For our newest issue of peculiar (volume three, issue one), we chose Greg Bayles as our Featured Writer because of the way he so carefully crafts his poetry. His precise command of words infuses his writing with striking imagery, complexity, and classical—yet contemporary—tones. Greg agreed to answer some questions about his writing, and we hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as we have.
When did you start writing poetry?
I had written poems here and there all through elementary school and junior high, but 8th grade was really the first time I devoted any substantial amount of time to poetry. My English teacher, Mrs. Medlock, had us write eight or ten poems and do illustrations with them, and that taught me a ton about different styles of poetry. It was kind of my foray into literary poetry.
Why do you write poetry?
Because I’m super angsty! But really, writing has just always been a way for me to sort through emotions and take something negative or confusing and turn it into something I could own and be proud of. I guess I’ve never thought about it too much, but all my major life transitions have poems to accompany them, and I have a poem for every love I’ve ever had and lost. I guess poems are sort of my way of dealing with grief and other hard emotions.
What poets do you yourself read?
My reading isn’t super regimented or methodical, but some of my biggest inspirations and all-time favorites are Ginsburg, Kerouac, Gibran, Hafiz, Eliot, and Levine. I’m really heavily influenced by British and American Romantics, especially Blake and Whitman. More recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Dan Magers and Saeed Jones, but I guess I’m always on the lookout for good writing in whatever form it may come. I literally have Google Alerts set up to notify me whenever certain food critics post reviews, because I love their writing so much. I also think poetry is kind of happening around you all the time—conversations on streetcars, jokes at bars, people smoking on tired balconies—you just have to be there to witness it.
What’s your writing process?
I usually get an idea and write out a few lines on my phone, just as they come to me. Then I go through and handwrite big lists of “words of power” and images and phrases associated with the subject matter, just kind of letting my mind wander and make odd connections and running with it. I don’t like too much structure early on. Then I start to chunk out sections and drop ideas into more metered phrases (I’m an iamb addict), and eventually rough stanzas sort of emerge. I just keep reading through it aloud and cutting and revising until I feel about 80% content with the poem, and then I stop and call it done. I usually shoot for lots and lots of visual imagery (also a symbol addict) and a healthy dose of mysticism/ambiguity. I also spend a lot of time thinking about words: their various meanings, their etymologies, associations with other words, how much breath you release in saying them, symbolic linguistics, etc. It’s kind of an extension of the early wandering I do when exploring a topic for a poem, and it usually ends up shaping the overall direction of the poem as well.
What inspires you to write?
I think life’s pretty amazing, and I want to be able to capture all the beauty I see around me. People, especially, are such an inspiration for me—not just their good parts, but their complexity and everything that goes into a human soul or consciousness. I spend a lot of time trying to intuit how other people perceive the world, and my writing is sometimes an exploration into that. I love nature and art and technology, and all of those things flow together in my writing and more generally in my day-to-day life. I guess great writing also helps me to want to write more. I read a ton, and it’s always refreshing to come across writing that feels like “home,” in a way. I guess eventually I want to be able to create that for other people.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
I had a novel that I was working on a few years ago that still means the world to me. It was my first major attempt at writing a novel, and it’s definitely the piece I’ve spent the most time on overall. I think more than that, though, it became a place where I could live out different lives, through the characters I was creating. This was at a time when I was still closeted, trying to figure out life at BYU, so it became an important way for me to express the conflict I was feeling and to experiment with different facets of my personality. There was a young, selfless, believing hero who represented my desire to stay with the faith of my youth; an old, cynical but kind inventor who embodied my growing distrust for religion and my hope for the tech of the future; a young woman who saw the value in the traditions and rituals of her community but cared more about the people than the culture; a tomboy trying to figure out how she could deal with others’ expectations. I didn’t realize this as I was writing it, but each character (and the conflicts they faced) became a way for me to live out, in a sense, a possible route for my life. I was able to sort through a lot of my conflicting emotions and come to some clarity as to where I fit in the world. So long story short, I guess it’s my favorite because it got me through a crazy time. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish it, but it’s still something I look back on very fondly, and something I like to revisit from time to time.
