INTERVIEW WITH SAGE C. BRAZIEL
sage c. braziel is a Black autistic Queer femme artist, healer, and Virgo. They just release a book called Aubade with Sweet Pomegranates, which can be found here. Within their art, sage c. braziel holds space for tenderness, sorrow, goofiness, and all emotions in-between. Their photography celebrates and preserves life and all its joys. Their writing embodies the beauty and agony that accompanies existing with several marginalized identities.
Sam: We just were wondering what spurred your interest in photography, and how does it impact the rest of your work?
sage c. braziel: I think that I started doing photography because I wanted to have a creative outlet that was separate away from the internet. I wanted to be on my phone less, and I thought it was really nice when I didn’t get the instant gratification of seeing a photo. People would be like “what did it look like?” and I was like “I dunno, we’ll just have to wait,” and it felt really good to be able to say that.
I’ve only been doing photography for a year now. I’m trying to think about what made me start. I can’t remember whether it was - it was my friend, Jennifer! Jennifer made me start, because she was like “Look at this film camera; I have it’s so cool”, and I was like “Oh my god, what is that?” And I remember this picture of Jaden Smith, when he still had his locks, and he had a small pin text. I saw that picture before but I never realized it was a film camera. I was like “Jaden does this? I need to get on this,” because I love Jaden Smith.
To say how it affects my art… I think that now I’m more attentive to small details, especially in nature. Yesterday, I was walking from the cafe and I was like “Look at the way that light beam is coming through the trees; I wish I had my film camera right now.” I think it’s made me more grateful for the small occurrences and catching them on camera. And just seeing the beauty in everything now. Now, I have the mindset where if I know how to take a picture, I can make anything look beautiful.
Sam: That’s a really beautiful way to put it. I think that’s something we’ve [Teresa and I] both noticed. We’ve both done a lot of black and white photography, just using our schools’ darkrooms too, which has been a lot of fun.
Teresa: Speaking on that, I feel like both photography and poetry are mediums where your art is distilled in many ways - only to the bare essentials, especially with black and white photography. So it’s interesting that the two mediums you’re interested in are photography and poetry. What got you started with poetry in the first place? How did you begin your writing journey?
sage c. braziel: This is actually a funny question because, for like a decade of my life since I was a little kid, I wanted to become a doctor. I wanted to do Doctors without Borders and live in Africa. That’s why at Magnet my parents signed me up to take Spanish as my course, but I switched it myself to take French because I wanted to do Doctors without Borders.
I actually had a lot of poor experiences with English teachers in middle school, especially white, female English teachers, and so, I really hated poetry until junior year of high school. My friend, Adriana Carter - I dunno she made poetry seem so nice - she goes to Stanford now and she writes the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read in my life. And there was a hurricane. I can’t remember which hurricane it was. But I’m from South Carolina, so we evacuated to Georgia and there was nothing to do. And so, I was like “I’m going to write a poem, I’m gonna do it.” *Laughs*
I don’t know where that logic came from, I was just “I’m gonna do it myself, and then I’m gonna show you all.” It was not fun. I ended up liking it.
Then, I was in a joint journo summer mentorship program that following summer, which was wild because the acceptance rate for that program was 9% my year. It was kinda wild, because I have performance anxiety when writing essays because of this white teacher at my school. Every time I had an essay due, I had a nightmare about her. It was so wild. At the beginning, I showed her one of my poems because she was an English teacher at Magnet. And she was like “Um, you know, I don’t like looking at students’ work, because in the grand scheme, you’re not very good.” And I was like -
Then I came to a writing camp in the summer of 2019. Mary Syzbist - she works at Lewis & Clark College, she is a National Book Award winner - I showed her one of my poems after she spoke because I was like “This woman is amazing, her voice is so beautiful” - I was taken aback by it. She was like “This is good, keep going”. It was a weird dynamic - I had a Mary Syzbist in my head, this white woman poet who is so kind to me and inspired me in so many ways, and then having the Magnet teacher in the back of my head too. I felt confident in my poetry, but horrible in my essays, which is still a thing I struggle with today. Wednesday night, I had a midterm essay a week overdue because I get so anxious about them. Mary Syzbist works at the school that I go to - she works in this building named Miller. So I was like “I’m gonna go to Miller to do this essay tonight. I can’t do it in my room, I can’t do it here.” And so I went to Miller - I was in there from 10 AM to 1 AM by myself, in the English department. I sat on this bench right outside of her [Mary’s] door, and I was looking at her door while I was writing this essay. When I tell you - I was handwriting, because I can’t type it - when I tell you that I wrote the essay from start to finish without stopping because I was looking at her name the whole time.
