Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An Appreciation of A DOOR WITH A VOICE by Katie Manning

Twin Bliss” by David Adey
(cover art for A Door With a Voice)

I have a great fondness for chapbooks. Their brevity allows a writer to delve into a specific subject or concern for much longer than a full-length collection might permit, because a very rigid adherence to theme would likely get tiresome over the course of fifty or more pages.

But chapbooks allow writers to pursue and embrace their obsessions, and they are all the more satisfying to readers for their tight focus.

Katie Manning’s forthcoming e-chapbook, A Door With a Voice (Morning House e-Chapbook Series, Agape Editions, 2016), is a great example of a book that carries forth a specific project in sixteen poems—this one in the spirit of found or experimental poetry.

For each poem of the collection, Manning used a word bank taken from the last chapter of a book of the Bible. In her brief introduction to the collection, she writes, “This is either the most heretical or the most reverent thing I’ve ever written.” But Manning appears to come at the poems from the perspective of a person of faith, and although I’m no theologian, I have a hard time imagining that a sustained exercise in faith could be received as anything other than a gesture of reverence.

Manning’s introduction also expresses a frustration with people who take the Bible out of context and use its words as weapons against others. Writes Manning, “I started taking language from the Bible out of context and using it to create art.” And the art—skinny little poems that examine and personalize and disrupt the original verses—is thoroughly contemporary and very fresh in its approach.

I also discern a strong feminist voice in these poems, and this is one reason I have a fondness for “The Book of Verbs,” taken from the last chapter of Proverbs. These poems resist the quotation of parts—they are organically whole, each part tied closely to every other (and to the other poems, as well)—so I present it here in its entirety (with a link to QueenMob’s Tea House, where several of these poems originally appeared):

The Book of Verbs
my womb

do not spend your strength
on kings

it is not for kings



a field and

when it snows



not eat

Typical of the collection, this poem resolves the chapter and the book into a personal meditation on feminine strength and resolve. The relationship between the poem and the Bible book feels tenuous, but there is a connection, and I feel gratified by hearing the original words offered back changed, in what seems to me to be clearly a powerful woman’s voice.

To me, chapbooks are most enjoyable when they offer a small grouping of poems that can exist effectively only as that—a small grouping. When the full force of the poet’s spotlight is focused on a single concern, we are compelled to experience it in a whole new way. Manning’s chapbook offers just such an experience, and it’s a gratifying read.

The lesson to this poet: Find inspiration all around; reclaim words and voices that matter to me by using them in art.

Katie Manning is the author of three chapbook-length poetry collections: The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman (Point Loma Press), I Awake in My Womb (Yellow Flag Press), and Tea with Ezra (Boneset Books). She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Whale Road Review, and she has a PhD in English (Creative Writing; Women’s Literature & Feminist Theory) from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and an MA in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. As of Fall 2015, she is an assistant professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University, and she lives happily with her husband and sons in San Diego.

A brief interview with Katie Manning …

1.     What did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
I wanted to be Judy Garland, but without the drug addiction and early death. I loved to sing and act (and still do even though it's not my day job). I like to joke that there wasn't enough rejection in acting so I became a poet instead.

2.     What is the very best word in this collection? Explain.
I'm going to say "context" because it is the most important word, and it appears in my artist statement: "I am tired of people taking language from the Bible out of context and using it as a weapon against other people, so I started taking language from the Bible out of context and using it to create art. My process was to use the last chapter from one book of the Bible as a word bank for each poem. This is either the most heretical or the most reverent thing I’ve ever written."

3.     Describe your worst poetic habit.
When I finish a piece of writing and think, "What if I can never write anything else again?!"

4.     It’s time someone put out an anthology of poems about ___. Explain your reasoning.
DINOSAURS! McKenzie Lynn Tozan and I were just discussing the need for an anthology of dinosaur poetry... the two of us have really cool dinosaur poems, so we suspect other poets must too. We might just have to edit such an anthology in the near future. :)

5.     It’s your poetic obituary! Sum up your writing life with an essential (past-tense) statement about your poetry.
Katie Manning was a poet who wrote about serious subjects but always kept a sense of playfulness.

Would you like to have your book considered for an Appreciation feature? It is eligible if it is no more than two years old or, better yet, forthcoming. You may send finished books or advanced reader copies to me at Karen Craigo, 723 S. McCann Ave., Springfield MO 65804. Although I prefer paper copies, I welcome questions and queries at karen.craigo@gmail.com.

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