Anthony Frame: Your full-length debut, Tasty Other (Main Street Rag Publications), deals with the very personal experience of pregnancy yet you've successfully crafted a sequence of poems that doesn't feel shut off to your readers. Were you concerned about working with such personal material and, if so, were there any steps you took to mitigate those concerns?
Thank you! I was definitely concerned that writing about the transition to motherhood might result in poems that would only appeal to mothers (or to no one). I was resistant to it, but I couldn't stop myself from writing mother/baby-related poems. The only step I took was to stop caring if the resulting poems had a limited audience. I decided that I needed to write from my obsession — pregnancy had taken over my body and mind, so why fight it? I'm grateful that the resulting poems have found a wide range of enthusiastic readers and editors.
AF: There has been a lot of talk about so-called project books — books of heavily interrelated poems. Tasty Other certainly seems to fit this description, as do a number of your chapbooks. Is there a reason you're drawn to this structure, a particular appeal? And are these poems written together or do the projects have a more organic growth?
I do love to read and write project books. Sometimes they begin accidentally — as I already mentioned, I tried to resist writing "mother" poems, but I couldn't resist, so I embraced the impulse. I would consider this an organic beginning, but then I worked intentionally on this project that became Tasty Other
. For chapbooks like The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman
, I began writing poems with the overall project in mind (research a minor biblical character and write in her voice).
AF: You've also recently released an e-chapbook, A Door with a Voice (Agape Editions). I can't describe it better than you did in your artist"s 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." Was there a specific genesis to this project? Something specifically that called you to approach the Bible in this way? And did working on these erasures change the way you read/think about the Bible?
This project's genesis has two parts. 1) I had a new baby, finished my dissertation, and landed my first full-time professor gig. I feared that I'd never write poems again unless I gave myself a strict assignment. 2) Years of accumulated frustration with people who selectively read the Bible to condemn others (and to overlook their own failings) made me want to do something in protest to highlight the importance of context.
I grew up attending church and reading the Bible. I also did nine years of Bible quizzing, which is like an academic bowl competition over knowledge of the Bible. The Bible's language was so familiar to me, but this word-banking poetry project actually helped me re-see some of that language in all of its strangeness, terror, and beauty.
AF: In 2015, you opened Whale Road Review, a quarterly online literary journal. Why did you decide to start a literary journal and what do you hope Whale Road Review will add to the broader literary conversation?
I did it for love. I really enjoyed working on journals (New Letters, Rougarou
) in my graduate programs, and I knew from those experiences that I wanted to start my own journal eventually. I love falling in love with new writing and getting others to read that writing too. I also love connecting with the writers themselves and promoting their work long after we've published them. I hope that Whale Road Review
will add some short, memorable writing to the world; that we'll validate writers' efforts and spread some human kindness with our publishing process; and that we'll contribute practical ideas to teachers of creative writing with the pedagogy papers in our Teachers' Lounge.
AF: What drives you as a poet? Was there a moment when you realized this was an art form you had to be a part of or did it happen more slowly over time?
It's hard to say what drives me since I was driven to compose poems from such a young age. I started creating poems at age 4 (with my Granny helping me write them down). Poetry was always something I did growing up — from elementary school through high school, I wrote poems whenever I had an idea, usually when I needed to work out a problem or respond to something important. If writing a poem was ever an option for a school assignment, I did that. I filed all of those poems away in a folder, and I didn't think of myself as "a poet." It wasn't until college that I realized I could write poetry more deliberately as a regular practice, call myself a poet, send my work out for publication, and focus my career on writing, studying, and teaching poetry.
AF: In addition to Tasty Other, you've published four chapbooks. Do you approach the two differently? Is there something about the short-form collection that speaks to you as an author? What advantages does the chapbook offer you over the full-length collection? Are there disadvantages you've encountered?
This is an interesting question. I've actually approached each of my collections differently, so I'm not sure that I have a different approach to writing short or long collections as much as I just have a different approach to each collection based on my ideas, purposes, and happy accidents for that individual project. I do love that chapbooks tend to be tightly woven collections and that their short length seems more inviting for people who aren't regular poetry readers. The main disadvantages I've encountered are that I don't have any more copies of the limited-edition chapbooks (I Awake in My Womb, Tea with Ezra
) to give or sell to interested readers, and many contests and review venues don't consider chapbook-length collections to be "books."
AF: What are you working on now? What projects do we have to look forward to from you?
I've accidentally stumbled into writing poems that use board games as a starting place to explore relationships and memory, and I'm also writing prose poems to/about my late Granny. These sequences are growing organically, and I'm excited to see where they take me.
Read Katie Manning's "Baby Dream #22: The Stranger"