For our third print issue of peculiar, we chose Alyssa Pyper as our Featured Writer because of her humble authenticity and the way she uses not just the words but spacing, shape, and repetition to transform her writing into something no one else can replicate. She truly is an artist, often expressing herself through music as well—specifically the violin. Alyssa was kind enough to take a pause between concert gigs to answer some questions about poetry and life.
When did you start writing poetry?
I was dating this girl a couple summers back. During that summer I found out that she was moving out of state to finish her schooling come fall. I was crushed. She was always making me the most beautiful cards and collages, leaving things here and there for me, flowers at the doorstep, etc. It was lovely. When I began to process the fact that she’d be leaving, I worked it out in writing. I was an avid journalist as a teenager but I’d never pursued any creative pieces or written anything for anyone…her endless gifts to me of things she’d created inspired me, and I ended up writing her some sappy/tenderhearted lines about the fact that she was leaving. That fall, I enrolled in my first creative writing class at Utah Valley University.
Why do you write poetry?
I have a need to create. I was always creating as a kid, painting pictures, making films with friends…my best friend and I even had our own film company called “Kid Productions”—slogan, Let’s Play! (Pretty cute and clever, right!? Also, yes, we really did!) I was always making meaning in relation to my friends and family through creating.
As a teenager I kept a lot of things bottled up. I was scared of my experiences, didn’t know why I cared so much about the girl in my 8th grade choir class, why I wanted her approval so badly, why it all bothered me so much. I was excelling in the world of classical violin and spent most of my time outside school learning concertos and waking up for Saturday morning orchestra rehearsals. I put all of my creative, anxious energies into music. This training has been invaluable to me, but I came to a point at 19 when I realized I could not thrive within a classical frame for much longer. There was something else I needed to be doing. People came along who helped me open up and be comfortable with simple acts of self-expression and sharing in my day to day life. I met friends and integrated into communities who helped me to own my lived experience. This openness has translated into a deeper need to continue creating and synthesizing my lived experience into works of music and writing.
What poets do you yourself read?
Well, I can tell you what’s on my shelf right now: 4 Anne Carson books, Ali Smith’s How to be Both, several books on Jungian psychology, a book on chakras, Leap by Terry Tempest Williams, a couple of local zines including the first edition of Pillars of Salt [go check out the zine community on Facebook and Instagram], a copy of Pigs When They Straddle The Air by local author/professor Julie Nichols [BUY HER BOOK AND READ IT, NOW], Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, The Queer Art of Failure, Flight From Neveryon…
I actually probably read psychology books more often than I read poetry! I think it’s a life-phase sort of thing, though I find it fascinating and it often propels a lot of my work forward…but I also really gravitate toward narrative nonfiction, confessional poetry, historical fiction (esp. if its queer or local or both), experimental texts… though I’m not that good at reading from cover to cover. I’m lucky if that happens. More often than not I grab a couple lines here and there, or finish a few chapters and then pick up a different book the next time, only to circle back to the first…I carry a backpack with me wherever I go because I hate being without an extra shirt or pair of socks etc. if I want to change or if the temperature changes, and I pack a couple books too, choice of book always dependent on my mood that day…keyword being mood, because everything revolves around that. (I have to joke about it but it’s real. Haha.)
What’s your writing process?
In some ways I’m always “brainstorming”—thinking about the symbols, underlying connections and storylines of my every day experiences. I’ve always been pretty pensive. My actual output is varied, much like my attempts at reading. Sometimes I can sit down and flesh something out quickly, consistently, and walk away with a polished piece a few hours later. But most of the time, I’m just thinking, jotting notes and phrases so I don’t forget them. Whether music or poetry, I’ll often develop a general concept or structure that I want to explore for a piece, and then I’ll work to fill in the details over a period of days and weeks and months.
What inspires you to write?
Experience is what keeps me writing. It’s definitely self-centered and it’s all about processing my feelings and thoughts.
Recently I’ve been obsessed over Merrill Garbus’s work with her band Tune-Yards, as well as Annie Clark & hers in ST Vincent. I’m inspired by countless mentors in my life—amazing professors at UVU who write and create and teach authentically and give me permission to do the same…kindhearted therapists and healers who have shared their strength and caring with me…so many badass friends starting their own collectives, zines, and journals to foster community and give voice to those who need it. You all give me strength.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
I’ve been really liking a lot of the things I’ve been writing lately. I’m getting comfortable with my processes—how and when to push myself, when to rest. I’m working on a full length album that I’ll be releasing in the fall. I’m really excited about it. Musically this album is experimental chamber folk. Lyrically it’s like poetry. I used to just kind of throw down the first lyrics that I thought of for a song, but I’ve been a bit more selective about how the lyrics and narratives are crafted in this project. This album is the culmination of a lot of work and growing I’ve been doing over the past few years, musically, emotionally, spiritually. I think in general, I really like what I’m writing when I’m writing it, and I look forward to writing more in the future—changing my parameters, exploring new ideas, methods of execution, etc. I used to be afraid that I’d run out of ideas or “write my best thing” and then wither away. I’ve been fascinated and fueled by the idea of possibility lately. I think it’s endless. I will always have ways to push myself and to explore. I think that’s pretty great.
What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?
I hope to put out what I’ve been grateful to receive. Authenticity. Love of sound, love of words. Connection. Sharing experience honestly is so important to me. Learning to use my voice is so important to me. It’s a process I’m humbled to be a part of.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Performing, mentoring, writing, collaborating. Resting.
What’s it like being gay in Utah?
I keep trying to leave! I’ve lived here my whole life and I tire of the heaviness of it. I’m a Mormon girl at heart and I just want to love another Mormon girl. No matter how I approach that, it’s never easy.
But I also love this valley and I have grown to understand that Utah is a place like any other, with its own set of prevalent cultural norms. Some of those norms are infuriating and hurtful and exhausting. But I’ve met so many incredible people navigating their way around it just like me, and I find needed understanding there.
I think a lot of things are changing and growing and expanding in Utah on a cultural level. I’d like to experience being in other places, but I’ve come to accept that Utah Valley will never really leave me. I feel a very strong sense of connection to my home.
What makes you peculiar?
LOL. Idk. I only wear certain colors. I change my outfit multiple times during the day depending on my mood. I was obsessed with Pinocchio as a four-year-old and even dressed up as Pinocchio for Halloween. I watched the movie again a couple years ago and I don’t know why I wasn’t scared of it! But it’s actually a pretty powerful story of rebirth and growth…so I find my childhood obsession with Pinocchio quite peculiar and lovely.