An Interview with Sage Ravenwood

Sage Ravenwood is a deaf Cherokee woman residing in upstate New York with her two rescue dogs, Bjarki and Yazhi, and her one-eyed cat Max. She is an outspoken advocate against animal cruelty and domestic violence. Her work can be found in Glass Poetry – Poets Resist, The Temz Review, Contrary, trampset, Pittsburgh Poetry Journal, Pioneertown Literary, Grain, Sundress Press anthology – The Familiar Wild: On Dogs and Poetry, Gothic Blue Book Volume VI – A Krampus Carol, The Rumpus, Lit Quarterly, PØST, Massachusetts Review, Savant-Garde, ANMLY (Anomaly), River Mouth Review, Native Skin, and more forthcoming.

Her poem Pulp appears in Pinhole Poetry’s launch issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context?

I’m a domestic violence survivor and at times, I tend to write to share my experiences but try to write it in such a way that others can relate. ‘Pulp’ derived from a memory of being locked in a bathroom while my abuser was breaking through the door. I remembered watching the wood splinter and crack every which way. I knew what was coming and in those instances, mentally, survivors remove themselves from the circumstances. In this case I kept thinking how the shattered door resembled tree branches as if the door was devolving, turning back into the tree, back to the forest, back to being alive before someone chopped it down. In the end, I was the tree being destroyed. Admittedly this was a difficult poem to write, not so much in what it represented but trying to portray the image of the branches without coming right out and saying, ‘It looks like a tree.’ I wanted this poem to unfold organically, to give itself life in the eyes of the reader.

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?

Therapy no doubt. I would have to say in all the ways I live now as a form of fulfillment. I rescue and work with abandoned animals and even before poetry, I was helping others who were in DV situations. Poetry was an added means of getting my truth out there, but that truth would be empty in a sense if I didn’t try in some form or way to balance the books on my own trauma. I’m also outspoken on indigenous and deaf issues. So, probably by continue to be a loudmouth. 

How or where or with what does a poem begin?

Everywhere around us. I have a line which I include in my cover letter for submissions which basically speaks for itself, “I’ve long believed poets are emotional historians. Cartographers mapping out the heart and events surrounding us for the world to see, to feel life played out in words. We have our fingers on the pulse of our emotional topography. More than anything I believe writing allows us to be free to travel within and without ourselves.” For me, it’s a simple enough philosophy writing in any form is life played out through whatever moment we’re living in.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry?

That would depend on what is considered art. In that I believe all art is inspired by life and experience, I could say all of it. Poetry to me is a personal journey (all writing is for that matter). 
If you asked a painter they would say the hues of colors etched across a palette, a musician would lean into their instrument or voice, and a writer is a tapestry of words. And all of us would say we’re inspired by the mere act of creating. There is freedom in expression of any form. 

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine?

By considering each day a blank page. I’m not what you would call a sit down and write every day no matter what poet. Albeit it works for some people, for me it feels forced. If I consider each day a blank page that leaves room for a memory to surface, to witness something unfolding, an opportunity to look deeper at the world around me. In order to write about lived experiences, part of that making room for poetry is actually living out our days. In this way, I don’t see writing or poetry as a sacrifice I have to make. There is no need to make room for something that already has its place at the table.

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it?

When I first started out, I had a habit of titling my poems with the last line or something pertaining to the end of the poem. An editor gave me feedback on a rejection, they said they enjoyed reading over the submission, there were a lot of wonderful lines throughout, but they preferred pieces developed organically instead of giving them the ending beforehand. Honestly,  I didn’t take the criticism well. I actually may have said something in the way of, “Organically, what am I fruit”. Not to them of course. I did take it to heart though. Of course no one wants to know the ending of a movie before they’ve had a chance to view it. In the end that bit of advice made me a better writer. Instead of forcing an ending or ‘telling’ the reader what the poem is about letting them decide what it means to them. Letting the reader take away what they need from a piece. I’m much better at titling poems now too.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback?

I don’t belong to a writer’s group at the moment. However, I do recommend if you’re starting out or constantly on the fence with something you’ve written to search one out. During my first year of writing, before I’d even had my first acceptance, Daniel Lassell was offering to host a summer writing get together online. The premise was to hold ourselves accountable with one poem per week shared among the group. We could give feedback or not, it was simply a way to get eyes on our work. I hesitated big time. I didn’t have an MFA or any formal training in poetry at all. In the end it was the best thing I could have ever done. Belonging to the group gave me far more confidence than what I started with. These days I would say Twitter offers a steadfast community for writers emerging or not. 

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

In terms of poetic style or craft, I think the answer I’m always searching for (most of us are seeking in some way) would be, am I good enough? It’s not so much a need for validation as if I managed to tell the story that needed telling with as few words as possible. What is enough, in terms of how much we publish, how often we’re read, how much is ever enough when it comes to writing in any form? In my case the good enough question comes into play because I couldn’t tell you the first thing about form or craft. Enjambment comes easy to me in that it’s the pause felt and read in a line. Everything else is just a natural unfolding. When I think of craft or form, the question is: am I still somewhere inside the lines of what I just read? In the end, perhaps that’s all you can really hope for is that readers find something of themselves in what you’ve written. 

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