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March 22, 2024

Poet Manalo’s debut collection, Butterfly Army Unite, focuses heavily on nature and the reader’s connection to it. We spoke with Manalo about her relationship with poetry and the joy she felt creating Butterfly Army Unite.

Has poetry always been a constant in your life?

Cultivating a rich inner life and deep connection to nature have both been lifelong constants, so in that sense, yes! Poetry played more as background music accompanying each moment and really came to be the theme music of my life in college, where I especially felt drawn to the Romantic poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. I both explored the outdoors and read widely as a child and fell in love with books such as A Wrinkle in Time and Dragonwings by Lawrence Yep. I started writing a lot of poetry when I started teaching high school English, and some of the poems in Butterfly Army Unite were birthed after impactful events such as the loss of one of our beloved students. There was also a prolonged period—15 years—where I did not write anything, and then suddenly, after sharing a poem with a friend, the creative aquifers bubbled up and a torrent of poems sprung forth.

“Poetic presence” is the concept that drives your book. Can you explain what it is and how it relates to your work?

Poetic presence is something we all share—a universal truth centering around the art of appreciation and how we are transformed by and a part of nature. It calls us to revel in imperfection, delight in the qualities of water, and marvel at the infrastructure of insects.

Poetic presence calls us to create space for ourselves, other humans, and fellow creatures while still functioning in our human system of daily life. It is a deepening, a celebration of both minute and grand moments and of creating a life of receptivity. We do not deny human emotion but allow emotions to visit us, just as storms come and go. Poetic presence is a blend of art and science bound together through appreciation.

What was the process like compiling the poems for the collection?

Curating the chosen poems for this book was not a linear process of task completion. I needed to slow down, listen to the pieces, and place each one as naturally as possible as if the reader were taking a walkabout in nature, having a full sensual experience of meandering, lingering, and listening to nature and one’s inner wisdom. Honestly, I even enjoyed creating the table of contents and found pleasure and beauty in the natural organization that wove itself into five acts of 11 pieces each.

How do you hope readers will connect to Butterfly Army Unite?

Butterfly Army Unite is a creative offering that invites the reader to connect, listen in, and choose to make their own unique contribution to the world. To become fully engaged with all of life—to embrace the fullness of one’s beautiful human system and inner knowing, to embrace the practice of observing and participating in nature, to transform the mun- dane aspects of daily life into magical moments, whether it is something like noticing the praying mantis who has hopped onto your car for the morn- ing commute or the stranger humming a tune next to you in line at the post office—that’s what I hope readers take away.

Are you working on another book?

I like a bit of mystery and suspense, so I will say that readers can watch the flight of the Butterfly Army and see where she lands in the future.