Interview by Valerie Horres
Tania Runyan’s poems have appeared in dozens of publications, including Poetry, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, The Christian Century, Willow Springs, Nimrod, Southern Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, and an anthology A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania has been awarded an NEA grant and the 2007 Book of the Year Citation by the Conference on Christianity and Literature for her chapbook, Delicious Air. Her first full-length collection, Simple Weight, comes from FutureCycle Press. When not writing, Tania spends her days tutoring high school students, playing Irish music, gardening, and chasing three kids around the house.
Read “Beach Walk“.
VH: Was this poem inspired by any particular person or event?
Tania Runyan: This poem was inspired by the story of Esther in the Old Testament, when King Ahasuerus demanded that all the “beautiful young virgins” go through twelve months of beauty treatments so he could inspect them and choose a replacement for Vashti. Of course, Esther turned this objectification around and ended up becoming the strongest force in the story, saving her people. But in reading the story, I am always struck by how little times have changed in regard to women’s beauty. That is, young girls spend their teenage years going through their own “beauty treatments” so that they, too, can be chosen.
VH: Like the two girls in this poem, who are so fixated on attracting attention from the lifeguard, are we all doomed be ignored and become stuck, no longer able to move?
TR: I believe if people live for others, especially young people who are still forming their identities, they do end up becoming stuck in a way, like soldiers on a doomed battlefield. I do realize that wanting to attract sexual attention at that age is developmentally appropriate to a certain level, and I am not downplaying the importance of being aware of our sexuality. However, it pains me to see young people, especially girls, throwing away time that could be spent on developing gifts and talents to primping and going to great lengths to attract physical attention. I know because I too squandered a lot of time in high school worrying about my looks and clothes. Maybe I am idealistic to believe there can be another way. But the Disney princess and rock star culture that has skyrocketed these past few years (and finding younger and younger consumers) concerns me that things are not going in a better direction.
VH: Could you tell me a little bit about your book that is coming out soon?
TR: This year WordFarm will release A Thousand Vessels, a collection I based on the lives of ten women in the Bible. The poems explore these women’s lives both from their perspectives and from my own, such as in “Beach Walk.” While many of the poems grapple with suffering and doubt, I believe, or at least hope, that they ultimately point to faith and God’s working through women.