Dawn Manning first caught my attention when I was reading through the slush pile and I came across her piece called “Burning the Bodies.” This poem deals with infanticide in China due to the one child rule. The painful images woven into the piece and the important subject matter stuck with me and made me want to know more about her inspiration and creative process. I conducted a short interview with Manning and was able to get further insight into her creative process!
What inspired you to write “Burning the Bodies?”
The specific impetus for this poem came from reading an article in a newspaper in Hong Kong many years ago about the discovery of a dumpster filled with fetuses in China. Years later, I read a second article about a separate incident in which the illegally dumped bodies of babies were found floating down a river.
Did you draw from personal experience when writing this poem? Where were you when you wrote this poem?
It took me a decade to start writing poems about this particular season in China. I was stunned into silence by the sheer scale of dehumanization I encountered surrounding the one-child policy, including gendercide, infanticide, forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and orphanages overflowing with abandoned girls. This poem is my attempt to bear witness.
What is your process for selecting a topic and writing a poem?
Sometimes I write poems triggered by specific events, as with this poem, but it’s probably more accurate to say that I write out of an image, whether that image is a snapshot of an event, a place, a myth, a person, or an object. Once I’ve encountered an image I can’t shake, I write my way through it.
Why did you select the epigraph to begin the poem from Gu Cheng?
I’ve been a fan of Gu Cheng’s poetry for many years. This couplet, titled “A Generation,” echoes through my mind often. I used it as the epigraph for “Burning the Bodies” because of the way it ties in with the opening and closing lines of the poem.