Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Chapbook Chat: Katie Manning Discusses A Door with a Voice

A Door with a Voice
Author: Katie Manning
PublisherAgape Editions - A Sundress Publications Imprint

Publication date: 2016

The Book of Calm
        all that remains of Malachi

the day is coming
like a furnace
will set
on fire
you will go out and frolic like
on the day
dreadful day
the LORD
will come and strike the land with

originally appeared in the San Diego Reader

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Katie Manning is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Whale Road Review and an Associate Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author of four poetry chapbooks, including The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman (Point Loma Press, 2013), and her first full-length poetry collection, Tasty Other, is forthcoming in November as the 2016 winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.

Author website: http://www.katiemanningpoet.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/katiemanningpoet/?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iamkatmann

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[This interview was conducted via email in June 2016.]

Please tell us a little bit about A Door with a Voice.

KM: This chapbook is a selection of poems from a larger project, in which I'm taking the last chapter of each book of the Bible as a word bank and creating poems. For this chapbook, I selected the poems that focused on women, especially mothers, and children. The title is from the closing lines of one of my favorite poems in the collection, "The Song of Sons."

[A Door with a Voice is available from the publisher via free download.]

You mentioned that one of the reasons you started working on the poems was because you were tired of people taking language from the Bible out of context and using it as a weapon against other people, so you started taking language from the Bible out of context and using it to create art. Is the Bible a sacred text for you? How does religion/faith factor into your writing?

KM: The Bible is a sacred text for me, which is why I think it is worth spending the time to study it and to consider the larger contexts of the passages and books it contains. Some people selectively read scripture in ways that affirm (or ignore) their own behavior while conveniently condemning whoever it is they want it to condemn. That seems to me a poor way to treat a sacred text.

I don't think I can ever escape my own identities and concerns when I'm writing poetry. Even if I'm not explicitly writing about the Bible, it's part of me. Even if I'm not writing explicitly about myself, I'm writing as a feminist, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and more. All of my experiences and roles have shaped the way I perceive the world.

In a 2012 Kenyon Review article “The Weight of What’s Left [Out]: Six Contemporary Erasurists on Their Craft,” Andrew David King asks the following:
Usually, the literary self seems to be a positive construction, but erasure challenges that notion, expropriating and subtracting in lieu of adding. Do you think it’s still possible to excavate an identifiable self from your erasures? What about your work is distinctly “you,” if anything?
Here are excerpts from the interviewees responses:
  • Janet Holmes (The ms of my kin): “Why does there need to be an “identifiable self” in the poems? … The concerns of the resultant text are my own, and I think are identifiable as such in the context of my other writing, but I did not explicitly seek to create “a self” that could be identified as me, and have the erasure speak its words.”
  • Srikanth Reddy’s (Voyager): “When you erase a text, you’re “unearthing” possibilities of phrasing, voicing, and thinking that are already embedded but somehow buried or hidden within the language. Oddly, though, I did find that as I erased Waldheim’s book, with its ghastly bureaucratic language, I kept finding “my” voice within it.”
  • Travis Macdonald (The O Mission Repo): “[T]he act of erasure leads toward the discovery of otherness. … My own role as poet in this process has more closely resembled that of an archaeologist much more than that of an architect.”
  • Matthea Harvey (Of Lamb): “Erasure is like any other form—it shapes the content and also leads you to say things you wouldn’t have said without its strictures, but I think some very distinct particles of “you-ness” get caught in that sieve.”
  • David Dodd Lee (Sky Booths in the Breath Somewhere): “But it also felt possible I might craft something, using Ashbery’s work as source material, that sounded nothing like Ashbery. I mean, I had no idea, at first, what would happen, which was partly the point… But then, after a while, the poems started to seem like they were mostly mine (I just started feeling that they were).”
  • M. NourbeSe Philip (Zong!): “If I were to discern traces of what is “distinctly” me in Zong!, it is to be found less in the writing itself and more in the willingness to risk—to sail in the dark with no compass. With only one’s heartbeat to accompany one.”
Which one(s) of the above, if any, resonate with you and why? How would you answer King’s question?

