinga’s website describes the book as “a poetic tour de force describing the trans experience,” adding that Hyer “dares us — then double dares us — to rethink gender through these exquisite, sometimes funny, and always tender poems.”

The foundation for Hyer’s poetry was formed while they were a student at the Community College of Allegheny County on the North Side. Under the tutelage of instructor and writer Kayla Torgerson, and influenced by the work of Jennifer Jackson Berry, Hyer found a voice to express their ideas.

“It wasn’t until I realized I was occupying this identity and gained a lot of the language around it that I was able to fully articulate it,” Hyer says.

While Hyer’s poetry is both autobiographical and observational, the work is also anecdotal. Hyer read works by Paul Preciado, Jack Halberstam, and Aaron Smith to flesh out their understanding about trans issues. They also had conversations with other trans people, and talked to feminists, “mostly because there’s a very clear tension sometimes between feminist women and trans people.”

Hyer mentions a disagreement they had with a group of women about whether “boys could get periods” as an example of an issue that sparked further discussion and exploration.

“It invited the question to come alive in me, to ask, what else can boys do that other people don’t think they can’t.” Hyer says, “and how does that intersect with the feminist socialization experience that is so common in contemporary America. I think a lot of it came from dialogue I was having in my communities. So, it was in some sense observational, but a lot of it was a rhetoric I was saying to them. So, some of these poems are a response I would give to somebody in poetic form.”

click to enlarge Poet Halsey Hyer examines trans experience with debut collection [deadname]
Photo: Anhinga Press
[deadname] by Halsey Hyer

Pursuing poetry taught Hyer to observe and notice “every single tiny detail, like a body movement or a facial expression.” They also studied psychology to gain a “grounded understanding” of how memory works.

Poetry emerged for them from both seeing, and feeling, the world

“We can’t pay attention to all the observations we’re making,” Hyer says. “Whenever I approach the page, I try to never lift my hand up. I try my best to free associate without any sort of recoil, or self-editing, so that I can allow the unconscious to bleed on to the page.

“Once it bleeds onto the page, I can pay attention to it and choose what I pay closer attention to, and nurture that.”


[deadname] by Halsey Hyer. anhingapress.org