Interview: Tania Pryputniewicz

Tania Pryputniewicz

A poet by night, by day Tania Pryputniewicz finds great joy in teaching Transformative Blogging and Exploring the Tarot through Writing, as well as working individually with clients. Her first poetry collection, November Butterfly, was released from Saddle Road Press in November 2014.

TCJWW: History books and epic tales tend to tell the story of men, but November Butterfly is from the perspective of women. How did you find a voice for these women when so little is known about them?

Pryputniewicz: My passion for Nefertiti and Guinevere goes back to my childhood; the leader of the Illinois commune my family lived on considered himself a reincarnation of Pharaoh Ahkenaton, spouse of Queen of Egypt Nefertiti, so from an early age Nefertiti permeated my imagination in a very intimate way, as did Camelot’s Guinevere, whom I first met through my father’s bedtime readings of The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Later influences include Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and Persia Woolley’s The Guinevere Trilogy.

As an undergraduate at U.C. Davis in the late ‘80s, and later as an MFA student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I enjoyed ongoing exposure to female-centered writing and artwork in my literature, poetry, and art courses. There, I was exposed to most of the luminaries featured in November Butterfly, including Sylvia Plath, Kathe Kollwitz, Judy Chicago, Shaw’s St. Joan, Shakespeare’s Ophelia, and Nabakov’s Lolita. Joan Swift’s Dark Path of Our Names gave me a powerful example of how one could treat rape in poetry from multiple perspectives. My poetry teacher Sandra McPherson’s essay “Secrets: Beginning to Write Them Out” (in A Field Guide to Contemporary Poetry and Poetics) provided a context for writing about difficult subjects.

My women’s studies classes reframed the way I viewed our society and introduced me to the concept that I lived in a patriarchy. At first, as I listened to my professors, I remember thinking, What are they talking about? I can do whatever I want. My mother left books around the house for me to read like The Cinderella Complex, My Mother/Myself, and Fear of Flying.

Formally learning about women’s oppression in this way stirred up ire and fueled my desire to step over early incidents of sexual trauma in my past to break out of a victim stance and reach for the promised agency that women were supposed to have. I had—at that point—a young woman’s theoretical take on the challenges of realizing one’s potential. I was startled, when, some years later, married and pregnant, almost claustrophobically trapped in the body, I realized that book learning only takes one so far. The body has a story too.

I felt intense empathy for what women in the public eye were trying to balance: their desirability, their decision to mother or not, the pressure of societal expectations (Lady Diana), the yearning to soar past limitation (Amelia Earhart), the pull to fulfill society’s expectations of sexualized idealized feminine beauty (Marilyn), and the yearning to realize one’s potential in field of choice regardless of gender and offspring/foregoing offspring (Sylvia, Joan of Arc).

Personae poems provided a perfect vehicle; one by one I re-encountered the iconics I’d been introduced to in college, whether viewing a film version of Sylvia’s life (and responding, not as a young, angry college poet, but as a poet mother), or viewing an image of Ophelia in a painting by Christine DeCamp, so innocuously titled, “The Rescue of Ophelia,” or catching ten minutes of a woman archeologist on television in tears about how the face of a female mummy (possibly Nefertiti) had been disfigured. As a captive audience, so present in my body, nursing infants, raising toddlers, I was riveted: How did these women manage to thrive? I longed for them to have second chances and longed to balance some ledger of power and beauty and agency on behalf of not only myself, but women at large.

TCJWW: How are all of the women in your poems connected?

Pryputniewicz: They are all daughters. Some are also mothers. They are all creators. The inquiry their finished creative work undertakes (via poem, sculpture, painting, or journey) matters as much as the story of what each woman overcame to get to the page, her airplane, her canvas, or what it took to break free of roles, perpetrators or lovers. Or, in the case of Thumbelina or the sisters in The Three Oranges, their imagined inquiry towards agency.

Take for example Jay DeFeo’s painting “The Rose,” which DeFeo called Deathrose and White Rose, to finally settle on simply, “The Rose.” That three title progression and her years of layering paint, wood and mica to that canvas could be said to sum up a journey many women go through in relation to their own bodies, if you consider “The Rose” as a metaphor for the female nexus: We attract lovers and hunters in a society where the line between sex and death blurs easily and girls, by media, are sexualized at younger and younger ages. Conversely, that same gateway possesses a pure potential to birth, to bring in a new life (White Rose). And yet all along that range of potential, ways of experiencing our female sexuality lives inside of us, just like DeFeo’s rose ultimately encompasses various versions of truth/inquiry she lived through on her way to creating and applying that nearly 2,000 pounds of paint to the Deathrose/White Rose/Rose. I was moved by the long entombment of “The Rose” in a basement and its eventual resurrection (Jay DeFeo and The Rose, edited by Jane Green and Leah Levy). Just as it took all manner of luminaries to resurrect that painting, it will take a cross section from each sector of society to heal what we’ve done to women and men with our polarizations, which do neither sex good.