KM: Several of these resonate with me, but especially the answers from Janet Holmes and Matthea Harvey. I didn't set out to read myself into the biblical texts that I used as word banks, but my concerns certainly crept into the language that I selected and the ways that I formed my poems from those limited words. This project was a self-assignment that kept me writing after I became a mother, finished my dissertation, and started a full-time job--a chaotic time when it would've been easy to stop writing poetry. Without intending to, I wrote several poems for the larger project that focused on mothers and children, which happily led to this unexpected chapbook. I imagine that these poems would have a different focus if I'd written them at a different time of life.

One of the attractions of chapbooks as a form is that they can be beautiful, limited-edition works of art, poetry-as-artifact. A Door with a Voice is an e-chapbook, which means it’s digital. Why did you choose the e-chapbook as a form for your manuscript? How does the e-chapbook form benefit your work?

KM: Honestly, I was hesitant about publishing an e-chapbook at first, but Fox Frazier-Foley (Editor of Agape Editions) "got" my project and was so excited about these poems, and she wants to publish chapbooks digitally to make the work more widely available to readers. I love getting to share my project with anyone who wants to download it, and it's a relief that I don't have to sell anything!

At the same time, I love the hand-bound and limited edition chapbooks that I had published by Boneset Books and Yellow Flag Press in 2013. They are special. I also love my chapbook The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman, which is perfect-bound and widely available through Wipf & Stock, Amazon, and elsewhere. I'm so glad there is this great variety in chapbook publishing.

What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

KM: As I already mentioned, one of my very favorite poems in this chapbook is "The Song of Sons." It was so fun to work with the language from Song of Songs, which is very familiar to me, and to make the words feel new. I love how the language of lovers in the original book shifts into an unspoken language of love-longing from a nursing infant to his mother in my poem. Since I have two sons, this poems feels especially close to me.

The Song of Sons
         all that remains of Song of Songs

if I found you
I would
the nectar of


place me
over your heart

your arm
strong as death
unyielding as

is a door

let me hear

(first published in Queen Mob's Teahouse)

You shared that you started working on the manuscript because you needed a prescribed project in order to keep writing poems: You’d just finished your dissertation, given birth to your first child, and started a new full-time professor gig. (WOW!) What was it about working on these poems that kept you engaged?

KM: I'm still sick of people causing harm by taking verses from the Bible out of context, so that motivation never left me, but I was also driven to keep writing by the strictures of the project: I always knew what to work on next. The words were right there for me to use, which was especially handy in the throes of new motherhood and sleep deprivation. Getting enthusiastic feedback from writer friends also kept me going, especially when I got partway through the first drafts and wondered if anyone else would ever want to read these weird poems.

Have you given a public reading of the work? What was the audience response? Did you encounter anything you were not expecting?

KM: Yes, I've read them to a variety of audiences: to a small group of friends, at a pop culture conference, and even in my Jesus costume at a Poetry Circus! Since I was so earnest in my writing of these poems, and since I was afraid no one else would want to hear or read them, I was shocked the first time I shared them and people laughed! I was certainly not expecting people to laugh or to be moved by them, but I've gotten really enthusiastic feedback every time I've shared these poems.

What else would you like readers to know about you or your chapbook?

KM: I've already said a lot about myself and my poems, so let me say that I'm thrilled to have David Adey's art as the cover image for A Door with a Voice. He's one of my very favorite artists, and I think of my Bible word banking project as a kind of "kindred art" to his work with magazine covers and ads. You can check out more of his work at http://www.davidadey.com/

What are you working on now?

KM: I've just completed a full revision of the larger Bible word banking project, which still needs a title. I'm also working on a series of poems that use board games as a starting place to explore relationships and memory, and I'm working on a series of prose poems that are addressed to my late granny (and that also explore relationships and memory... perhaps these sequences will merge). Thanks for asking!

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