Author Q & A with Tania Runyan
by Christine Nessler
July 7, 2023
This week’s Author Q & A is with Tania Runyan. Runyan is the author of the poetry collections What Will Soon Take Place, Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air. Her guides How to Read a Poem, How to Write a Poem, and How to Write a Form Poem are used in classrooms across the country. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Indiana Review, Atlanta Review, and The Christian Century. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.
Runyan’s poem, Mass in Quarantine, is featured in Issue #11 of The Good Life Review.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a California native who has spent most of my adult life in the Midwest, sharing a home with my husband, three kids, and three dogs. Having taught both independently and in the public schools, freelancing as an editor and content writer, and doing the best I can to make time for my own writing (poetry, poetry instruction, creative nonfiction, and the beginnings of a novel), I’ve collected a variety of literary experiences over the years! I also enjoy playing Celtic fiddle and violin, gardening, reading, and walking in the woods.
What inspired you to write Mass in Quarantine?
During the later phase of lockdown, I took monthly trips to nearby Airbnb’s for a bit of weekend solitude and writing time. I distinctly remember holing up in an attic-type of a bedroom a couple of weeks before Christmas, writing poems inspired by articles exploring how people were coping with the pandemic in creative ways. The image of those parishioner photos attached to the pews grabbed me right away; the seemingly unending dailiness of the pandemic called out for the repeated rhyme and refrains of a villanelle.
What message do you hope reaches your audience through Mass in Quarantine?
I would love for my audience to be responsive to whatever message they need to find in those lines. I suspect these messages will differ by reader!
How have your life experiences impacted the way you write? How does religion impact your writing?
My faith influences my writing because it is at the heart of how I live and relate to the world. I look for moments of grace and humanity in the hardest of circumstances, recognizing that hope can’t be found without some pain.
How has poetry shaped your life or helped you make sense of the world around you?
Poetry is a form of processing for me, a way I deal with feelings, events, or even people I don’t fully understand. I’ve written quite a bit of poetry informed by Scripture, although I’ve used writing more as a way to grapple with the Bible myself–faith, doubt, anger, humor, all of it–than teach others any sort of doctrine. That said, others who have struggled with their own bouts of doubt and spiritual struggle have expressed that they feel a connection to my work.
Tell us about work you have done or are doing that makes you most proud.
I’m proud of my book Making Peace With Paradise, my first book of creative nonfiction. It just came out last fall, around the time I had started a new teaching job. Not great timing for getting my book “out there!” My whole life, I’ve had a fraught relationship with my native Southern California. This book is another form of artistic processing, exploring some difficult (and hopeful) life experiences against the backdrop of freeways, earthquakes, suburbs, Hollywood, and music.
How do you stay inspired as a poet?
I have to consciously make time for inspiration, whether that looks like reading, walking, playing music, or spending time with other writers. Inspiration, really, comes from the chance to think, reflect, and slow down the world so I can be receptive to the words out there patiently waiting for me.
What style of poetry helps you to best express yourself and why?
These days, I’ve been writing in a lot of forms: villanelles, pantoums, sonnets, sestinas. ghazals. Forms give me some kind of structure to hold onto, a playground for discovery. Picture kids on those big playground structures at school. The equipment gives them a means for exploration, but how they explore is up to their mood, their friends, the weather, whatever. In those times of exploration, they may discover new games, physical moves, imaginary situations, or relationships they may have never considered before. That’s me in a playground of rhyme, refrains, or end words. I love the freedom that comes with structure.
What do you think when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”
I think of lying on the couch covered in dogs, a cup of coffee in one hand, a book in the other.
Thank you, Tania, for participating in this Q&A. We wish you the best in life and all your writing endeavors.