[Today we sit down for an interview with Ridire Quinn, author and poet of Sometimes a Screech Owl. Here, he discusses his personal beliefs, his writings, his musings on the Divine Feminine, and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How would you describe your personal spiritual path? Does it have a name or is it more eclectic?
Ridire Quinn: I want to express my gratitude to you, Rebecca, for inviting me to interview, and for you taking the time to read my work. When the rumblings that would eventually become Sometimes a Screech Owl first stirred, I began to refer the project as fable-poetry, which seems to me to be somewhat revolutionary. In this time, in this place, we are able to put into words the imagery and potency of ancient ideas in new ways, ways that are free from the sickness of “established” and “traditional,” to find something that has not been infected by a thousand years.
I have always had a penchant for deep tradition, and was raised a Christian in the US South, but in every dark corner, in every recess, there was always something missing. In university, I studied philosophy, focusing on philosophy of religion. Philosophy of religion moves past individual faiths and asks core questions: “Is there a God,” “Do we have a soul,” “Do we have free will?” Then, I fell into a significant existential kick. There were questions and lines of thought that could not be answered within the confines of the Christianity of my youth, just as there were (and are) lived experiences that could not be reconciled within the confines of hardcore, Western metaphysics.
Then, a few years ago, Freyja, the great goddess of the Northern tradition, spoke to me. I am still trying to understand what that means. I know there are many ways to define and perceive the word “witch,” but I do call myself one.
ev0ke: Your collection Sometimes a Screech Owl was recently released by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. First, congratulations! Second, what advice can you offer other poets who are hoping to publish their work? Steps they should absolutely take? Mistakes to avoid?
RQ: Definitely. First, get involved in your community of creatives. Go to open mics. Find one that you are comfortable in. Go to readings at the local bookstore. Listen. Listen. Then listen some more.
Second, read poetry. A lot of it. Consume it, as though you were ravished. What are other poets doing? How are they doing it? What impresses you? Savor every turn of phrase, every image. Read journals that you might consider submitting to. Learn what is out there, and the different voices that are making their way in the world.
Third, learn to refine and edit your work. The editing process is very different than the creativity/writing process. For me, it was at open mics that I learned to do this. When re-reading visually, I would read what I thought I was saying rather than what I was actually saying. Speaking my work, hearing the words, I was able to really get into the flow, cadence, and imagery of a poem.
Finally, submit, submit, submit. Thoroughly read submission guidelines and follow them. Relish in rejection letters and use them to get better.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Sometimes a Screech Owl? Tall stacks of books? Long walks?
RQ: It is true, write what you know. But then, turn it around, look all around. What is under this thing you think you know? What are the consequences and implications? The subtleties and nuances? This work took everything I had: The years of studying philosophy (especially Maimonides, Spinoza, and Kierkegaard) and every apocryphal work, and the texts of many other religious traditions.
But more importantly were the conversations I had with people from many backgrounds and experiences. I came more to understand my own perceptions and studies, began to embrace my own intuition and apprehension. I wrote, went to open mics, and read aloud. There, I not only heard other voices, but I began to hear my own.
At its core, Sometimes a Screech Owl is an ode to the Divine Feminine, to Lilith in particular. It is not a work I ever imagined writing, but it is a work that I needed to write. I needed to process and reconcile the varying aspects of myself.
ev0ke: Where can curious readers find the book?
ev0ke: The title poem is divided into five parts, one in each section of the book. First, why did you decide to split up the poem like that?
RQ: The title poem itself is a strange beast. There are five parts, but each could stand on its own. The styles are vastly different, the themes, subject, and even the narrator, but they were all written from the same place. They were all, in some way, about Lilith.
Keep in mind, editing is a very different process than writing, and even more so is arranging a manuscript. Every poem is a complete work unto itself, so the act of arranging a manuscript, the way you will present your work to the world, was an unexpected challenge. Arranging is a puzzle without a single solution, and I literally printed out every poem and spread them out on the floor, ordering and re-ordering with no satisfactory result. Then, in a final, desperate act, I took the title poem and ripped it into its five parts. Suddenly, every poem that I had spread across the floor made sense, that each one could “fit” under one of the five parts. Then, of course, was the arranging the order of poems in each part, but that came rather easily.
ev0ke: Each part of the poem “Sometimes a Screech Owl” builds on the imagery and events of the previous part. The third section, for instance, references a court of “fell-tale-tellers, / sun-faeries and / switch-fencers, gallows-dwarves / and hail-tamers” among others. Who are these beings and how did you come up with those names and that imagery?
