interview: Tania Runyan
when you picture someone reading your poetry, how do you see them? what do they think about, wear, and do? or, maybe a better way to say it: who do you write for? and how do you see your writing nourishing others?
My readers wear orange because it’s my favorite color and makes me happy. So when I write I picture a sea of orange t-shirts and hats and scarves welcoming me with sunsetty, juicy enthusiasm. And I also write for anyone else who wants to connect to God in daily life, who wants to think about Scripture in a fresh way. I want my readers to walk with these stories and verses in the midst of the contemporary, messy life that sometimes seems so far removed from the Bible. The biggest victory, of course, happens when one who doesn’t find the Bible or God relevant feels a spiritual spark in what he or she has read. One woman once said, “You write Christian poetry for people who hate Christian poetry.” What a compliment!
how do you use poetry as a practice for spiritual exploration, discipline, or growth? can you offer any practical advice or sure-fire practices for folks interested in allowing writing to inform their spiritual discipline?
Poetry has been very practical for me as a spiritual discipline. When I set out with a goal, like writing about the Beatitudes or women in the Bible or, now, Revelation, guess who’s sitting down and reading and meditating on those passages? I’ve been using a practice I picked up from Sacred Space, a daily prayer site maintained by Irish Jesuits. They talk about using scripture as a searchlight to the soul. So when I come across a passage, even a word or phrase that moves me, I allow it to shine on a few different areas in my life, like memories, struggles, and meaningful images, and I journal about those. Soon a poem starts to take shape–and the scripture becomes more solidified in my mind as a result of those personal associations.
when you approach your desk, journal, computer—where ever it is you tend to create—what are some of the processes you use? what’s going through your mind? tell us about your habits of writing, no matter how quirky, mundane, strange, or small.
My habits are actually quite terrible, but I guess they’re working okay so far! Coffee and dark chocolate must be involved, and Irish and Scottish music must be involved as well. I get very distracted. I go back and forth from Facebook to email to my poem in progress. I get up and play fiddle or mandolin. I fold laundry, bake something. Eventually, a poem gets written, and I guess it’s not too bad that I find some musical and social inspiration along the way!
when you go to revise work, how do you typically go about it? are there best practices you follow? give some wise instruction for those of us ready to get cracking on revision!
I read aloud constantly. Some lines just don’t feel right, so I read them over and over, tinkering with words and syllables until they all “click.” I delete all adjectives then see which ones absolutely must stay before adding any back. I get rid of the first stanza and see if the poem still works. The first stanza is often a warm-up for the writer but not needed for the reader. Revising almost always involves cutting, not adding.
what’s the best advice you can give to a person just beginning to write, struggling to write, or feeling stuck? what’s something you wish someone had told you starting out?
Read lots and lots of poetry. Turn off the TV–permanently. Take walks. Garden. Find another art form to turn to so as to keep your creativity alive and to comfort yourself that you are good at other things. Music has been a lifesaver for me in that way. (“Yeah, so that poem got rejected? Well, at least I can fiddle a mean ‘Rights of Man’!”) If you’re still stuck after these things, then maybe you are supposed to be stuck for awhile.
The Spirit may be writing something deep within you that is just not ready to come out yet. I used to think that sentiment was a cop-out of sorts, but I’ve seen it work in my life over and over again.
would you like to share a poem you’re working on or have recently finished and comment on how it was written in light of the comments above?
This poem, one of my first writings on Revelation, is hot off the press, based on Revelation 1:1. This poem exemplifies the “searchlight” method of meditating on a verse and allowing personal images and experiences to enter in–for me, often, finding spiritual meaning in the images and experiences of suburban life.
The Things That Must Soon Take Place
by Tania Runyan
Will not rush through your heart like ball lightning.
He will smolder under your skin as you wait
for your chalupa in the drive-through
or latch the dressing room door at Old Navy,
wanting nothing more than to pull a preshrunk T
over your head in peace. But you must steady yourself
on the purse hook because of the sudden nausea
of the spirit burying inside you like a tick.
Soon you will see seraphim wings in the price tags,
hear trumpets in the vents. You will awaken
to twigs poking your worn soles like swords of fire,
to the grocery bagger’s billowing breath.
These things will not blaze through you
like apocalyptic horsemen but nudge you like a stray dog
in the alley, a matted earthbound begging for your touch,
a wet nose you’ll never wipe off.
Tania Runyan is the author of A Thousand Vessels (WordFarm), Simple Weight (FutureCycle Press) and Delicious Air (Finishing Line Press), which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, The Christian Century, Willow Springs, Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, and the anthology A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. She was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.