Simarly, in the poem Marilyn, I couldn’t get the image of Marilyn the night she stopped breathing out of my head; the image felt psychologically resonant to me and accurate for women in my generation: the reverse birth image of woman as hummingbird, her tiny hovering head and the labial petals consuming her as if she were suffused and drowning in the very feminine that I so wished had been hers to command for longer.

TCJWW: Your poems are very colorful and in-depth. What is your writing process like?

Pryputniewicz: I’m a fierce journal keeper. And a big fan of free-writing. Raising a family honed my process—no waiting around for the muse or bemoaning a lack of writing time—I just hit the page hard and go until the next window of time opens up for me; my steering wheel is as good a desk as the little round wooden table on my back patio where I drink tea and write while the family sleeps. Our shared family computer sits on the kitchen counter, which means I use it while the kids are at school, and at night I stand on the other side and prepare meals while they tend to their homework online. Poems come best for me through long-hand while I compose blogposts and essays on the computer keyboard (with healthy pilfering from my journal for source material). In this compressed short-on-time manner of writing, the parts of a poem might not arrive in the right order but at some point, rereading my pages, I recognize the disparate parts and rearrange them into a whole.

TCJWW: Your micro movies really bring your beautiful prose to life. How was the experience of collaborating with Robyn Beattie and Stephen Pryputniewicz? Do you view poetry as a visual experience?

Pryputniewicz: I am definitely an image-driven writer and experience poetry visually. Robyn and I first began collaborating on a project on behalf of her late sister, sculptor Ananda Beattie, for which we paired my poems and Robyn’s photographs, Ananda’s Line. Robyn joined our family through marriage to my father Stephen Pryputniewicz twelve years ago; we have been collaborating since about 2007, a natural outgrowth of our mutual passion for images.

Sharing a life with Robyn means exposure to her art and photography libraries, and her lineage as daughter of an archeo-astronomer mother and artist father Paul Beattie; through her I learned about Jay DeFeo, Tina Modotti, and more about Louise Nevelson (Dawns and Dusks: Louise Nevelson, taped conversations with Diana MacKowan). I like to say Robyn functions as my “eye” while I inhabit the domestic monastery of raising children; with a greater range of motion, she shares her circle of artists and friends whose work we incorporate into our movies, as we did with Genevieve Barnhart’s bronze sculptures in Thumbelina. I’d say we have a propensity for the fertile dark as opposed to the blanching light of high noon, though for me the end result is a celebration of hidden power at the periphery. We are in constant email contact and Robyn feeds me images that I use across my websites and blogs.

I feel intensely blessed to have my father’s piano music beneath the montages; last month I celebrated the joy of growing up in his art-loving home in a post on my main site, “Phoenix Eggs in the House of My Father.” Working with my father means the gift of his years of music knowledge and his ability to ferret out a sound track behind the voice recording that best supports the poem. For example, in process right now is a movie to accompany one of the the Joan of Arc poems; my father chose an organ piece titled, “Mit Ganzem Willen,” by 15th century German composer Conrad Paumann. My father recorded his friend John Jack Erbaugh playing the music on Erbaugh’s home pipe organ, designed and built by Dirk Andrei Flentrop, the foremost organ builder in northern Europe. We are hoping that kind of carefully selected music behind the images for the Joan of Arc poem will intensify the emotional impact of the poem. That is what I love about the poetry movies—amplifying and charging the field of the poem. I can’t help but think working with my father brings a layer of warmth and intimacy to the backdrop of the work.

TCJWW: How did you become interested in transformative blogging?

Pryputniewicz: During the ten-year period I took time off from teaching as an adjunct English professor, I began to blog to staunch the feeling of isolation of raising three children on an acre of redwoods. When I returned to teaching part-time, I met writers eager to create a blog, many voicing trepidation at the prospect. So I designed a course where I could pass along basic tools to inspire writers to consciously map out their desires and build their courage to launch and expand their web presence. I incorporate meditative aspects of the creative process, such as making three-dimensional masks when considering blog persona or physically coloring an image of the heart of one’s blog. I believe that incubating before launching helps bloggers, especially women bloggers, to gain confidence in their process. And any carefully intentioned, joy-based regular practice leads to transformation, so I love to use pilgrim metaphors in relation to blogging: set the arrow of your inquiry towards your subject and write your way to a new level of enlightenment.

TCJWW: What are you currently working on?

Pryputniewicz: I am writing poems for a second collection focusing on the Illinois commune I lived on as a child. It grapples with many of the same issues as the first book—power, charisma, danger, and human agency despite challenge, but with more focus on child perspective than female perspective. More witness than accuser, I hope, surveying the dynamics of a spiritual leader attempting to create a community, the swervings of devotion, and considering what happens to the “chosen children” of a disbanded commune in the aftermath of a leader’s mistakes, asking, How and why does power corrupt? How can you be goaded to blossom without giving over your harvest too soon, or too freely, or laying down your cause, or, your body, as often happens in cults, for the leader? After trespass, how does one recover trust in spiritual beauty?

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One response to “Interview: Tania Pryputniewicz

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