RQ: Lilith is mentioned only once in the Christian bible, and only in a few translations. Other translations refer to “night monster” or some variation. The KJV refers to “screech owl,” which is where the title of the work comes from.
In surrounding verses, Lilith is accompanied by a host of various creatures. Dragons, goat-demons, jackals, and satyrs are among them. These I refer to in part two, imagining her in a castle of thorns, and these creatures her courtiers. In part three, as you mentioned, we see a parade of creatures, creatures from across her waylaid fiefdom, called to her court. Inspired by the idea of Jotun from Norse myth, I wanted a list of creatures that were related, in some way, to the chaos and destructiveness of both humanity and of the natural world.
“Div-iners and dream readers,
switch fencers, gallows-dwarves
and hail tamers,
stone speakers, iron-wizards, rain merchants, the Lion-faced.
The Choler guilders.
ev0ke: Many of your poems include parenthetical phrases. Reading the poem both with and without those phrases changes the poem’s meaning. How did you develop this technique, and do you have advice for other poets who want to try it?
RQ: When I was in high school, I wrote this:
This poem has
Can you tell as I read it aloud?
I started to take classic poetry that we were studying and playing with arrangement on the page. How does it look? How does it change the reading? As I played, I became very aware, like I had been blind before, that there were words hidden within words, words that share prefixes and suffixes, words that would still be words even when broken up. Add to this, I am a huge fan of ee cummings. There is something visually striking about his work on the page. I love that, but there remains something that doesn’t quite translate when reading aloud. While reading on stage, that part remains mine.
My particular use of parentheticals came from my developed process of editing: reading at open mics and hearing my words in relation to how they are on the page. Those parentheticals became a visual playground, but also came to shape the narrative, the story or imagery as presented, which can change depending on how you interpret the parentheticals. My advice? Try it. Play with it. Don’t accept left-aligned and first word of each line capitalized. Read aloud.
Finally, save yourself the frustration of trying to use spellcheck when you do this.
ev0ke: The poem “Among All the Bloody Things” is told in the voice of the moon who laments that “Among all the lonely and wild and bloody things, / she cannot bathe in her own light [….]” There is sadness and anger and desperation in this poem, but it also draws heavily on world mythology. What was the initial inspiration for this particular poem?
RQ: Many of us grew up learning Greek or Roman mythology. We all know that, for example, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, Hera of hearth and home. That never quite sat right with me. It felt limiting. In Norse, Freyahas been called the goddess of love, sex, fertility, and beauty. In my subsequent study and reading of the Eddas, I found myself revisiting my unease around the Greek goddesses. Why was Freya described this way? All descriptions of her in the Eddas were words like “bright,” “shining,” or “golden.” Nothing physical. Like Odin, she claimed half the battle-slain, but she got FIRST choice. She is a shape changer and practitioner of seidr (a kind of ecstatic witchcraft), and wandered the Earth teaching women this art. She enjoys sex and was accused of promiscuity by a drunken Loki, but Loki also accused the other gods of the same.
If anyone is the symbol of fertility, it is her brother Freyr, who people called to each spring, then placed huge, phallic stones across the landscape.
This poem, “Among All the Bloody Things,” looks at the Moon, an archetypal goddess image, and rejects the limiting of the Divine Feminine to these physical aspects or something merely in-relation-to. She claims her own agency, is angry and dismayed that the image reflected back at Her is of how She has been perceived. She demands, in crying out to see a waning earth, that we shape ourselves to fit Her rather than the other way around.
ev0ke: Many of the poems also draw on the names, imagery, and experiences of women in world spiritualities and mythology, e.g., Eve, Lilith, Tamar, and others. What draws you to these particular figures and their stories?
RQ: When I began the project, I half-joked that I was rewriting the bible. As I finished the title poem, I started to see what the project actually was: that exploration of the Divine Feminine. The maiden-mother-crone trope didn’t satisfy, and I was never quite sure why Eve was blamed for the Fall, why Lilith was demonized, why the story of Tamar served only to drive the narrative of a father and two sons. Like the gods and goddesses of mythology, these figures were only valued in-relation-to. I wanted to look at them again, understand them, re-present them. I needed to challenge my own assumptions of women as represented in literature and mythology, and how I would relate to the Divine Feminine.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
RQ: Professionally, I am a chef. I currently teach culinary arts, and have spent the last couple of years building a program. I just now reached the point where I can shift some of my attention to other creative endeavors. I am currently revisiting ee cummings and diving into the backlog of poetry journals that have been stacking up.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]