Sam: That’s a wild story. I guess on that note - you just talked about Mary Syzbist - who are other artists who inspire you to write or create in any way?
sage c. braziel: At first - well, still - Adriana Carter. Her favorite poet is Ocean Vuong. He’s my favorite poet too - *Laughs* - which I think is really beautiful. I’d be reading his poems and I was like “Adriana, how’d he make a bullet go through the poem without ever saying it; how did he make something weep to the work like this?”
I think - who else inspired me to create - Audre Lorde, Angela Y. Davis, Bell Hooks, Toni Morrison - actually, I have not read a Toni Morrison book. I have one on my desk that I haven’t got to yet. *Laughs* But in terms of Audre Lorde, especially the essay and the concept of poetry not being a luxury, that was really beautiful for me. A lot of her poems - I have her full collection in my room. Bell Hooks? I dunno. I love [unintelligible] and she was talking about preservation and black women healing, and I was like “I have to write to people - there’s nothing else I can do. I’m not gonna talk about it out loud.” At least, at first. I’m writing this down, and I’m using metaphors no one’s gonna know, but I’m gonna be healing.
And Angela Y. Davis, I cannot remember right now. *Laughs* Cause I just woke up. I just love her. I’ve read her book about Palestine and freedom, but there’s another popular book of hers that I’ve read. She’s just really cool, and hearing her videos, hearing her speak from the 70s - especially that video where she’s in a conference or something, and there’s this bullet proof glass in front of her. Can you imagine? And she just looks so unfazed. This bullet proof glass is caging her because people are out for her life. And she’s just like “And you know, the art, and we have to strive for freedom” with a bullet proof shield in front of her face! She’s just so cool. She’s still cool, and she’s queer. Audre Lorde’s queer. I don’t know if Bell Hooks is queer.
Toni Morrison - Toni Morrison’s quotes - watching her interviews, and she’s saying stuff and I’m like “Woah. I wonder if that was off the dome,” and it probably was. She’s the one who said art is always political, and you can’t do art lightly because it’s a revolutionary act to go against the status quo. You don’t even have to take care of yourself to do art, but just put yourself out there in a way that says fuck you to capitalism. I’m gonna do this drawing and I’m gonna have the exhibit, and I’m not gonna work right now in these 30 minutes cause I’m gonna work on expressing myself in the way that feels the best.
Teresa: You mentioned that you have all these inspirations and that you really struggle with essay writing. What do you think it is about poetry as a form of writing that allows you to connect with it so much, that other forms of writing don't do?
sage c. braziel: You see the funny thing is that I wasn’t specific enough earlier. I struggle with academic essay writing. I love my creative nonfiction essays - I love writing those, especially about myself. I love writing about myself. I can do those. I love doing them, actually, because it’s like pouring out of you and you look back and you’re like “Woah really? That’s how I felt?”
The thing I love about poetry is that there’s just so much freedom in it. There’s prose, and some people are like “prose isn’t poetry” and some people are like “it’s poetic prose” - I don’t know. There’s gatekeeping in every form of art because of white supremacy, but poetry just feels so freeing to me.
Sam: In looking through your blog, I noticed a couple of things that kept popping back up, especially the theme of nature. I think you write about it a lot, and it crops up in a lot of different ways in your poetry. Could you talk a little bit about how nature influences both your writing, but also your relationship with nature more in general?
sage c. braziel: Coming from the standpoint of “We’re all nature; We’re all one,” this picture’s a tree ring, a cut-open tree. It’s like our fingerprints are the same; it’s like the tree of life and it’s like a placenta. I don’t know. I just don’t think that I can write without mentioning nature. What else is there without nature? It’s the foundation, it’s the root, literally. I don’t know what direction my writing would go in if I wasn’t constantly basing it in the Earth.
