TCJWW: The most pressing question we’d like to ask, of course, is where the idea for The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman came from? What prompted you to pluck a relatively unknown character from the Bible and hand her the tools of voice and story?
Manning: I’ve been fascinated by this bleeding woman for a long time. What was her name? What was her life like? How old was she? When I was working on my MA at UMKC, Hadara Bar-Nadav challenged me to find something to research and obsess over to fuel my writing, and the bleeding woman immediately came to mind. It probably helped that I was thinking a lot at the time about what it means to have faith. We often frame it as the opposite of doubt, but in the bleeding woman’s story, Jesus calls it faith when she reaches out in desperation. I love that.
TCJWW: How did the backstory come to you? Were Nura’s origins just as important to you as revealing her emotions and inner struggles?
Manning: I did quite a bit of research to get a sense of what a bleeding woman’s life would have been like in her situation. I read scholarly commentaries about the biblical passages, non-scholarly books about women in the Bible, all sorts of web pages… and then I put it all to the side and wrote my own thing. Most people talk about this woman as if she were elderly, but I’d always imagined her as a young woman because Jesus addresses her as “daughter.” I don’t think I could’ve gotten into her emotions and struggles without getting into her origins and physical experiences.
TCJWW: How does the allegory of blood connect each individual piece seamlessly throughout the collection? What does blood symbolize here?
Manning: Readers might be better than the author at analyzing symbolism, but I can tell you what I was hoping to do with blood. I was hoping to use it as a recurring image, of course, to emphasize the woman’s 12 years of bleeding. I was also hoping to explore how blood can be both life-giving and life-draining, effectively keeping this woman from living until she is healed. Blood is her identity, so what happens when the blood is gone? What does she have left?
TCJWW: This collection moves in a slight linear fashion, each poem building upon the one before it and moving the story forward. How different is it to craft a collection as a progression of a story, rather than poems that just have a similar theme?
Manning: It was really different to create a poetry collection with an overall narrative progression, and I loved it. I found that the collection started demanding poems of me. After I had several poems drafted, I began writing poems to fill gaps in the time line or to explore parts of the character’s experience that I hadn’t yet tapped. Being immersed in this character and her story over so many poems has made me feel more attached to this collection than to any other I’ve written.
TCJWW: There are wide arrays of poetic forms in this collection. Did the poems choose their own styles? How did you choose the visual style in which each was represented?
Manning: I tried to let the form emerge organically as I worked with each poem’s content, but I also did intentionally play with creating visually parallel poems across the two sections of the book. I was reading a lot of Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, and Audre Lorde while I worked on this collection, and Audre Lorde’s style especially loosened me up to play with white space.
TCJWW: The second section in this collection is the bleeding woman, reincarnated. What did you hope to accomplish by positioning her not only in the past, but also in modern times?
Manning: Oh, I’m fascinated that you read her as being reincarnated in the second section! I think of her as actually being pulled out of her own time and dropped into the present. Initially, I was completely resistant to writing her into the present day. I was afraid that was too ridiculous. When I finally stopped fighting the impulse and let myself write, it was a great way to explore some of my own questions about faith and emptiness. The shift let me identify with her even more than I already did; my chronic migraines already made me feel some connection to her chronic bleeding. I hoped the time leap would allow readers to identify with her more too. I liked allowing her to reflect on her own story and on Jesus’ life and death. Maybe it was a way for me to ask questions from a distance, through the eyes of a character who was not really me.
TCJWW: How extensively had you studied Bible stories before writing these poems? Were you always interested in the Bible as literature or were you drawn to it through the idea of the narrative in Bleeding Woman?
Manning: I grew up in church and participated in Bible quizzing–a competition over knowledge of the Bible–from 4th through 12th grade. I also attended a Christian university and took Bible classes as an undergraduate, but it was in the classes for my literature major that I really started thinking about the Bible as literature and considering issues of genre and artistry. So I guess I could claim that I’d studied the Bible pretty extensively before writing these poems, but researching and writing for this collection took me much more deeply and personally into a biblical story than I’d ever gone before. Creating this poetry collection let me re-see something old and familiar in a way that was new and thought provoking. If the bleeding woman’s reaching out in desperation could be called faith, then maybe there is some hope for me too.