What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?
I know my poetry sometimes isn’t the most accessible or relatable (as is often the case when mysticism and transport are two of your fundamental writing values!), but I hope that my writing becomes a catalyst for people to explore parts of their personality that they’re afraid to explore. I think for a long time before I came out, I was afraid to live out my gay life because I thought that I wouldn’t find real happiness or belonging or connection outside of the religion and community of my youth. I hope my writing shows that queer life is full of richness and meaning! That’s not to say it’s not complicated, because obviously there are still hard days and difficult decisions and heartbreaks and all that. But when you’re living your life as you choose, you feel a lot less like a victim to circumstance, and you can feel like you are choosing some of those difficulties in exchange for bigger and better things that you really desire. So, yeah! Be yourself!
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Hopefully a lot of places! I make video games for a living, and I hope that in a few years, I’ll be able to start my own games studio! I have lots of big, far-flung aspirations, though, like opening an art gallery or doing a pop-up restaurant. In terms of where all that will happen, I’ve definitely thought about staying in Salt Lake City, but I think at some point in my life, I’ll live in New York, the Pacific northwest, and San Francisco. Those just seem like big tech hot spots, and they have some of the best creative communities in the States. I’ve also toyed with moving abroad for a few years—maybe China or Scandinavia somewhere—but that thought is definitely still in its infancy. Dunno about the rest of life yet! I think I’ll probably settle down one day, but if not, I think I’ll be okay with it. Generally, I just plan on having lots of great relationships with lots of kinds of people, and if lasting romantic love comes out of all that, all the better!
What’s it like being queer in Utah?
I mean, that’s kind of presumptuous of you to assume I’m queer just because I like men and publish in queer literary journals, but I’ll take the bait anyway. Being gay in Utah… That’s a hard one. I guess the word I’ll use to describe it is a word we use a lot in the gay community but not one we think about very much. Fabulous, or belonging to fables. There’s something really epic about being gay in one of the biggest fundamentalist religious centers of the world. Something so rebellious and wonderfully perverse about having grown up in that faith culture and received its rites and lived its myths, and then departing and coming out and embracing such a rich (queer) culture. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two: an appreciation of emotional intimacy, a strong sense of community and belonging, a love for things beautiful and artistic, vibrant symbols, and the list goes on. As a believer, I felt that the whole world had this sort of magical aura about it, and to be honest, I feel like my gay life is a little bit enchanted: wild parties, crazy personalities, genderfuck drag shows, galas, and brunches galore. And unicorns everywhere, obviously! So yeah, fabulous. In all the best ways!
What makes you peculiar?
I guess I’m peculiar because I don’t feel the need to hold myself to any one world view or way of living. My life is full of changing values and contradictions that come together in a beautiful, messy amalgam, and I couldn’t love it more. At times, people think it’s pretty weird. “Video gamers can’t like poetry; poets can’t be interested in chemistry; chemists can’t rock climb; and rock climbers can’t…” Obviously none of that is true, but there’s always sort of this pressure to fall in line and be like everyone else—like other game designers or poets or gays or liberals or whatever—and that’s just not something I’m interested in! I get a lot of value out of being uniquely me, and I reserve the right to change and change and change again, all throughout my life. I spent long enough trying to live up to other people’s expectations, and if being me means being a weirdo, then I choose to be peculiar every day of my life!
Greg Bayles is a project manager at the University of Utah’s Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab. He received a BA in English Literature from Brigham Young University and went on to complete a Master’s of Entertainment Arts and Engineering at the University of Utah. In his free time, Greg enjoys reading, making video games, cooking, wandering art galleries, and rock climbing.
You can read his poem “Chemical Emigration” on the blog, or read more work in the newest issue of peculiar.