Interview Transcripts

A Visit with Poet David Manning 9/16/04



Mary Rosenblum

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our Professional Connection live interview!

 

A literature course in grad school introduced Dave Manning to Eliot's "Four Quartets" and poetry, to which he returned after a career in chemistry. His poems, in many journals and three previous chapbooks, reflect his life as a scientist, singer, explorer and attendant to the vagaries of the muse.

 

David, welcome! I'm so glad that you could join us!

patchworkcat

Hello, guest speaker. Welcome to our group.

David Manning

Hello, I'm very pleased to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

And we're delighted to have you! I'm curious, David...

 

just how did you first become interested in writing poetry? Seems unusual for a chemistry major.

David Manning

Had to take a lit course. I got hooked on Eliot's 4 Quartets. That did it

Mary Rosenblum

Did you just sit down and begin writing and sending your poetry out? Or did you take courses in it?

David Manning

When I saw the power of lines of words on a page, I was stunned.

.

I wrote some poetry, sent some out, but never got published until about

 

40 years later. Recently, I've attended workshops, no formal courses.

Mary Rosenblum

Forty years! I'm impressed with your dedication. Clearly the power of lines of words on that page REALLY impacted you!

David Manning

I am also a singer. My music background influences my writing as well.

Mary Rosenblum

I find that very interesting...poetry and music do seem to be related somehow.

David Manning

I kept up reading the old Saturday Review, John Ciardi was the editor. I was

 

never published by them, but got encouraging notes back from Ciardi

 

that kept me going.

Mary Rosenblum

I would say that letters from Ciardi would be VERY encouraging! Good for you!

hedwig

How did you go from unpublished to published? What made the difference?

David Manning

Ciardi was a fine critic and poet. Had a radio program until he died. Great guy.

Mary Rosenblum

I've heard of him by reputation, of course.

David Manning

When I landed in North Carolina & got with the poetry society folks here, I entered

 

contests and finally had success. Various people helped me with style and I

 

began to have luck in publishing.

happybunny

What in particular impressed you about the Four Quartets? The style? The theology?

David Manning

Both. The mystical quality of his thought, his images and the lovely lyrical

 

passages interspersed.

joanc

Do you have a recent publication and how can we obtain it?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, he does, Joan.

 

David  has a very nice chapbook out from Longleaf Press:

 

It's called The Ice Carver and you can take a look at it online.

 

The Ice Carver

joanc

Beautiful lyrics, poetry has a way of reaching to ones soul.

Mary Rosenblum

It does, Joan. I have always enjoyed it, but write it very rarely and then it is only for myself.

 

David, someone asked if your singing background made you see poetry as something that should be read aloud. I, too, am curious.

 

Words read out loud seem to have a very different impact than words read on the page.

David Manning

Yes, it should be read aloud. Dylan Thomas' "Fern Hill" is a great poem for

 

learning to read, for me any way. People tell me that my music influences

 

my writing, though I've never been conscious of that. I just do it.

 

I like the page and the sound both. But the page is vital, because a good

 

reader can make a bad poem sound good.

Mary Rosenblum

I agree. :-) Been to a number of readings where that happened...and some where the reverse happened!

mbvoelker

What makes publishable poetry? I have to say that most of what I've seen in the limited selection of magazines that I'm familiar with seems more like greeting card jingles than like what I studied in English Lit. Not that greeting card jingles aren't legitimate writing, but what sort of markets are there for poetry? Does poetry come in genres with separate marketing targets the way mystery books or SF books do?

David Manning

I always like to look at the text when I attend a reading.

Mary Rosenblum

David, maybe this is a good time to talk about the poetry scams

 

versus legitimate markets?

David Manning

We have Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. They have a fantastic selections of good

 

lit magazines. I look these over to see what's accessible, what I can learn, what to send my stuff too.

 

The greeting card verse is an entirely different genre.

 

Poetry Magazine, published in Chicago, is probably the best window on the good poetry today.

Mary Rosenblum

What about the 'buy this anthology' contest? Merely a scam?

David Manning

The poetry scams are bad news. I sent to one once & got a 10 pound book with my poem

 

on a page with 20 others. Book cost but the worst thing is that that

 

poem was really good, and now I can't publish it in a decent journal. That's an aspect of the scam business that you don't often read about.

Mary Rosenblum

You sent me a link to a site: 13 warning signs of a bad poetry contest!

 

Or something like that.

 

13 Warning Signs of a Bad Poetry Contest

arfelin

Where do you get your mystical thoughts and imagery? I read BUDDHIST PIGEON & CHANSON NOIR--awesome!

