The recipient of the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, Katie Manning’s Tasty Other, approaches the complexity of pregnancy and motherhood through the idiolect of dreams. At turns surreal, humorous, and touching, Manning’s work engages with the interlaced negotiations of maternity, birth, and children as visions; as hidden languages; as landscapes; as spiritual companions.
Manning designs a dappled architecture arranged in a variety of forms that highlights the variegated stages of mother and child, describing the twists and turns of the language of motherhood’s “otherness” in lines like “I’ve walked into a web as wide/as a house. It smells like sour milk. // I shudder at familiarity”. Tasty Other takes the tableau of maternity and unfurls it, cutting and reassembling the work into rostrums and erecting disorienting comedies and dramas taking to each poem with a monologist’s keen eye for dialogues and breaking-down and reassembling these dreams into an array of vignettes that turn stale notions of motherhood on their head while at the same time emphasizing the anxious, excited and delirious expectations of being a parent with benevolence and compassion.
It takes adept skill for a poet to juggle humor, violence, and love in a measured and selfless approach, and yet Manning does so with great care and consideration for each line, each word resting like a carefully considered piece of a puzzle, such as lines like “I know//there is no/baby inside but/thunder//growing/a storm cloud/that churns and swells”, or the second verse of “The Interview” where she writes:
“The interview continues.
I have to ride a horse
around a muddy field. I wear a frilly white dress—
I want to look professional.
My left hand holds
the reins. My right
picks up the phone. You are crying.
I drop the reins and take up a sword.
I cut off
my breast to make room on my chest
for comforting you.”
Manning invokes a deep and abiding love for the role of mother as leader, teacher, guardian, and artist in this work and she gestures to her reader to join her on the journey, working the turns of clear-cut, elemental language. Tasty Other succeeds in capturing the marvelous absurdity of dreamscapes that emerge during pregnancy with witty and frank depictions of the excitement, trepidation, incongruity, and beauty of the mother and the baby within. She makes me stop to consider the omnipresence of my own mother, who passed away in 2011, and who still appears at times in complicated, bizarre, and silly dreams. Manning reminds us to hold close the mothers that remain with us in the routines of our waking life and the vivid journeys of our slumber.