“Not surprisingly, facing what I don’t want to face usually results in my best writing because I have to grapple with honest feelings and doubts.”
What Will Soon Take Place (Paraclete Press, 2017)
Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your book? Perhaps a poem that introduces the work of the book, or one that invites the reader into the world of the book?
No cave, cleft, or ocean shattering bluffs.
The only trumpet “Hot Cross Buns”
blatting from my daughter’s open window.
I circle the block to find my messengers:
a whimpering beagle roped to a magnolia,
ear flipped inside out. Cracked rainbow pinwheels,
plaster Nessie in the dandelions, all bought
and positioned for some prophecy of beauty.
If only a forsythia opened by my bedroom window,
I would spend a week in resurrection. If only
a birdbath and bench for prayer. Or a cherubim
on the front steps, concrete wings spread
over a basket of trailing lobelia. Who could hide
from that serene, carved smile? But we always enter
through the garage instead: crushed milk bottles,
mud-scabbed boots, jump ropes coiled
with shovels and bikes. They were never meant to lie
in our way. Like it or not, they speak.
Why did you choose this poem?
This is the opening poem to the collection, paralleling St. John’s receiving the angel’s message at Patmos before beginning the book of Revelation. The poem introduces my “messengers”–the workaday objects and images from suburban life that can’t help but speak to me as they place themselves, in this case quite literally, under my feet.
What obsessions led you to write your book?
For many years, I was obsessed with writing about scripture, particularly scripture that I didn’t want to deal with, such as the words of Paul in Second Sky. Not surprisingly, facing what I don’t want to face usually results in my best writing because I have to grapple with honest feelings and doubts.
What’s your book about?
The poems “cover” the book of Revelation from beginning to end.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your book?
The arrangement was pretty easy because I just “wrote through” Revelation from chapter 1-22. The title was difficult, as always. I don’t think I’ve ever stuck with my first title for a book; I’ve always changed it at least a couple of times with the help of an editor. I can’t even remember all the titles for this collection, though I know at once it was called Flame, Linen, Diadem.
Which poem in your book has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
Many of these poems are deeply personal, but I will have to say “The Sun Shall Not Strike Them” holds a very important back story. Over the course of a year or so, my friend shared traumatic details of her childhood abuse during our weekly walks–and also experienced quite a bit of healing. I can’t even begin to understand what she went through, but writing about it gave me just a little bit of empathy as I worked to understand and pray through her pain.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
“Outside Delta, Utah,” is a weird one. I wrote it in response to a workshop exercise that demanded twenty specific requirements. I don’t remember the requirements, which is probably a good thing because perhaps the poem is indeed working naturally. Still, the poem’s about a bunch of old shoes speaking to me prophetically.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the book, and how did that affect your sense that the book was complete?
I think the last poem I wrote was “The River of Life.” I spent a good deal of time working on those last couple chapters of Revelation, those words and images that do describe a sense of completion, renewal, and eternity.
Describe your writing practice or process for your book. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I take revision very seriously, following a number of strategies I don’t always think about consciously. I wrote How to Write a Poem as a way to distill and describe those steps so as to help others who haven’t quite internalized the process. Hint: there are many strategies!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a memoir/essay collection about my fraught relationship with California, the home of my youth. It’s a long, complicated process, but there is no turning back now that I have so many fellow writers giving me encouragement and holding me accountable to get this thing written!
What is your favorite piece you’ve written? Why?
I feel close to several poems and essays, but “Putting on the New Self” seems to connect with a lot of people who have struggled under the burden of not doing the “Christian thing” well enough. I do think about audience a lot and want to challenge my readers. When a poem becomes a reader’s favorite, it starts to become one of mine as well.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I love music, playing fiddle or mandolin almost every day. I grew up spending as much, if not more, time in orchestra as I did writing. When times are crazy, however, I prioritize writing over the music, although the rhythm, resonance, and expression of strings have always influenced my work and cannot be left alone for long.
How has your writing and writing practice evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
As a younger writer, I had to get every word perfect before moving on to the next line. Now I’ve taken on more cyclical habits of generating and revising.
What kind of world do you think your book creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
I hope my collection creates a world in which readers can grapple with a difficult but beautiful book in the Bible, Revelation, in a way that challenges their preconceived theologies.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
The Collected Poems of Tania Runyan. That would be nice someday!
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Read a lot. Read nonstop.
Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections What Will Soon Take Place, Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her guides How to Read a Poem, How to Write a Poem, and How to Write a College Application Essay are used in classrooms across the country. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Christian Century, Saint Katherine Review, and the Paraclete book Light upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011. When not writing, Tania plays fiddle and mandolin, drives kids to appointments, and gets lost in her Midwestern garden.