“Sometimes [Biblical language is] taken out of context for relatively harmless inspirational purposes, but sometimes it’s taken out of context and used as a weapon against certain people, and that has caused far too much harm. “
A Door with a Voice (Agape Editions, 2016)
In the author statement, you tell us that “this is either the most heretical or the most reverent thing you’ve [I’ve] ever written.” Do you feel that you sway to one side more? Why?
I suppose I’d be more inclined to call myself reverent because I know my own intentions, but I feared early on in my writing process that certain readers might find my work heretical. So far, no one has said this, at least to my face, so that fear has dissipated for me.
I loved your idea of using anagrams of the Bible Books for your poems’ titles. Why did you decide to do this? Do the titles play a significant part in their respective poems?
I’m glad you love the anagrammed titles! I found it to be a playful way to title that seemed to follow the spirit of my project’s word-banking technique of composition. I always started a new poem by brainstorming potential titles. Sometimes I chose a title first and used that to shape the words I chose for the poem. Other times I had a couple of title possibilities that I liked, so I waited to settle on one until I’d composed that book’s poem. I definitely wanted there to be some connection between the titles and poems.
In general, how long did it take you to write the poems?
Much longer than I expected! I’d anagram titles, pick out words and phrases, and start arranging. Then I’d come back and revise. Then I’d take them to my writing group for feedback, and then I’d spend more time revising. Each poem took several hours to compose and revise. I’m probably better off not knowing exactly how long….
Because of the line breaks, your poems are easy to read. Did your line breaks have a specific purpose or were they inserted each time you found a new word/phrase?
I’m glad to hear that the poems feel easy to read. In my initial drafts, I used line breaks to separate any words and phrases that were not together in the original text. In later drafts, I reworked line breaks a little to make for a smoother and/or more meaningful reading.
Which poem do you feel describes your faith?
I just re-read my own chapbook to find an answer to this question. I’m not sure any poem fully describes my faith, but “The Book of Verbs” might come the closest. My faith is rooted in love, affirmed by beauty, and grounded in humility.
What inspired you to become an author?
I started composing poems when I was four (my Granny helped write them down), and I just couldn’t keep myself from writing poems. That was how I captured my observations, played with language, and worked out difficult questions. I was thrilled when I took a poetry course in college and realized that I could “be a writer” all the time by actively working at writing instead of just writing poetry now and then when an idea struck me. (Thanks, Kay Harkins!)
Were these poem solely a way of venting frustration? What did you hope to achieve from writing and publishing them?
To me, these poems were a way of venting frustration, but they were also a way to keep myself writing after having a baby (when it would be easy for writing to get lost). The strict assignment helped. My attitude toward this project also morphed from anger to playfulness, and at some point I realized that my word-banking process resembled the devotional practice of lectio divina. I hoped that these poems might spark some thought and conversation about how biblical language is taken out of context. Sometimes it’s taken out of context for relatively harmless inspirational purposes, but sometimes it’s taken out of context and used as a weapon against certain people, and that has caused far too much harm.
I notice that your chapbook title, “A Door with a Voice,” comes from the poem, “The Song of Sons.” In your interview with Nancy Chen Long, you say that this is your favorite because of the “shift[s] into an unspoken language of love-longing from a nursing infant to his mother in your [my] poem,” and because of your two sons. Why did you specifically choose the line, “A Door with a Voice,” as opposed to, say, “Let me hear?”
I thought A Door with a Voice was mysterious enough to invite readers in, but it also seemed like a fitting label for the project overall. I hope that readers enjoy finding out what “A Door with a Voice” is when they get to the poem “The Song of Sons.”
In “The Book of Thru,” you repeat “the father of” nine times and ended with “the father.” I read the genealogy given in Ruth and it says “the father of” nine times up until David. Does the last line of this poem allude to Jesus intentionally since Jesus is known as the Son of David? If so, what was your intention for doing this?
I love this reading of the poem! Thank you for taking the time to consider it so closely. I was alluding to Jesus (and invoking the messiness of Jesus being one with God “the Father”), but I like the idea that these poems function like a Rorschach test. Different readers will see different things in them based on their own experiences and associations.
In “The Book of Norms,” you end with “the Lord’s/kiss/will/crush/me.” These words are very bold and contradictory. If the Lord is a loving God, who, as the stanza before it states “has been a mother” to the speaker, why would his kiss be crushing? Is there a reason behind these lines?
Again, I think different readers might interpret and respond to these lines in different ways depending on their associations with God, mothers, etc. Sometimes being loved in a powerful, protective way does feel like being crushed.
My favorite poem was, “The Book of Ma.” Because I live so far from home, I often fear what would happen to my mother if something were to happen to me. As I read this poem, I can see my mother going to my grave “trembling and bewildered” and seeing an angel. What surprises me is that the mother in your poem asks, “are/you/afraid.” Why is she asking an angel if he is afraid?
I’m glad to know that poem is your favorite. It’s my husband’s favorite too. I love that you’re asking this question; I have are more questions: Does she know this person is an angel? Is she asking because she’s afraid and wants someone else to feel fear with her? Or does she want reassurance that she need not be afraid because he is not?
Would you want to make this e-chapbook into a paperback one? If not, why not?
1) I don’t like to sell things. It’s an unfortunate part of being an author that I have to sell my books. It makes me feel scummy*. I’d much rather give them away and have people read them closely and respond somehow (write to me, talk to someone else, DO something awesome in the world).
*But if you want to pre-order my first full-length book, Tasty Other, you can do that here. And now I feel scummy. I’m going to go take a shower.
2) The free digital format seems to have led many more people to read this chapbook, and I’ve loved the messages I’ve received and conversations that I’ve had because it’s been so easily available to readers.
3) I will likely publish the full-length project in print in the future.
The illustration on the front of your e-chapbook is beautiful. Why are the mother and children fragments?
I love the cover art too. David Adey has a sequence of images made of punched-out and reassembled ads and magazine covers. They make me think about how women’s bodies are revealed and portrayed. I thought of his work as kindred art to my word-banking poems, and I was thrilled when he agreed to let us use “Twin Bliss” as the cover of A Door with a Voice.
Have you considered having your book translated?
I haven’t, but that is a fascinating thing to consider, especially since I’m working with fragmented language that has already been translated….
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 Tasty Other, forthcoming as the 2016 winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and four chapbooks, including The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman. She has also collaboratively created two tiny humans.