What a treat I have for you! During the last few days of National Poetry Month, please enjoy an interview with my friend Tania Runyan, an award winning poet!
I met my friend Tania about 5 years ago through a small group from the church we attended. Our group was so amazing and enlightening in that we all had strong relationships with each other regardless of our wildly differing philosophies. Tania and I have kept in touch since our small group has disbanded and occasionally get together to go walking and talking. And talking with Tania is always a pleasure! She is an amazingly insightful, thoughtful, passionate, compassionate, and artistic person. This all shows through in her poetry as well as her personality.
In March, Tania told me about a poetry reading she was doing from her new book in a nearby town called Antioch, which I happen to love. My brother lived there for several years before getting married this March. I was thrilled to have the free time to go and hear her poetry in her own voice. It was a lovely evening and such an honor to be able to attend this event.
And without further ado, here is the interview!
KW: Could you give a brief background of where you are from and how you got to Illinois as well as how long you and Jeremy have been together an how old your kids are?
TR: I grew up in Southern California, which is where I met Jeremy at the University of California, Riverside. We got married during our senior year of college, so that makes for 17 years! Our kids are Lydia, 8, Becca, who will be 6 in May, and Samuel, who will be 3 in May. There is no quick answer to how we got to Illinois, but the short of it is that a combination of grad school programs and careers brought us up here. Many people say I am crazy for leaving California, but I really love it here!
KW: When did you first become interested in writing?
TR: When I was 7, my babysitter, who was probably in sixth grade at the time, showed me two animal posters in her room. "Why don't we each pick one and write a story?" she asked. I ended up writing a story about a koala and was stunned by the freedom and excitement of creating with words. I have been hooked ever since.
KW: What/who inspired you to start writing poetry?
TR: I came to poetry relatively late after seriously considering a career as a screenwriter. I always saw myself as more of a fiction writer or playwright until my high school creative writing teacher told me I was strongest with poetry. I went on to college again with playwriting on the mind, but I kept those teacher's words in my heart. Once I started taking poetry workshops in college, I knew poetry was my strongest suit.
KW: What most inspires your writing?
TR: Over the past few years, biblical texts have been most influential to my writing; I am writing almost exclusively on scripture, biblical figures, and my own personal experiences with faith.
KW: What do you feel is/are the biggest misconception(s) about writing poetry?
TR: It bothers me that while many people accept the fact that a good musician, dancer or actor must practice and rehearse, they believe poetry is some sacred, untouchable expression that nobody dare criticize. While poetry is indeed self-expressive, it is an art and a craft that deserves an artist's full attention. Poets indeed do and must practice and revise in order to improve. Scribbling off a poem in a journal and defending its artistic integrity as pure self-expression does not show respect toward the art. There is definitely a place for journal-writing; I keep a journal as well, and most of my poems grow out of those entries. But I would never dream of considering one of my spontaneous journal entries on equal par with a poem I've labored over for ten hours.
KW: Who is/are your favorite contemporary poet(s) and why?
TR: This list changes constantly, but right now I really enjoy reading poets who write from a context of faith, such as Paul Willis, Scott Cairns, and Barbara Crooker. I've also been exploring contemporary Welsh and Scottish poets, such as Anna Wigley and Kathleen Jamie. Their poetry is raw and searching but with exacting language--exactly what I try to emulate.
KW: Who is/are your favorite deceased poet(s) and why?
TR: I love Rilke for his soulful and haunting voice. If only I knew German!
KW: Which of your poems is your favorite?
KW: When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
TR: I love gardening, especially propagating my own plants. I also play on the worship team at church: violin, mandolin, and bass. I am obsessed with Irish and Scottish music and enjoying playing that genre on my violin and mandolin as well.
KW: What do you need to do your best work?
TR: Coffee, good Celtic tunes, and a big chunk of time!
KW: Please share what you feel are your greatest accomplishments in your writing.
TR: I would have to say writing about the Bible in a way that is both personally authentic to me and interesting to others. Of course, I continue to work on this, as I feel I have further to go and deeper to delve.
KW: What is your next goal in your poetry career? In your life?
TR: I am currently working on a book of poems based on the apostle Paul and his writings. The grant from the National Endowment for the Arts has afforded me time to really concentrate on this project. After that, I would like to work on a collection about revival, perhaps the revival in Wales or the Hebrides in Scotland. As for the rest of my life, I am interested in returning to the school setting once all three kids are in school--perhaps as a reading specialist or special Ed teacher. I am currently in the midst of figuring out what I want to do "when I grow up"!
Many thanks to Tania for taking the time to do this interview. You are an amazing friend with amazing talent. Dear readers, please do yourself a favor and go check out some of her work!