David Manning

Those are good signs to watch for. I would also like to recommend "Poet's Market"...

 

as a guide to publishing poems.

 

arfelin, you do me honor. The Pigeon I saw in Wilmington, NC, after reading

 

some chapters on Buddhism. The Lady in Black was an actual person I vaguely knew.

Mary Rosenblum

So do most of your poems originate in real life experiences?

David Manning

The real world is rich with images and strange happenings. The thing to do

 

is to keep you radar open and pick up these things. Jot them down & never throw

 

anything in the way of a beginning poem away. Almost all poets I know say

 

the same thing.

 

Memory for weird and sometimes wonderful things are what I use.  Yes, Mary, I remember things that seem of little significance  but they stick with me.

Mary Rosenblum

Does a little distance help? Do you tend to write the poem long after the event has happened, or rather immediately?

David Manning

Both, actually. I have my best luck with these little 3x4 drugstore spiral

 

notebooks. For some reason, writing on 8 x 11 doesn't seem to be as good

 

a start. Everyone is different

hedwig

In terms of your book. Did you set out to write a collection of poetry, or did you just write a bunch of poems and then realize that they might make a good book?

David Manning

I've had no luck trying to write a book around a theme, though that seems the

 

most successful route. I write poems about all sorts of things, then try to fit

 

the ones together that have some commonality.

Mary Rosenblum

How long does it take you to feel that a poem is finished?

David Manning

 Mary, it varies a lot. Almost

 

always the first draft has to be rewritten. Some killer lines have to be set aside.

 

I have taken as long as 40 years finishing poems that were published

 

after they were too crude at first.

 

I would also add that critics, a personal editor, are essential to finishing a poem

 

for most of us.

Mary Rosenblum

How do you know when a line 'works'?

David Manning

Individual words, their novelty, sounds, associations are vital in poems. After

 

writing for awhile, you become sensitive about not using clichés. When I'm rewriting a poem, I try different line-breaks. The best music and the most exciting effect tell me which is best.

speckledorf

Do you think that people who write poetry are more respected than those who write novels?

David Manning

No, Speck, I think novelists are more respected, in America anyway.

 

I have a great respect for story-tellers, novelists. The ability to generate and sustain a long work seems incredible.

bud

Do you have a preference as to rhyming or non-rhyming poems?

David Manning

Bud, I like both. But rhyme is especially hard, because the rhyming word has to

 

be also the best possible word in other respects.

 

Rhyming poetry, incidentally, is very much back in vogue today.

 

Often, workshop teachers will emphasize form poetry, as a good foundation

 

for what's called "free verse'.

Mary Rosenblum

I have seen more of it lately. It seemed to be quite out of favor for awhile...and this is a good place to offer a question submitted to me by email about the issue of poetic form.

Margery:

 “Understanding that guidelines vary in poetry magazines but writing first for yourself, if your language and imagery is rich and unique and your rhythm works, how important are the rules of poetry?”

David Manning

Margery, I don't like to think of "rules." Am not sure there are any as such.

 

I like to see lines that flow in an easy conversational manner, but with novelty

 

of words, avoidance of clichés, and strong imagery. The favorite advice is

 

"show, don't tell." Maybe that's a good rule. Michael Chitwood, a fine local poet

 

also likes to say "what you leave out is as important as what you put in."

 

The secret is to get the core of the poem out, hard and shining. More is usually

 

less. Writing poems is about condensing.

Mary Rosenblum

Aha...you lead me neatly to something of interest to me.

David Manning

I'm interested in what interests you.

Mary Rosenblum

I see prose as a continuum that leads from the sprawling complexity of novel form at one end, through the much more condensed and refined short story form, to poetry, as perhaps the most condensed and refined end of the spectrum. What do you think?

David Manning

I think that's a good way to put it, Mary. There's a lot to say about the borderline

 

of poetry and prose. Some folks chop prose up into lines and call it poetry

 

but that doesn't work. Narrative poetry, a southern tradition, has prose elements

 

along with the imagery, metaphor, that makes poems. Then there is the

 

so-called prose poem that has one or more paragraphs, instead of lines, but

 

still must be musical, vivid and compact. I have one prose poem "Gallery Quintet"

 

in "The Ice-Carver." I began it as a class exercise in a workshop. There are the

 

themes of the human body and whiteness that connect the stanzas/paragraphs.

