Katie Manning's poetry collection, Tasty Other, is an honest, clever, and complex reflection on pregnancy and motherhood. As a single woman in my 30s, the majority of my female friends are moms. "Motherhood changes you," they say. I nod, seeing this truth play out in front of me, but never really understanding their meaning. Manning’s poems invite me to a deeper empathy with all that my mom-friends experience.
The poems contain a clear sense of the speaker’s physicality, especially her awareness of the changes in her body during pregnancy. In “New Reality,” she sighs, “My breasts / ache, swell” while elsewhere, she addresses her baby directly: “I expand myself grotesquely for you, / mark my skin / with white and red lines” (“I Already Love Your Baby” l. 4-6). Excellent line breaks, like those in these two poems, draw the weight of my attention to the body throughout Manning’s collection. Even though she is often disgusted with her new body, the speaker follows the baby’s development with awe, realizing, “I find your hiccups miraculous. / This must be a kind of love.” (“I Already Love Your Baby” l. 16-17). While reading, I go through these emotions as well, feeling the body’s off-kilter heaviness give way to wonder. My friends’ experiences become a little more real to me.
As is the case with the moms I know, the poems’ emotional journey through pregnancy varies from humorous to vulnerable. In “Magnetism,” the speaker’s “belly emits / an irresistible force. / [that] attracts / hands / … / I would prefer / to attract / paper clips” (1-2, 8-9, 18-20). In another poem, she admits that she is unsure of her ability to be a mom. Manning doesn’t shy away from emotional turmoil, but takes readers through it with her. This is especially true of the dream poems, which describe, in surreal detail, the speaker’s fears and uncertainties about her body, her relationships, and becoming a mother. Rather than washing over the ugliness with the fabled glow of pregnancy, this sometimes stark and sometimes sweet honesty drew me into Manning’s world.
In addition to revealing what it means to become a mother, the poems offer intriguing imagery. Though there are quite a few images in the collection, it remains cohesive through repetition. The images seem simple at first glance, but gain complexity as they speak to each other within and across the poems. Their layered use builds meaning, making the collection interesting to any reader and preventing these images from being trite or cliché.
Many of the poems contain eggs and nesting, an often-used image of pregnancy. She describes her growing child as her “own large egg” and envisions it “curled, / warm, / microscopic movements preparing you / to unfurl” (“Trimester” l.13, 19-22). The bizarre and violent dream poems also use this imagery. In "The Dream Job," the speaker has "a job as an egg warmer at the local police station" where she must defend abandoned eggs against a large, ravenous dog. The jolting contrast reveals the speaker’s competing emotions of uncertainty or unpreparedness, tender love, and fierce maternal instincts.
The more time I spent with Katie Manning’s poems, the more links and layers appeared. I’m left asking, “Just what is a tasty other?” But, the depth, complexity, and wondering seem to reflect motherhood itself as is possible only in poetry.
Megan Pooler is the Book Review Editor for Relief journal and is grateful to be part of a community celebrating the intersection of art and faith. A creative nonfiction writer and graduate of Whitworth University, she lives in Bend, OR where she works as a digital content curator for a travel company. When not agonizing over the right word choice for her essays, she can be found cooking with her family and friends, playing on the water, or curled up with her dog and a classic movie.