The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman (Point Loma Press, 2013)
What’s the oldest piece in the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
“Well” was the first piece that I wrote. I knew that I wanted to do some research and write about the bleeding woman who appears in three of the gospel accounts, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I decided to just follow her around while she did something mundane: getting water from a well. It helped me get into her voice.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
When I started creating this chapbook 5 years ago, I hadn’t read many chapbooks and didn’t really set out to make a chapbook of my own. I thought this was a poem sequence that would be part of a full-length collection, but then it turned into its own distinct manuscript. I was reading a lot of Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Bishop at the time.
Now my favorite poetry chapbooks include the following: I love Robert Pinsky’s First Things to Hand, which is deceptively simple in theme, but wonderfully thought-provoking. I love Ki Russell’s How to Become Baba Yaga, which was my first introduction to this fascinating fairy tale figure. I just got my hands on Jen Hofer’s brand new chapbook, Front Page News, and it’s already one of my favorites because of its clever found poetry and gorgeous design.
I suppose I should also say that I love my other two chapbooks that were published this year in limited editions: Tea with Ezra (a collection of poems that respond to other poems and stories) from Boneset Books, and I Awake in My Womb (a collection of pregnancy dream poems) from Yellow Flag Press. If I don’t love my own chapbooks, who will?
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
The poems in The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman come together into a larger narrative that constructs a life for the bleeding woman, a minor biblical character who has always fascinated me. I suppose the chapbook is about faith and doubt, bodies and time, women and Jesus. It’s similar to my other work because I can’t escape my interests in faith and feminism.
What made you decide to gather your pieces in a chapbook instead of another format? When did you realize you were working toward a chapbook?
I tried hard to make these poems behave as one section of a larger poetry collection, but the bleeding woman poems seemed to overpower the other sections. I realized that although it would be a short collection, it needed to stand alone as its own book.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I did submit my chapbook to some contests and to open reading periods for a few years. I got some encouraging positive feedback from editors, but it never seemed to be “right” or “a good fit” for their presses. I think this chapbook was too bizarre for Christian presses and too biblical for secular presses. I’m glad that Point Loma Press took a chance on it.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Amelia Reising of Wipf & Stock designed the cover. I told my husband that I’d imagined a very simple cover—something in black and white with a bit of red—but I hadn’t discussed any cover possibilities with anyone else. I was shocked when Amelia sent me her first cover suggestion. It was exactly what I’d wanted. The initial hand image was too aged for my young speaker, but Amelia altered the image upon my request, and then the cover was perfect.
In what ways did your chapbook change between the version you submitted and the final published version? Did you revise, rearrange, or make other changes?
I did some minor editing, but the only major change between my submitted version and the final published version is the title. My original title was Gospels of the Bleeding Woman. When Mark Mann of Point Loma Press responded enthusiastically to my chapbook submission, he suggested that I consider making Gospels singular. The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman would be parallel with the titles of other apocryphal gospel accounts, and my usage of gospel would make more sense considering the word’s meaning: “good news.” I found this suggestion to be incredibly insightful, and I’m happy that I took the suggestion.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I’ve done a few interviews like this one, and I did an interview on The Lone Writer internet radio show last month. I’ve done some readings in LA and San Diego, including a whole day of readings and class visits as the guest poet at Point Loma Nazarene University’s annual Poetry Day in September. I’ve also been active on Facebook, Twitter, and my personal website.
Honestly, I feel torn about promotion. I want people to read my poetry and buy my books, of course, but I’m a terrible salesperson. I’d be much happier if I could give away tons of copies of my books as gifts rather than selling them. I wouldn’t mind making money from poetry, but I don’t expect that it’s ever going to pay the bills, so I mostly just want people to read my poems and talk to me about the things I’ve been mulling over alone. I’m much more comfortable publicizing other people’s books or pushing poetry in general.
How have your goals as a writer changed since your chapbook was published? What are you working on now?
I don’t think my major goals have changed. I write to respond and to explore, and then I revise and publish to communicate with other people. I have a couple of full-length collections now that are complete (although always under minor construction), and I’m currently working on a full-length collection of poems that explores biblical fragmentation. This new project began because I was angry with people who take verses from the Bible out of context and use them as weapons. It’s actually turned into something much more playful and interesting than I originally expected, and I’m enjoying the process.
What is your writing practice?
Since I’m in the middle of an overwhelming semester (teaching 4 college classes, 108 students), my writing happens whenever I can steal a few moments, usually late at night after my toddler has gone to sleep. A few days ago, I got a poem idea while I was driving to work, so I wrote in a few frantically stolen minutes early in the morning as soon as I got into my university’s parking lot.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Don’t seek fame or fortune in poetry. Seek poetry. Create because you enjoy creating (or because you’re compelled to create and feel unhappy if you don’t). Read as much as possible. Write what you want to write, even if your work doesn’t fit into a neat category. Make poetry collections that have a sense of unity about them, much like a good music album. Don’t give up on publishing your poetry; someone will want to publish it eventually.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
I love responding to other texts and to visual art. I find traditional forms to be generative prompts too, and my favorite is the sestina.
As for revision, it’s often most useful for me to see if I can cut a line or two from the beginning or the end of a poem. I usually can, and poems are stronger without those false starts and overwritten endings.
Here’s a question from Bianca Spriggs: Which poem is the “black sheep” in your collection and why?
I think “The Doctors Advise” is the black sheep. It’s the only poem in the collection that is not in the voice of the bleeding woman, and it’s a polyvocal chorus of doctors. I kept thinking that I should have another poem in the collection that was not in her voice (and perhaps another that was in many voices), but none ever worked out. I didn’t want to force it just for the sake of symmetry, so this poem is an oddball, but I love having it in there.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What do you think about chapbooks not counting as “books”? I see this in a variety of contexts, especially in the rules for first-book contests and in the book review guidelines for some literary journals that won’t publish reviews of chapbooks.
Katie Manning is the author of three poetry chapbooks: The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman (Point Loma Press, 2013), Tea with Ezra (Boneset Books, 2013), and I Awake in My Womb (Yellow Flag Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in New Letters, PANK, The Pedestal Magazine, Poet Lore, and many other journals and anthologies. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Azusa Pacific University.
Only at night now do I drop
my bucket down in the darkness,
watch as the moon rises
silver in the water, swaying
on the surface like a fallen
feather and growing larger
with each tug on the rope.
I raise my eyes and lift
the liquid to the sky.
A shiver thrills my body
though the night is warm,
and I drink. The coolness
tingles my lips. I pour
the rest over my head
and let it rush
down my breasts.
Blood, dirt, and water stream
down my legs, pool
at my feet. I am clean,
almost. I lower my bucket
again and pull the rope
more gently, slowly
savoring the sight
of each glowing ripple.
I grow tired, dripping
red and silver as I go.