 

I could talk too long about the prose/poetry continuum. But I think it is one

 

and a great subject. Mike Chitwood says that a poem is made of story, structure,

 

music and imagination. And the best poems contain all four.

Mary Rosenblum

I read Gallery Quintet. I'm smiling, because I was thinking as a short story writer, that a very few more lines of connection would turn that into a rather powerful literary short short.

 

I liked it a lot, by the way.

David Manning

I would love to see what you could do with that!

arfelin

I had recently read somewhere that a good short short is the closest form to poetry.

David Manning

I think you are right, arfelin. A good prose poem and "flash fiction" are, to me, about the same. Incidentally, there are some great passages of poetry in novels. One of my favorites is in Steinbeck's "Winter of Our Discontent," chapter III, where the speaker is watching his sleeping wife. It's marvelous and I've read it to our reading group.

mbvoelker

I have heard poetry described as "distilled thought". What do you think of that concept?

David Manning

MBvoelker, I like the distilled part best. Thought, seems to not refer enough

 

to the feel of music and intuition. But I have to agree that in putting it down

 

finally on a page, thought is the editor too. So I'm OK with that.

arfelin

Do you prefer free verse? Do you prefer any particular point of view over another?

David Manning

Yes arfelin, I do prefer it, because it seems most natural, conversational.

 

I think I write mostly in first person, unless I'm writing a comical, lampooning

 

poem. What I call my "Gonzo Voice" then it's 3rd person. I love to write

 

poems that have a good component of testosterone in a 6-pack.  Incidentally, there's none of that stuff in "The Ice-Carver".

happybunny

When writing a poem, where do you begin? With a particular image? A particular line? A thematic goal? And do you come up with the title first and then write the poem, or write the poem and then title it?

David Manning

I often begin with an overpowering feeling of insight. Many poets will tell you

 

that a musical or word sound starts the process, but It doesn't work that way

 

with me, even though, music enters my lines naturally. I never begin with a title.

forest elf

In high school we read God's Trombones. Is that real poetry? For example is it narrative poetry ... or a type of prose?

David Manning

I'll have to plead ignorant on that one. Don't know it!

Mary Rosenblum

Sorry, Forest. I don't either.

catydorr

Do you find European markets for poetry more open and more likely to pay more than American markets?

David Manning

catydorr, I've not yet sent to a European journal. But in any event, I can't see

 

writing poems as a way to make money. I got $50 a couple of times for

 

poems accepted. But that's rare.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm chuckling. It's hard enough to make money writing novels!

dbamarsha

Is it necessary to have a theme to publish a book of poetry?

David Manning

dbamarsha--it's the best, surest way to get a book accepted.  Again, let me recommend "Poets Market," which lists 1800 journals and

David Manning

what they publish as the best guide to submitting.

Mary Rosenblum

David, I have a question.  Is a sense of 'you, the poet' a critical component of good poetry, or does the poet distance himself/herself from the work?

David Manning

Mary, I think that one has to be careful to avoid sentimentality in being in a

 

poem. But just enough back, enough calmness, and the poet in the poem

 

can give it a power like no other.

Mary Rosenblum

What do you see as the strengths of poetry as compared to prose?

David Manning

I think that a poem, by its concentration of novel language, can show, more vividly

 

an experience or feeling. That the core of insisting power of a poem lasts like

 

no other.

galatyne

I find that while prose opens up something and draws the reader in, poetry, with its metaphors and patterns, has to be penetrated and, as a result, can be a valuable tool for introspection and creating an “Ah ha!” moment for the diligent reader - a sort of invitation to the "Quest" instead of a retelling of one.

David Manning

galatyne--I agree with you. A poem should draw the reader in so that, in a way

 

he becomes part of the process. I don't like deliberately obscure poems. But poems that have restraint

 

make a reader reread the work. Become a discoverer after a few readings.

hedwig

A lot of poetry editors place great emphasis on "word choice" and "unique or powerful language" along with imagery in a poem. Can you say more about "word choice?"

David Manning

hedwig--word choice is perhaps the most crucial single act in writing a poem.

 

Words have great power because they have so many root associations and

 

side-meanings. All I can do is put it down and look at it a long time. Depend

 

on my gut.

sailor

I came in late. Did David say who his favorite poets are and why?

Mary Rosenblum

You didn't, did you?

David Manning

I’ve got lots of favorites. Mary Oliver, for her insight into the mortality and beauty

 

of nature and the way she addresses the reader in her poems. William Stafford

 

for his gentle genius insight. There's Gary Snyder, writes about the mountains.

