Oyster River Pages: When did you first learn that language had power? What was that experience like for you?
Ari Koontz: I think the power of language is something that's been implicit to me almost since the moment I was born. From the "special stories" my father told me before bedtime, to the hundreds of chapter books I flipped through surreptitiously beneath school desks, to the journals full of messy haikus and half-formed recollections, words have always been a home for me and my only map to the universe. I can't imagine not being acutely aware of the magic contained in the infinite rearrangement of these twenty-six characters. After all, without language, how could I even begin to put into words who I am?
ORP: What's your favorite under-appreciated work of art?
AK: I'm a huge fan of slam poetry; one of my favorite poets is Andrea Gibson, and they have a piece called "Ashes" that's one of the most powerful works of art I have ever experienced.
ORP: What is the first creative piece that made you cry?
AK: Harry Potter. Book Five. Sirius. Need I say more?
ORP: What does becoming a "better" writer or artist look like to you? How do you define success?
AK: To me, making art is about connecting with other people: using your work to say something that matters both within and outside of yourself. If someone reads my words and finds something in there that resonates with them, that's success to me. So becoming a better writer is all about reaching out and taking the time to really listen to other voices, to connect to other artists. You can't create inside a void, even if that void is your own mind—you've got to let the world in.
ORP: What are you currently working on?
AK: I'm in the beginning stages of revising a young adult novel about ghosts and identity and the things we try to leave behind, and I'm always in the middle of a few personal essays and poems. Also, a zine about sourdough bread.
Ari Koontz is a queer nonbinary writer and editor based in Providence, Rhode Island, with a degree in creative writing from Western Washington University. In both prose and poetry, their work reflects a lifetime of living in and journeying through different places, identities, and names—with an emphasis on finding the beauty in unfamiliar territory. Ari’s writing has been published in a variety of literary publications, and their dream is to use works to connect people and create spaces of solace and solidarity. When they’re not writing, Ari can usually be found listening to space podcasts, baking cakes, or tending their tiny garden. Read Ari’s story “Silhouettes” from Issue 2.