Q&A with Featured Writer: Spencer Ballard

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For our most recent issue of peculiar, we have chosen Spencer Ballard as the Featured Writer. His poetry is vivid and immediate, like a snapshot, and we absolutely love the intimacy and candid nature of his writing style. We asked Spencer to take a break from his studies at the University of Utah to answer a few questions about his writing and being queer in Utah. Here’s what he had to say:

When did you start writing poetry?
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The first time I wrote something truly for myself (without being assigned to) was during my first year of college at Brigham Young University. It was a time of immense soul-searching, and one day I just sat down at my computer and the words sort of flowed out of me. It was that day I discovered that I could explore my own subliminal thoughts/emotional condition through writing. Looking back at that poem now, it had a lot of issues, but it still means a lot to me—especially because it jump-started my creative endeavors.
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Why do you write poetry today?
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I think oftentimes I write poetry to express something in a way I can’t express solely through verbal communication. Some things have to be felt to be understood. For example, some people express themselves through dance. Through movement they are able to invoke thoughts and understanding that spoken words alone can’t accomplish. I’m a terrible dancer, so I resort to poetry.
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Another reason I write poetry is because it feels like the writing style with the most freedom. The best thing about poetry is that you can create your own rules, break them, stomp on them, and then suddenly have a great poem. It’s honestly just a good time.
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What poets do you yourself read?
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I’m currently reading a collection of poems by Pablo Neruda. One of my good friends introduced me to him a couple of years ago, and I’ve loved him ever since. I’m in the process of learning Spanish, and my copy has each poem in Spanish on one page, and then in English on the next. I’m really interested in how each poem is “transformed” during translation.
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Another one of my favorite poets is William Carlos Williams. He is able to say so much in so few words, and I really admire that. I think my current all-time-favorite poem is “To a Poor Old Woman” by Williams. I find myself whispering lines from it now and then when I’m walking across campus between classes. People probably think that I’m crazy. They’re probably right.
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What’s your writing process?
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As I go about my daily routine, every now and then my brain will latch on to an idea or phrase, sometimes a memory, image, or concept. I become totally obsessed with the thought of it until I can get it out on paper in a way that satisfies me. I really struggle to write about anything other than my current fixation.
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What inspires you to write? Do you have a muse?
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I tend to circle back to writing about a few specific people and ideas. I also write frequently about feelings, because emotions are confusing and weird.
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Sorry to disappoint, but the closest thing I have to a “muse” is a tree—specifically an aspen. There’s something about the way that they’re all interconnected by the roots that intrigues me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think they’ll continue to crop up until I can pinpoint why I like them so much.
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I also end up writing a lot about the first guy I really developed feelings for, I guess. I became friends with him in the 9th grade, and was pretty much infatuated by him until the day he died my freshman year of college. He never knew that I’m into dudes, and he’d be really uncomfortable with the fact that nearly everything I write seems to have something to do with him in one way or another.
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What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
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I think my favorite line I’ve ever written was, “I love you the way thunder crumbles like chalk between your teeth.” It just resonates with me somehow in a quiet way. Maybe other people resonate with it, too. I’m never quite sure if I’m in my own little world or not.
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My favorite full poems I’ve written are probably “Red Bull and God” and “A Fear of Drowning” which can be found in the first and second editions of peculiar, respectively. They were the sort of poem where you write the final word and you just start to cry uncontrollably. They’re my favorites because they were both poems I needed to write.
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What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?
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That’s a tricky question. Poetry is interpreted differently by every person who consumes it; each reader draws out of a text what they need in that moment. I hope that I can write in such a way that it can help people overcome or understand something in their own life, even just in a small way.
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Where do you see yourself in the future?
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I think there’s a good chance that I will be nomadic for a large portion of my life. I am developing a wanderlust that I fear may be insatiable. The world is so much larger than I can even process, and I’m determined to see as much of it as possible before I kick the bucket.
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As for the short term, as soon as I graduate I plan on locking myself in a coat closet for a few months so I can focus on completing my first novel. I can’t wait for the day when I can walk into Barnes & Noble and smell a fresh copy of one of my books. It’s gonna be a beautiful day.
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What’s it like being queer in Utah
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Growing up in Utah County was extremely…complicated. I definitely did everything I could growing up to hide my sexuality. In my mind “coming out” or being outed was the most horrifying thing that could ever happen to me. I buried my sexuality, as well as many traits/hobbies I didn’t think were “masculine”. By doing so I was able to avoid the bullying, judgment, and ostracization I saw going on around me. But even then, I lived in a constant state of fear. I was terrified of damnation, abandonment, and love.
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Flash forward a bunch of years. Now I live in Salt Lake City, and I’m completely out of the closet. I’m comfortable with my sexuality, and I think people can sense that. I think SLC is much more gay-tolerant than Utah Country was as a whole, though I sometimes feel like the LGBTQ community is swept under the rug. I’m fine with Utah, but I don’t plan on settling down here. I don’t want to live in a place where I don’t feel completely comfortable holding hands with someone I love in public.
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Interpret this however you wish, but what makes you peculiar?
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I lived a dual-life for a long time. I was a straight-arrow small-town Mormon boy by day, and a hormonal gay city kid by night. My two lives collided like a car crash a few years ago, and that’s when my life really began. I had to decide who I wanted to be, so I picked through the wreckage. I gleaned things from both sides. I think what makes me peculiar is that I am not a part of any one group, I am my own person derived from several worlds being grafted together.
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* * *
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Read Featured Writer Spencer Ballard’s poem “Roots” on our blog, Order the newest issue of peculiar, and then follow him on Instagram (@spencerjballard) for even more of his beautiful words.
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One thought on “Q&A with Featured Writer: Spencer Ballard

  1. Pingback: “Roots” by Spencer Ballard | peculiar journal blog

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