MHR: Many of the poems were sparked by dreams you had. Do you find that writing from dreams liberates your language?
KM: I’m not sure I’d say that it liberates my language, but writing from dreams definitely liberated my form. My tendency is to write in highly structured ways that can feel too tidy, but the shiftiness of dreams forced me to get messy in my writing process.
MHR: Each of the poems resonates the rich aura of pregnancy. Did you find, when writing the book, that the subject of pregnancy could be further explored?
KM: I was really resistant when I started writing pregnancy and baby poems. Fortunately, I realized that I should let myself write rather than fighting against my preoccupation and disruptive physical state. Each pregnancy is so different physically and emotionally, even for the same woman across pregnancies, so I think there will always be more to explore with pregnancy.
MHR: Even the poems that read like fables are grounded in the real world. Do you consider your work in this book “fabulist?”
KM: I have thought of the dream poems as connected to fabulist or speculative writing, and some of the poems do respond to and tweak existing narratives, but then there are many poems in the book that are firmly in the realm of nonfiction.
MHR: You have created a fertile world in which the reader can apprehend the poems even as the poems suggests more mystery beyond the words. Do you think you have succeeded in striking that balance in the open-endedness of the work?
KM: I do feel pretty good about the way this collection seems fairly accessible to non-poets and non-mothers (and I’ve had a couple of men say that reading my poems took them into pregnancy and childbirth in a way they could not otherwise experience). I was hoping to capture the wonder and terror of becoming a mother, and I was hoping to capture some moments of clarity in the midst of the strangeness.
MHR: Many of the poems open chasms of fear that arise from the dangers and “unknowns” of pregnancy. Did you find that writing these anxieties alleviated some personal fears?
KM: Actually, recording the pregnancy dreams and writing from them made me aware of fears that I hadn’t consciously realized and articulated for myself before. Whether or not writing them alleviated the fears at all, it did at least make me aware of them.
MHR: These poems do not look away. You have some very stark and harrowing images. I commend your bravery. Did you ever think of these poems as charms to ward off misfortunes of pregnancy?
KM: Oh, I hadn’t thought of them as charms, but thank you for seeing that possibility. I was interested in writing about pregnancy and birth in a way that acknowledged the surreal, painful, dark parts and not just the sentimental pastel images that we often associate with baby showers and newborns.
MHR: You use the line “Once upon a time there was a mother” as a device interwoven in the sequencing of the poems. Do you see these interjections as creating segments, or as places to take a breath?
KM: Originally, those section breaks were a stand-alone poem, first published in PANK as “A Whole Mother Story.” An editor at Sundress Publications suggested that the poem, which takes place entirely in footnotes, might be an interesting organizational device for the book, and I ended up taking that suggestion and using each footnote as a section heading. I think it might be both things that you suggested—those interjected footnotes did create sections of the final manuscript, and they also provide those moments of pause.
MHR: In a couple of poems, we pick up on your time spent in Louisiana. Can you speak to these poems and give us a bit of your impression of Louisiana culture as you experienced it?
KM: I lived in southern Louisiana for three years for graduate school, and I had a wonderful time there. It sometimes felt like we’d gone to another country entirely because the culture is so distinct. We fell in love with the food and the many, many festivals, and I was fascinated by the pervasiveness of Catholicism even in secular realms; when we went to an omelet festival, a priest blessed the giant pan before the cooking began. One of the poems that is especially rooted in Louisiana is “Mother Mary Comes to Be,” a multi-part poem inspired by a life-sized statue of Mary in someone’s front yard down the street from where we lived. In the poem, I explore my fascination with Mary as both virgin and mother (an impossible standard for women, incidentally), and I had a good time imagining Mary at Mardi Gras.
MHR: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
KM: My pleasure! Thank you 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 four poetry chapbooks, and her first full-length poetry collection, Tasty Other, is the 2016 winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. She has received The Nassau Review Author Award for Poetry, and her writing has been published in Fairy Tale Review, New Letters, Poet Lore, So to Speak, Verse Daily, and many other journals and anthologies. Find her online at www.katiemanningpoet.com.