 

James Wright, from the Parkersburgh, WV area, W.S. Merwin, Pablo Neruda.

 

And I've got to say the great Tang Dynasty poets Tu Fu and Li T'ai Po. They

 

wrote the most overpoweringly wonderful poems about simply walking

 

along rivers at night. The individual in nature. So absolutely simple and pure. I recommend Rexroth's "100 Poems from the Chinese."

Mary Rosenblum

David, before we run out of time, I'd like to hear you speak of 'The Ice-Carver' a bit. I liked that poem, the title poem, best of the collection, by the way. What does that title mean to you? And what is the theme that ties those diverse poems together?

David Manning

Mary--when I was in Italy I was awed by the works of art, created to last

 

an eternity. Because those artists were believers. When I saw the carver

 

cutting a falcon out of an ice block before blasé tourists, I thought of how sad

 

it is that we don't believe in lasting things anymore.

 

It was a powerful metaphor of the change in worldview and of something lost.

Mary Rosenblum

I found it a powerful metaphor and one that I pursue often in my short fiction. :-)

 

Is there a relationship between the title and the cover photo of the three birds?

David Manning

I think the connecting theme is one of searching for lasting things in a world

 

in which I very much believe in science. What does science leave for faith?

 

Is everything in a poem, say, ultimately reducible to matter? I hope not, but wonder.

 

And know I will never know. And in a strange way, I am beginning to become

D

pretty comfortable with that dichotomy.

Mary Rosenblum

You'd make a good Science Fiction writer, David. :-) Have you published other collections?

hedwig

For me, The Ice-Carver (the image) reminds me of the Buddhist. Lasting=illusion.

David Manning

Mary, I have a little chapbook about critters and strange plants--crows,

 

possums etc. Then I have one about strange characters "Poets Anonymous."

 

That one is my tough-guy voice in parts. "Out After Dark" is kind of like the Ice-Carver in many ways.

 

Nighttime is the background there.

 

Yes--I think I am looking for the world of samsara in Buddhist terminology.

 

I have some copies. Also Pudding House Press in Ohio has the main stash.

 

I can supply a few.. The cover is fantastic--a work of art those guys did.

Mary Rosenblum

One last question, then I'm going to ask for your help in giving someone in the audience a copy of Ice Carver. And do you have a way for people to contact you who want to buy your other collections?

David Manning

Easiest way is by e-mail. dbtm@mindspring.com  

 

I can supply a few copies of The Ice-Carver at $6.50, which includes postage.

 

I assume that Longleaf Press has a large supply. Longleaf Press 

joanc

David I can see how you are a wonderful poet. What you just said is poetry in motion.

David Manning

Joan--you are most gracious and I thank you.

Mary Rosenblum

We have all enjoyed our conversation with you!

 

Technology happens or not!

David Manning

Mary, I truly enjoyed this and felt close to those with their questions.

Mary Rosenblum

If you'll choose a number between one and nineteen, I'll give a copy of your book to someone in the audience.

David Manning

How about lucky 11 ?

Mary Rosenblum

Well, Joan!

 

Congratulations, and he couldn't see into the auditorium, honest!

David Manning

Wow! I didn't know I was psychic. My congratulations too, Joan.

arfelin

It was a treat to have a poet here. Thanks Mary and Thanks David for joining us!

janp

David, you were a very engaging guest. Thank you and I don't even write poetry.

hedwig

David, as your assistant editor, working with you on this collection, I think you did a wonderful job on the chat tonight! Thank you!

Mary Rosenblum

You did, David. You have been a delightful guest!

 

Thank you so much for coming.

David Manning

Thank you hedwig and Lynda, I recognize and greet you too.

bud

Thanks Mary for bringing us another great guest and thank you David for coming.

Mary Rosenblum

It was a very nice evening!

David Manning

It's been a pure pleasure for me!

Mary Rosenblum

I really enjoyed your collection by the way. Poetry either works for me or it does not, and yours did.

David Manning

Thank you bud!

Mary Rosenblum

I think your ice-carver poem has sparked a story for me, so thank you for that.

David Manning

Mary, I hope too see what you write from it. I know it will be good

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you for coming tonight, David. We'll let you go now!

David Manning

I will look forward to it. And hope to meet you sometime--maybe in Oregon.

Mary Rosenblum

It has been fun.

David Manning

Thanks, All, and goodnight.

Mary Rosenblum

Goodnight!

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you for coming, all!

Mary Rosenblum

Have a good evening all! Thanks for coming!

 

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