Interview #9: Briar Ripley Page

Briar Ripley Page (they/them) is a human being, probably. After many years of toil and misfortune and public drunkenness, they decided to go to college and become a writer. (Those things don't really have so much to do with each other, but Briar is proud of both choices.) 

Briar's poem, in purgatory, was published for blood orange's upright card The Hanged One on February 15, 2020.

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What drew you to submit your work to blood orange? 

I saw a post about it on Twitter, and I was like, “Hey, this rules”. I only just started submitting my poetry places in Fall 2019, and my policy has basically been to submit any place that I think looks cool — I don’t write poetry hoping to get paid for it, or hoping to become a “famous poet” (if there even is such a thing anymore). I’ve liked tarot imagery and have used it in my writing for years. The idea of a deck in which poems were actually printed on the cards was super exciting and novel, and I wanted to be a part of that if I could.

What poets have influenced the way you write? 

Marianne Moore, for her unromanticized but beautiful, surprising, and sometimes sinister descriptions of the natural world. Bob Hicok, for being the first poet to show me that poetry could be funny, absurd, and crude without being lite doggerel, and while maintaining a sincere emotional centre. John Darnielle and Dessa are lyricists I’ve found inspiring in their use of language and subject matter.

What are you currently working on? 

A lot of things! I write poetry, short stories, sometimes critical essays and memoir/autobiographical pieces. I’ve just finished revising a story about a musician whose body turns into a black hole of sorts. I’m starting on a story about two transient youth who form a codependent New Age cult, and a poem about trying to teach myself French. I have several fragments of other projects on the back burner.

How did you discover tarot? 

I don’t remember! It was during a phase in my pre-teens when I was very into the occult, conspiracy theories, Wicca, New Age stuff, etc. I do recall I bought a deck when I was 12 and brought it to my grandparents' house. My grandma found it and flipped her shit; that part of my family is very Catholic. She took it away and gave me this long lecture about how I was inviting demons from Hell to share my life by messing around with tarot. Of course, this had the opposite of the effect she wanted; I would have loved to summon a demon from Hell to do my bidding, or even just to hang out with me. 

How does tarot play a role in your artistic practice? 

Apart from influencing the imagery and symbolism I use at times — in that I borrow from the imagery and symbolism of the cards — I don’t think it does, really. I don’t consult the cards when I’m having writer’s block or anything like that. 

Do you have a favourite tarot or oracle deck? 

Gotta love the Tarot of the Cat People! 

Do you feel a particular connection to the card your poem is published under? 

Yes! I spent a long time struggling with addiction, with an eating disorder, with my gender identity, and with various physical and mental health problems that weren’t getting adequate treatment. I felt a strong connection with the Hanged One both as a representation of myself (stuck suspended indefinitely in a place of punishment, no hope for changing my situation) and as kind of an aspirational figure (someone who accepts their hopeless state of suspension, finds peace there, and bears up with grace and as much dignity as possible).

How important is the spiritual to your poetry? The political? 

I’m an atheist, but I do have a sense of the spiritual — of the sublime, of the interconnectedness of all things, of the vastness and improbability of space and time and life — and I think poetry is often how I work out and express that sense of the spiritual. I don’t write overtly political poetry, but I don’t shy away from writing about topics or situations that I suppose some people might interpret as “political”. I do sometimes try to write about nature, the body, gender and sex, and disability in ways that will make some readers uncomfortable, that will perhaps make them confront certain unquestioned assumptions or prejudices. 

How important has community been to your work? 

I didn’t start writing in the context of a writing community, really. Beginning to get to know people online who are established, experienced writers has been very exciting and energizing; taking an offline writing class where I got to workshop some of my stories with other writers (and read/critique their work) was also invigorating, and I think it helped me improve my work a lot over a relatively short period of time. In general, it’s great to be able to talk with people who care about a lot of the same things you care about, who understand writing-as-craft, whose opinions on poetry go beyond “it’s boring and I don’t understand it” or “oh yeah, I love [insert preferred Instagram purveyor of platitudes]!” 

Or, I suppose, maybe you meant community in general? In that case, very very important. I wouldn’t be writing at all without the support and encouragement of certain friends, family members, and teachers.

Why is small/independent/anti-publishing important? 

Because Big Publishing sucks and is full of cowards!!! Uh, no, but seriously: there’s a lot of great writing that would never reach more than maybe a dozen-odd people in a local scene or social clique if there weren’t distributors willing to take on work that’s going to alienate most audiences, that isn’t going to make them big money, that’s not written by people who already have the Right Social Connections and social clout. 

Can you name a poet/press/project you think more people should know about? 

Sarah Clark’s beestung magazine is really great, and I strongly encourage any and all nonbinary writers to submit there.