Also, there’s just so much inspiration in nature. You know, I used to really hate spiders. But I came on campus, and there were so many spider webs. So I went on a hike by myself, and I took so many film pictures of spider webs and I was like “Look at how amazing they look. look at how they defy gravity and the light is shining through them.” I stopped killing spiders. *Laughs* I don’t know, I just think there’s so much in nature, so many lessons. Spider webs are so complex, so unique. The way that dew sits on spider webs and they don’t fold - they don’t fold. I don’t know. Nature’s just so amazing.
Blue skies - I couldn’t imagine Earth in a very dystopian way, like with no trees or anything. Cause it wouldn’t be Earth anymore, it’d just be a ball of metal, you know? I believe in pulling from the things around me to influence my writing. Mostly, I pull from my childhood. I pull from my childhood and I mix it with current, and it’s kinda really nice.
Teresa: It definitely seems like you’re very attentive to nature, way more than I am. I really loved your blog, because I think it takes a lot of courage to be putting your work out there. I was wondering, do you have a process for picking and choosing which pieces you decide to show? And what has given you the courage to publicize works that are largely intimate?
sage c. braziel: The reason that my blog isn’t updated right now is because I’m waiting until a lot of people get their books before I post a piece of work in there, because I don’t want to take away the feeling of looking at something for the first time. But I don’t really have a process of picking what I put on my blog because every work that I do is a work in progress, forever.
Audre Lorde taught me this, because you look at her collections and you see a poem and you’re like “Ok, this is beautiful”, but then you see the same exact poem 50 pages later in another collection, and you’re like “What’s the difference?” It’s one word. It’s one word that changed, because she was like “I thought it’d be better.” I just like the idea that no art is ever really finished, especially with my writing. So, when I’m posting stuff, I’m just like “Oh, might as well get it out there.” If I decide to change a few words later or if I decide that I don’t like it anymore, I’ll delete it. I think this way because I don’t want to build up anxiety around it. I don’t identify as a perfectionist - I’ve moved away from that word and those habits over the years.
I’m not too critical about it. I just put a little pretty picture and I title it, little title. *Laughs*
Sam: On a similar-ish note, talk to us about the book. That’s so exciting! What was that entire process like, putting it together, and how has the response been? I know some people haven’t gotten it yet, but how has the response been in general?
sage c. braziel: Another wild story - I turn 19 on September 21st, and so I’m very sporadic and very spontaneous. On August 22nd, this was not a thought before that day, in that second. I was like “I’m gonna write a book. I’m gonna design it myself, and it’s gonna be 30 pages in 30 days.” I designed it, I had to learn Adobe Design. *Laughs* I taught myself how to use it, and I designed this whole thing. And I have a friend who goes to NYU and they’re in Interactive Media Arts, and I was like “I wanna ask [friend] questions, because [they] knows how to use a computer, and I want to know how to use a computer myself.”
It was 30 pages at the beginning, 30 days. Then, there was the fires here for two weeks. My energy was gone, because the air quality sucked. There’s no AC in these dorms, so there was smoke in the hallways. Yes, yes - smoke in the hallways. And there was no way to get away from the smoke so I was exhausted. Something in me during the month of September said “30 pages isn’t enough. 40 pages.” I don’t know why, I was like “Bump it up to more pages.” I didn’t want to squish a lot of pictures on pages, some of these need to be huge. Some pictures take up two pages themselves, like full bleed. So I was like “40 pages!”
It ended up being 40 days, and throughout the whole thing - at first, it was really shaped by the Interlude We Do by Solange - it was really shaped by that. Because a lot of the covers inspired by that - the back cover is the moon, the sun, the stars, Jupiter, Mars, Pluto, Venus - like, we are a walking embodiment of God’s consciousness. On the bottom left of the back cover, it’s me walking with an aura behind me, and then there’s a portal. The front - the baby, is me - it’s me in the womb! There’s a world in my belly because it’s like infinite potential, and I’m like relaxed and there’s this aura behind me, and it’s literally what I look like as a baby. You should’ve been on those calls where I was like “Put my birthmark on my foot” *Laughs* “Loosen up my hands, add a third eye - I came into the world seeing.”
