Jay Halsey blossomed as a small-press author and independent photographer after arriving in Colorado twelve years ago. By combining prose, poetry and pictures, Halsey created his own spot in the local literary community, both as a published writer nominated last year for a Pushcart Prize and as a cover artist whose imagery graces numerous book covers. Halsey is a friend of the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and his photography work has appeared in the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts; he also serves the public through his work with Community Food Share.
We invited Halsey to share his views by answering the Colorado Creatives questionnaire; here is his thoughtful follow-through:
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Jay Halsey: The overarching muse influencing all personal choices I make — not just in art — is the battles people face on a daily basis due to living in a system that is far from what is good for people. It allows me to love more and hate more all at once. Both can be productive. For writing, a constant muse for me over the years has been the changing seasons. More specifically, the range of emotions the four seasons bring to surface, and how those emotions correspond to seasonal patterns — not just in me, but American culture as a whole. I have a lot of interest in that. And it's usually the struggles — rarely the eases — that inspire me: how we react to heat, cold, dark, rain, drought, wind, dust, etc. For photos, I guess it's along the same lines emotionally: The subject can be almost anything, but if a piece of what I see before me strikes a chord of uneasiness or loneliness/emptiness, I'm automatically attracted to it and will want to make something from it.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Florestine Perrault Collins was a black photographer living in New Orleans throughout the 1900s. She had to make herself appear white early in her career in order to get work as a photographer's assistant. She eventually went on to shape a very successful and prolific photography career that not only challenged the stereotypes society held for African-American families back then, but also the attitudes society held for working women — and for working black women, furthermore.
S.E. Hinton wrote her first novel, The Outsiders, when she was just fifteen years old and had it published when she was nineteen while living in white Oklahoma. She used her initials, S.E., short for Susan Eloise, so that publishers would assume she was male in order to better her chances of getting published. It worked. I first read The Outsiders when I was in the third grade, and then every year after that for several years. It was formative to me. I think Hinton and Collins would have a lot to talk about at the party.
And finally, David Attenborough, because he's David Attenborough. I'm a big fan of any documentary he narrates. He could narrate a trip to the market and I'd think it was the best thing out there. I'd probably ask him to tell me a bedtime story to lull me to sleep after the party ended.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best is the genuine support and camaraderie between writers and other creatives who have different styles and aesthetic values. I appreciate the consideration that's placed on honesty, real humanity and talent over personal taste, and without being beholden to certain tribes, which oftentimes run rampant in creative communities. The worst is the large amount of space some people take up within the community, using their connections to spread their name and attract attention to their own projects with very little actual support invested into the community they insist to be a part of. Of course, that happens in every community everywhere. I just don't want any skin in it.
How about globally?
I don't know. I've not had the opportunity to experience much of the globe. But from what I know from friends who have expanded into the global scenes and markets (especially publishing) is that the U.S. population needs to get its act together and start caring about art with the same intensity we care about professional sports and Sunday brunches. Invest time to do art, appreciate art and support artists, because art has value in everyday life. Art should be the norm, not the exception, and it feels like other societies outside of the U.S. tend to lean toward that attitude much more than Americans.
What's your day job?
Agency relations manager for a regional food bank that serves two counties. I’m currently going into my seventh year, and I'm part of a large team that helps feed those in need by partnering with over forty different nonprofit organizations that provide a broad range of basic-needs services for working poor and those living on the fringe.
What’s your dream project?
Oh, wow, I know it sounds silly, but I would love to be involved in producing one of those giant, expensive coffee-table art books, either of my own words and images, or as a collaboration with another artist. If it was my material only, I'd probably pair poems and shorter prose pieces with photos. But I feel the ultimate coffee-table art book would be an in-depth collaboration with one of my novelist friends in which my images would be printed on the adjacent pages of their words, or within the body of the text as well. The photos would be shot specifically for the storyline. Classy, literary and artsy as can be. Maybe something like that already exists. I wouldn't know it. If it does exist, I'd want to do it better. And give it away to everyone for free. That's how fantasies go.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love it. I mean, there are always reasons to leave any place, but I have no intention to do so anytime soon. The goods definitely outweigh the bads. It took me to move to the Denver area from Dayton, Ohio, twelve years ago to find my grind artistically. I'm still trying, and it's great. I'm not pooh-poohing Dayton at all; I just never connected with anyone who produced the things that interested me. No one I was close with cared about writing or art in general. Despite knowing some of the best people I'll ever know [there], Dayton would have ended me much sooner than I want myself to end. It's just a different world in Denver, and it hasn't stagnated yet for me. Just the opposite, and I'm thankful for that. I hope it remains this way for a while to come.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
At this time, my favorites are two people: Mairead Case and Julia Madsen. I saw Mairead Case read maybe a year (or more?) back for At the Inkwell, and that was it. I read just about everything I could find of hers online. I like what she says and how she says it. Mairead possesses a quirky yet intense and sincere quality in her words that would be impossible to imitate. And she's a great human.
With Julia Madsen, I first met her at a collaborative book release at Counterpath this past October the included her collection The Boneyard, The Birth Manual, a Burial: Investigations into the Heartland. She played two of her short films containing found and original footage of the Midwest layered with audio of her reading her material. Good God, it was gorgeous. I told her after I finished her book it felt like I was having an immersive conversation with myself. It's true. Everyone should read whatever these two humans produce.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Finding a house with my partner, Hillary. The housing market in the metro area is a beast, so the hunt has taken up the majority of our free time over the past two months. On the lighter side, I have a couple of readings coming up soon: At the Inkwell on February 16 at BookBar and then Kruhaus on March 22 at Hooked on Colfax. I’ll also be hosting two of my favorite writers for the Fbomb reading series on May 21 at the Mercury Cafe. Finally, I hope to carry through with a photography project I began brainstorming this past fall with a few other collaborators.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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Nick Holland and Dustin Holland, aka the Holland Boys. Both of them do everything from film to writing to live performance to illustration to collage, to making zines and comics with collage and illustration, to hosting shows, etc. I don't have enough fingers and toes to list their talents. And they do it unlike anyone else I know, and I’m regularly blown away by their individual and collaborative projects. Everyone should be paying attention to them.
And, Akusua Okoto. Oh, my God. I saw her read a few months back for At the Inkwell, and I was moved to the point of wanting to hug someone and punch something at the same time. Her words have the tough exterior that can only come from really living hardships as opposed to appropriating hardships. But I think that tough exterior hides one of the most tender souls out there. I hope if she reads this, she doesn’t get mad at me for saying that. Ha! She’s great.
Hear Jay Halsey read for At the Inkwell Denver: Night of Poetry from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, February 16, at BookBar, 4280 Tennyson Street, and for Kleft Jaw Press’s Kruhaus, from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on Friday, March 22, at Hooked on Colfax, 3213 East Colfax Avenue.
Learn more about Jay Halsey the photographer online.