Showcased Writer: Tania Runyan

Tania Runyan

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“.

The Interview

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.

Showcased Writer: Luisa A. Igloria

Luisa A Igloria

Interview By Valerie Horres.

Luisa A. Igloria’s poem “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last” can be found on page 51 of Vol. 6.1.

Read “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last”.

The Interview

VH: What there some particular event that sparked the creation of this poem? What was the inspiration for this piece?

Luisa A. Igloria: I’m going to have to confess that I initially wrote this poem as part of a submission for another journal’s call for Facebook-themed poems. I wrote two for that submission, but they didn’t interest the editors at that journal, after all. I continued to work on the poems, though–this one in particular engaged me most because I liked the mixture of tones emerging in it: upbeat, perhaps in some places a little cavalier or a wee bit punk, maybe even borderline irreverent, but also increasingly, toward the end, earnest and wistful. The title is of course self-explanatory: “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last.”

VH: How did you go about picking the images for the poem? Was there one that you started with and the rest follow? What was your process to create this poem?

LAI: This second question is related to the first one–so I’ll continue by saying that after I decided to write the poem as an abecedarian, other decisions seemed fairly easy to manage. I knew that because of the subject of the poem–which is in part the sheer welter of information that comes through the specific social networking experience that is Facebook, and also the randomness of such information–I wanted to arrive at some satisfying emotional justification for all the different images that came into it.

Picking images was easy–I simply looked at my Facebook news feed when I was writing–the poem gives away the date (June 01 last year) I was working on it; and it’s true that on that day a number of news sources (New York Times, etc.) ran the headline of the story about sculptor/visual artist Louise Bourgeois’ death.  I didn’t lift lines whole from other people’s status posts – but I think I worked in some of the typical threads one might encounter there – those that write environmental/nature-themed posts (Earth Hour), those who write about where they’ve recently traveled, those who play games (Farmville etc.), gush about tv shows (Glee, etc.)

The last few lines of my poem echo a sentiment that many other poems have written of in their own way and in their own time — about the weird or wonderful serendipity of human encounters, and that despite the odds, they can and do happen.

VH: You write “O agony and ecstasy, our lot on this blue-green/ planet.” Are those two feelings the only ones we can experience? Is there a way to lessen the agony and extend the ecstasy, or is there reason for experiencing both?

LAI: You ask, “are those two feelings the only ones we can experience?” I like to think not; only, they do seem to define some of the extremes of human experience. I believe in nuance. But in this particular line or part of the poem, I think I’m speaking to the idea that the reason we recognize one state is because we also know the other. I don’t know if there is something in my particular upbringing or background that has predisposed me to such a worldview, but I believe that all experience is yoked to its opposite; that we are capable of deep feeling to me signifies that we have also opened ourselves deeply to everything that life might offer of both pleasure and suffering. We need to experience both because our understanding would be imperfect and untrue if we only knew one state. Is there a way to lessen the agony and extend the ecstasy? I don’t know that a formula for that has been discovered — but I think that poets try to find some respite, or some way at least to meet experience more deeply–in language.

Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Originally from Baguio City, she teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. To visit her website go to www.luisaigloria.com.

Showcased Writer: Karin Lin-Greenberg

Karin Lin-Greenberg grows seedlings on her own  balcony.

Interview By Valerie Horres.

Karin Lin-Greenberg’s short story “Weight” can be found on page 119 of Vol. 6.1.

Read “Weight“.

The Interview

VH: After reading just the first sentence of your story, I was immediately curious about how you came about creating this piece. What was the inspiration for it? Did it start off as a story about one subject and then morph into something else? If so, what was the process by which it transformed?

Karin Lin-Greenberg: This story started out with the narrator’s voice. I lived in Missouri for two years and taught there. Sometimes my students would tell me that I had an accent, and they’d ask me where I was from. I grew up in New Jersey, and I don’t think I have that stereotypical accent that people associate with New Jersey (think MTV’s Jersey Shore), but my students let me know that I definitely sounded like I wasn’t from Missouri. So my goal with this piece was to try to capture a particular voice that sounded like it was from a particular place, and I wanted this voice to sound different from the way I speak. So the first step in writing this story was to listen to people talking (I suppose this could be called eavesdropping). I’d go out, listen, and then I’d jot down some phrases that caught my attention. One example of this is the phrase “fixing to make dinner,” which I overheard one day while I was grading papers in a coffee shop. The word “fixing” was what was interesting to me about that sentence; growing up, I’d only heard people say, “I’m going to make dinner.” So I gathered phrases like that and then I just started hearing Darlene’s voice come together in my mind. I hope her voice sounds somewhat authentic in the final version of the story. Once I had the voice, the story followed.

When I got back that afternoon, both Wes and L.J. were wearing brand new overalls, which were covered in dirt but were still stiff with newness. Neither of them was wearing a shirt, and they each held a hoe and were working the soil. Above each of the older plants, the ones they’d started weeks ago, three wooden stakes were tied together in the shape of a teepee so the stems could have something to lean on as they grew taller. All in all, the whole thing looked pretty professional, like they really knew something about what they were doing.

— Excerpt from “Weight”

VH: What about gardening drew you to use it in this piece? How do you find the best symbols to use in a story? When you are writing a story, do the symbols pop up first in your process and then the story line and the message grows out of them, or do you start with a plot or a message you want to impart and the symbols follow?

When I was in Missouri, I decided to start a garden. I lived on the third floor of an apartment building, so I only had a balcony on which to garden. I got all these buckets and some sacks of soil and tried my best to grow vegetables. I had no idea what I was doing; I knew nothing about using good soil and composting and fertilizing. I managed to get the plants to grow (and grow and grow; I hadn’t yet learned how to trim plants back so they don’t get to “Jack and the Beanstalk” proportions), but I wasn’t very successful in getting many actual crops to develop. Every day when I went out to the balcony with my watering can I was confronted with plants that were tall and leafy and green without any tomatoes or peppers or other vegetables on them, and I suppose that image made its way into the story. At that time, I was also getting a lot of rejections for my stories with notes from editors on the rejections saying things like “too quiet” or “too restrained,” so I decided that I wanted something “loud” to happen in this piece. I’d been writing a lot of stories with characters who were passive—they would notice and observe, but they wouldn’t do much—and I think those little notes were a reminder that readers are interested in characters who act and don’t only observe. So I had the image of the garden that didn’t produce crops and then the goal of writing a “not quiet” scene, so then I ended up with the idea of Darlene smashing the plants. And then I had to figure out why she’d do such a thing, especially after her brother and son had spent so much time on the garden. As for symbols, I don’t worry too much about symbols and symbolism as I’m writing. I’m more concerned with character and plot, and I think symbols emerge later. When I’m writing fiction, I never, ever start with a message that I want to convey; if I have that urge, I’ll write an essay instead of a story.

From the Garden

VH:  In the last paragraph of your story, the narrator notes that “All of us here are trying to coax something out of this place, and who knows what will come of our efforts.” This resonates on a much higher level than just the garden she is trying to grow. Do you think that we all, like the narrator, are stuck and limited to coaxing something from the different places in our lives? Can we do more than this, or are we just watering and waiting and hoping that something good will grow out of what we do?

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