We had the good fortune of connecting with Hunter Hazelton and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Hunter, what inspires you?
People. More specifically, my relationships with people. Sylvia Plath has a quote about why she writes: “There is a voice inside me that will not be still.” And Joan Didion has a quote answering the same question: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” I think I’m somewhere in-between.

The speaker in my poems is my most authentic identity–even though he doesn’t always tell the truth. He is the persona of my ruminations, and I often find myself writing about the relationships in my life based on others’ understanding of this persona. Do they know him? Which is really a synonym for “Do they know me?”

Ironically, I’ve never been the best at expressing myself. The irony comes in that I am creative. I am extroverted. So, most people I know might disagree with me there. I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, which is true in part; but poetry is where I get to be most authentic, where I get to understand how I truly feel about a particular matter. For instance, in a poem, a simple phone call could become a historic battlefield or Amelia Earhart’s lost plane, when really the call was just a means of catching up.

Yet the experiences the speaker undergoes are far more authentic to me than the actual conversation. A car accident or drowning is a better representation–and not just for art’s sake–of me. More so than the forced smiles and tongue biting that comes along in the usual, cordial and glib talk we all typically undergo every day.

In poetry, I get to say what I mean. Win an argument. Express myself to an audience exactly how I want. I get to take a moment or a conversation and really say what’s on my mind.

I guess, to get back to the question, I am more inspired by the act of writing because my life imitates the art more than the other way around.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My art is a mirror of my life and my life a mirror of my art. It’s impossible to tell which one is the imitation. I will say, I’m most proud of my recent publication, “I Never Understood Religion Until I Learned Your Name,” which is set for release this May with Tolsun Books. I’m also excited about my next work-in-progress: a full-length poetry manuscript.

Being a writer wasn’t a choice, so it’s difficult to say whether or not it was easy. I’ve written since I was six, and it took persistence, discipline, and privilege to get me where I am. However, I can say writing a chapbook wasn’t easy. It took four years to compile sixteen poems (and that’s quick compared to other authors, which isn’t a brag). I spent the first two years without any direction other than I wanted to write a poetry book. Upon coming out, studying abroad, and falling in love for the first time, I began herding these poems into some sort of commonality. Many of the poems started as little love gifts to my foreign ex-lover, which is why they read, as Phoenix Poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski aptly put it, like a Lana Del Rey playlist. Yet, I saw something in these works as I continued and the fallacy of happily-ever-after evaporated. The poems subconsciously brought the disillusionment of forever and paradise to the forefront. And I ran with it.

I can’t speak to the process in an accurate way because recounting the experience can only present it coherently, but the act was far from clear. I spent the latter two years reliving some of my darkest moments for the sake of the art. I was fortunate enough to be rewarded for this self-immolation, but what many artists don’t talk about is that this sort of Groundhog Day Syndrome doesn’t end. We talk a lot about catharsis when writing trauma, and, sure, it’s here and there; but now I’ve given these experiences life beyond me. Whenever I do a reading, I must go back to the moments of joy, of heartbreak, of loss, of grief, of self-harm ideation. In the drafting process, I would experience this phenomenon non-chronologically. It was disorienting. But I can say that I made these experiences into the most beautiful thing I could.

If I want the world to know anything, it’s that, for the writer, the traumas do not end after the last page. But on a lighter note, it’s really hard to have a bad day in a good outfit. So there’s some solace there.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Let’s see. I’d for sure start the day at 8am in the Summer and 10am any other time of the year. The first stop would definitely be Jobot Coffee or Songbird Coffee & Tea House. We’d get some shopping done at my favorite vintage clothing shop Antique Sugar–particularly on the last Saturday of the month when they have their sale. After, we might go to the Heard Museum, which is often overlooked. I’m not indigenous, but I’ve been more struck and fascinated by the art there than any other local museum. We’d for sure hit up Encanto Park to do some creating–for some reason, I love telling people it’s where my father proposed to my mother. And before I run out of sober things to say, I’d take them for a night out at Gracie’s. It’s completely mental, but cigarettes taste better when out of an old, authentic cigarette machine.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to Tolsun Books, who is publishing my debut collection “I Never Understood Religion Until I Learned Your Name.” Thank you to the editors and staff for seeing something in the manuscript and for making it such a beautiful book.

I’d also like to shoutout the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Poetry Out Loud program for giving me opportunity. The amount of influential people I’ve met is innumerable, and I credit much of my success to the opportunities through you.

Lastly, to every person who knows me and to those who’ve tried. Good or bad, I’ve made many connections that have kept me going.

Website: hunterhazelton.com

Instagram: @hunterlhazelton

Image Credits
Jia Oak Baker Rylan Shannon

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