Julianna DeMicco talks to Katie Manning, author of the poetry chapbook A Door with a Voice (Morning House e-Chapbook Series, Agape Editions 2016). Read on to discover how Manning’s project took shape, including her process for creating the poems in the chapbook and her inspiration for turning Bible verses into art rather than weapons.
Editor’s note: The interview below has been lightly edited.
JD: Tell me a little about yourself. Do you feel your religious or spiritual background influences your writing, especially in this chapbook?
KM: I don’t think I could deny that influence if I tried! I grew up reading the Bible and participating actively in a church community. I still do those things, and I’ve grown from holding a literal / legalistic view of Scripture to holding a more loving / contextualized understanding, and that shift has influenced my writing profoundly. This project exists as a response to people who would take verses from the Bible out of context and use them as a weapon against others.
JD: How would you describe your aesthetic style? Has it changed or evolved at all since your first chapbook, and if so, how would you describe that trajectory of development? How do you think A Door with a Voice fits into that style?
KM: I once heard someone say that there’s nothing worse than listening to poets try to describe their own work, but I’ll give it a try: I think that there’s always a playfulness in my poetry, and my interests in the Bible and women’s lives are obvious, but my style shifts all over the place. I fell in love with traditional forms in college. I worked a lot with free verse persona poems after college, and my first chapbook The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman contains persona poems that form an overall narrative. My forthcoming full-length collection Tasty Other explores the transition to motherhood in a variety of styles—fragmented dream poems, responses to fairy tales and biblical narratives, and some straightforward autobiography.
A Door with a Voice certainly connects with the Christian, feminist, and motherhood themes of my previous work, but my process was a big departure from anything I’ve done before. I created each of these poems using the last chapter of one book of the Bible as a word bank. This process made me think a lot about the original texts, about the many ways people attempt to read the same text (sometimes turning the Bible into a sort of Rorschach test), about how I’m always using a limited set of words to create poems, and about much more.
JD: Tell me more about the biblical books you selected for this collection. Is there a particular reason you selected these books in particular? How does the selection of these books fit into your vision for the chapbook overall?
KM: I didn’t select the poems for this chapbook based on the books I used to create them, but rather based on the themes that emerged within my poems. I wasn’t thinking about creating a chapbook at all as I worked through drafting this project, but I noticed later that several of the poems were focused on women, especially mothers, and those are the poems that I pulled together for this collection.
JD: You mentioned in your artist statement for this chapbook that your inspiration for these poems came from the idea of taking biblical verses and turning them into art rather than weapons. Can you tell me more about where that idea came from, and what it was like to put it into practice?
KM: I started the project in anger. It’s infuriating to see people who claim to be Christians pulling some verses out of the Bible to justify judging and mistreating other people—fellow Christians or not—while strategically ignoring nearby verses that might condemn their own behavior, of course. So I worked away on my angry poems, and I brought them to my writing group—and my writer friends laughed! They found the poems moving and important, but also very playful and funny. I hadn’t expected laughter, but I’ve gotten it every time I’ve read these poems in private or in public. I can’t say what the project has done or will do for anyone else, but it’s been healing for me to write it, and I realized about halfway through my first round of drafts that what I was doing resembled the devotional practice of lectio divina. What I thought of as an angry project produced something playful that has helped me connect with other people. I love that.
JD: Do any of the poems in A Door with a Voice fit into a larger book or manuscript? Or do you have any other upcoming projects we should look out for?
KM: Yes. A Door with a Voice is a selection from the larger project of 66 poems, which is in the final stages of revision. I hope to publish it as a full-length book in the future.
I mentioned my forthcoming book Tasty Other which investigates the transition to mother identity. Tasty Other just won the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and it will be published in November. Thanks for asking!
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 three chapbooks, including The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman (Point Loma Press, 2013). She has also collaboratively created two tiny humans. Find her online at www.katiemanningpoet.com.
Julianna DeMicco is a rising senior at Binghamton University. She is currently pursuing a double major in philosophy, politics and law, and English with a concentration in creative writing and global cultures. She is a student leader on her campus and has focused her experiences on a service-based learning mentality. As a vocalist, trumpeter, ukulele player, and poet, she is fascinated by the musicality of poetry and loves to experiment with different rhythms in her own work. In her spare time, she furthers her independent study of Italian, French, and Chinese. In addition, she is pursuing a study of poetry and literature from different eras, specifically those written during the Medieval Era to those written in the Early Renaissance.