Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Making HerStory Meets Pia Taavila

In her own words, she'll tell you, "poetry is an obsession. It is sweet agony. It leaves me restless, and does not let me sleep until I get up and wrangle with it and nail it to the page. It is a strange bird in the night that sings to me." That's Pia Taavila: scholar, writer, musician, mother.
Raised in Michigan by deaf parents, the single mom of six, holds a PhD in English, Philosophy, and Sociology from Michigan State University. Her first book, Moon on the Meadow, is a thirty-year collection of 126 poems, most of which have appeared in literary journals and magazines. "I love to write," simply stated. In addition to these many talents, Taavila also plays the mountain and hammered dulcimers, the celtic harp, and she sings in the St. Paul’s Masterworks Choir.
HerStory took the time to interview Pia and this is what she had to say:
What inspired you to become a writer?

The sense that if I didn’t write it down, I would dissipate in particles of radiance. In the second grade, I wrote a poem that made my classmates cry. In a good way. Then, in the eighth grade, my English teacher had us read the great poets: Keats, Shelly, Tennyson, and various other dead white guys. I found myself holding my breath a lot. Or weeping. In a good way. Then, I wrote a poem that found a home in the school newspaper, then more in my high school literary magazine, then more in my college and graduate school publications then more in serious literary journals and I thought, hey, I can do this. Maybe it’s just ego: seeing my name in print is a very good thing.

What subjects inspire you the most?
The everyday, the mundane, the humane, the tragic, the ridiculous. The impossibly soft skin at the back of a baby’s neck, witnessing an act of compassion, that cornflower blue along the roadway. Struggling with a decision while weeding. The fragrance of chopped onions under your fingernails. My family… The erotic. The notion that we still open our hearts and love, even though we have confronted the facts and should know better. The smell just before rain.

What impact do you want your writing to have on the world?
When I give a reading and I can hear people sniffling or laughing at the right places, or a fellow jumps up from the back row and shouts, “I love you, Pia!”… when I know I have connected with other humans in this decidedly risky business of living, that is when I have had the impact I wish for… to share our experiences on this earth, to alleviate each other’s sense of alienation and isolation.

Do you remember the first poem you wrote? What was it about? How old were you?
The second grade poem, no. The eighth grade poem that made it into the school newspaper, yes. It was a haiku about the war in Vietnam and it caused my English teacher to decide I was depressed and needed therapy:


Planes zoom overhead
and all in DaNang lie dead.
The silent bomb falls."

This was followed by a rather emotional recitation of a favorite Keats poem, the first two lines of which are, “When I have fears that I might cease to be/ before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…”

They weren’t accustomed to seeing a poet in the eighth grade back then. It was as if I were a science experiment about to erupt. It was either keep writing or let them give me a straitjacket.

If you could sum up the theme "feminine reflection" in ten words, what would you say?

Ten words? Not possible for a poet. If you’ll indulge me…

"What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a woman in this world of war, of famine, of poverty, of testosterone-poisoned views of femininity? What does it mean to create our spiritual selves given the hostilities we face? How do we define and enjoy our sexual selves? How do we make our art and our safe havens in and from which we love and wage life? How do we accommodate the needs of those we love without losing ourselves? These are the questions that interest me now."

Pia will perform at the opening event on March 5 at the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum. Pia currently resides in Fredericksburg, VA where she a member of Beth Sholom Temple. Pia's last words, "I have fallen in and out of love. Guilty."

1 comment:

  1. Go Pia Taavila! I believe in you. Believe or not!, I have dyslexia. In my heart, I know you believe in my success with dyslexia. It doesn't matter that I have dyslexia. People who are from Old Ages express the basic writing. They don't writing a lot. They need to see that writing always to make clear it up with mind. Guilty is not where stop from writing. When express done, it will make better through life. I wrote two pages everyday. I like to writing about my lifetime. Sometimes I read the important materials, then I write. Thank you for helping me. I always learn everyday to become better. God is awesome!