I’m gonna become a midwife, and I really love water births. I was talking to Mickinnick, and he’s the one who illustrated the cover and the title page, and I was like “Put me in some fluid. I want some water.” If it was more realistic of me being in the womb, the amniotic sac, I would’ve been in something more clear, but I was like “Put me in water”. Because I love water; I love swimming; I love the color blue because of my friend Jamie. Then, I wanted the back of the cover to connect by the umbilical cord. Then I was like “Put the placenta” - I was like I “I want the placenta to be the brightest red you’ve ever seen in your life”, then I said “Make the Tree of Life pretty apparent, I want them to know I’m alive.”
I don’t even know what the question is about even more, because I just love the cover so much. I didn’t want to put the title in the cover, because that’s just gonna take away from the whole art. This shit’s gonna be blue, and it’s gonna be wraparound, and it’s gonna be soft cover because I hate hardcovers - can’t stuff them in your backpacks. And it’s gonna have me on it twice. And on the back cover, on the bottom left, would be a small avatar of me now, and I’m naked. And I was like “Can I add some pubes on that bitch - add a film camera. Put a little third eye on there, so people gotta squint to see it.” I got nipples. [I wanted] this to be realistic.
I did it first on my title page - it’s a portrait of me in blue. At first, it was really funny, because I was like “Do you know how tall I am? This drawing looks like they’re five seven, I’m five one, you need to make this person look less tall.” It was funny because the portrait is only waist up, and I was like “my arms are too long, and my shoulders are too broad, I’m not five eight.” I’m not that tall.
I showed it to my friend Jaimie, [I asked] what do you think? She said you look really tall, but beyond that it looks like you. And I was like “Yeah.” *Laughs*
Teresa: I love that. I’m looking at the cover right now, and there’s just so much going on. And the colors are great.
Sam: Do you have anything else you want to share with the people? Anything about your work, or your book?
sage c. braziel: I think something that I’ve grown to love about myself is my childlike curiosity, and how tender I am. I try to find a silver lining in everything, because if I don’t, then I’ll definitely go on the destructive side and be like “The world’s ending.” I love that about myself. I laugh like a kid, I sob like a child. I sob like a toddler. I feel like my inner child is more like an exoskeleton, my inner child is my outer child. I always tell my friends, I have baby hands. Not in the sense of the size, but in the sense of when babies get tired of holding things they just drop them. I’m like “Don’t ever put your card in my hand, don’t ever put anything in my hand cause I’ll drop it.” I’ll let it go, and 30 minutes later I’m walking through the store, I’m in my car, I’m going home, I’m like “Oh, where’s my card? Did I have it in my hands?” Yes I did, I dropped it when I wasn’t interested in holding it anymore.
I think that’s so interesting. I kind of relate to my life. Once I realized that something isn’t serving me anymore, I do tend to drop it pretty quickly. But it also sucks, because nothing can just stay in my hands. I have to have a bag or something. It’s kind of funny. I’ve grown to love it, though. I don’t know whether if it’s just a little baby reflex I never let go of, or if it’s just my hands, but I will not notice it. It’s hilarious. I’ve lost so many cards. At one time, I lost car keys at the beach in Savannah. It just be like that.
Teresa: It really do be like that. Once, freshmen year of college, I literally lost a pair of rain boots. My room is literally this big, and I lost it in my room a week after I bought [them]. How does that happen?
sage c. braziel: I don’t know. During quarantine, I ordered these earrings off Etsy from Spain, and it took a month to come and I was so excited for them. I get them, I take pictures - “Look how beautiful these are” - this was on a Tuesday. After taking the pictures, they just went out of my mind. I don’t know where they went. I was sitting in my couch in my den, on a Thursday, and I was like “Where are my new earrings? Where are my new earrings?! That I waited 30 days for! I could not find them! I couldn’t find them.
I was looking in the couches, I was asking around - “Did you see some earrings?” I was asking my siblings, did you touch my earrings? Could not find them. It’s just wild how things go out of my mind like that. I was like “These are so pretty, I’ve been waiting for them.” Wednesday, I was like “fuck earrings”. I don’t know what happened on Wednesday, but on Thursday, I was like “Where are these pretty earrings that I waited a month for?” I had to order more earrings because I never found them. *Laughs*