Poet-a-Day: Meet Katie Manning
Many years ago, the late Brett Foster, a wonderful friend and poet, introduced me to Katie Manning at the AWP conference in Seattle. Little did I know that this brilliant and effusive poet would soon become a dear friend and literary angel. When I’m on a poetic search, I can always count on the prolific Manning to come through. With two pieces in How to Write a Form Poem, a ghazal and a found poem, she does not disappoint.
Here are the first first lines of her found poem, “The Book of Class.” It’s a short erasure poem, so this is all you get for now. Read the rest in How to Write a Form Poem! And, of course, get your hands on Manning’s books.
The Book of Class (excerpt)
all that remains of Ecclesiastes
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin story of “The Book of Class.”
Katie Manning (KM): This poem is part of a larger project that I began for two reasons:
1. I was tired of people taking language from the Bible out of context and using it as a weapon against other people, so I wanted to work on a project that responded to that problem.
2. I had just finished my dissertation, given birth to my first child, and landed a full-time professor position, and I knew that I needed to give myself a strict assignment if I was going to keep myself writing with so many other things vying for my time and attention.
This project was my assignment: I would take some of the language from the last chapter of each book of the Bible and create a poem from it. I began the project in anger, but as I worked on it, I was surprised by how closely this process resembled the practice of Lectio Divina, and I found humor and beauty along the way. I was also struck by the fact that I’m always working with a limited bank of words (my own vocabulary) even when I craft poems that are not erasures.
TR: “The Book of Class” came out of Ecclesiastes. How does an erasure poem call up your imagination and emotional response to a text? How do you know what to erase?
KM: I don’t approach an erasure poem as “erasing” anything, strangely enough. I think of it more in terms of a word bank: here is the language I have available, and now I’ll choose which words stand out to me and combine them to create something new. To me, it’s like a Rorschach test; the original text is the inkblot, and I’m trying to identify a new shape within it. Then my poem becomes another sort of Rorschach test as well.
I’ve had readers think that the poems in this project are funny or devotional or edgy or directly commenting on the book in which I found the language or directly commenting on something in our own historical moment… and all of those readings are possible. I love the way poetry allows for and revels in ambiguity, and found texts especially draw attention to the layers of meaning in their language.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
KM: Often people who are newer to writing in forms (or who had a bad experience with being forced to write in a traditional form in school) think of poetic forms as a hindrance, an obstacle to creativity and expression. I hope a book like this will show more poets that forms can be generative tools, almost co-creators, and can push poets to insights and images that they might never have reached otherwise.
About Katie Manning
Katie Manning is the founding editor-in-chief of Whale Road Review and a professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author of Tasty Other, which won the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and her fifth chapbook, 28,065 Nights, is from River Glass Books. Her poems have appeared in American Journal of Nursing, december, The Lascaux Review, New Letters, Poet Lore, Stirring, THRUSH, Verse Daily, and many other venues.
Photo by Giuseppe Milo, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
How to Write a Form Poem: A Guided Tour of 10 Fabulous Forms
With How to Write a Form Poem by your side, you’ll be instructed and inspired with 10 fabulous forms—sonnets, sestinas, haiku, villanelles, pantoums, ghazals, rondeaux, odes, acrostics (the real kind), found poems + surprising variations on classic forms (triolet, anyone?), to challenge you when you’re ready to go the extra mile.
You’ll also be entertained by Runyan’s own travel stories that she uses to explain and explore the various forms—the effect of which is to bring form poetry down to earth (and onto your own poetry writing map)!