Poet Elijah Rushing Hayes speaks at final part of Write, Southerners! reading series

Photo courtesy of Anna Barrett

Anna Barrett, Correspondent

Elijah Rushing Hayes, transgender and queer poet, shared his experience with writing poetry while in rehabilitation for the final reading of Write, Southerners!, hosted by JSU’s English Department on Wednesday.

The majority of Hayes’ work focuses on queer identity, LGBTQ life, mental health and the relationship between humanity and the natural world, according to his biography on his website.

As well as being an independent poet, Hayes shared that he is an editor for Biscuit Hill literary journal that was founded in 2021 and is updated quarterly. 

Emrys Donaldson, coordinator for Write, Southerners!, shared that Hayes earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Program for Poets & Writers. Before earning his MFA, he earned his BFA in Creative Writing at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.

Write, Southerners! brought Hayes to JSU where he read about 10 poems, including “Goldenrod,” “Lost Field Guide” and “In the Belly of the Beast.” He focused mainly on these three poems. He said they were all written within the span of a year.

His poem “In the Belly of the Beast” is a lyrical essay he wrote while he was in rehab. He said he took lines that he liked from his old poems and listened to other patients to write this essay. Rehab was a time for him to be quiet, and it paid off.

“I just listened to the other patients and put all the separate lines into one big poem. The essay was originally going to be a series of four poems, but it made more sense to make it one big poem,” he said.

Being a transgender male, Hayes said that a lot of his inspiration came from exploring his true self. That being said, he stopped writing for about a year when he medically transitioned. A lot of his work now is still based on this experience.

“I was dealing with rejection socially and professionally, but I took inspiration from that to keep growing,” Hayes said.

In the main three poems, Hayes used a listing technique. He said this was a way for him to write himself out of writer’s block, and it worked. He used field guides and made lists of his surroundings and what he was reading and put together his poems.

As poetry is a creative process, it can get very difficult to keep going. Hayes said he experienced doubt throughout his education and professional life

“I know it’s a cliche, but if I could tell anybody going through what I did with writing, I would tell them to just keep going and to use rejection as motivation to keep writing,” Hayes said.

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