Maurice Manning’s “Provincial Thought”
In his essay “Tales Within Tales Within Tales” (1981), novelist John Barth writes that “we tell stories and listen to them because we live stories and live in them,” and that “to cease to narrate, as the capital example of Scheherazade reminds us, is to die.” Luckily most of us don’t have to spin tales with the life-or-death urgency of Scheherazade, but it is true that some people are better at telling stories than the rest of us. Why do we heed certain voices, hanging on every breath, while the logorrhea of others makes us want to put the phone down on the desk and do our taxes, or suddenly remember a pressing reason—a shrink appointment, an elapsed parking meter—to absent the premises?
“Don’t sit at the piano,” Charles Wright has been known to say, “unless you can play.” Maurice Manning, Wright’s fellow Appalachian poet and kindred pilgrim spirit in the realms of faith and doubt, can play. By this, I mean that he can write. And he can tell a story. In the decade-plus-change since W. S. Merwin selected hisLawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (2001) for the Yale Younger Poets Prize, Manning, a native Kentuckian, has, with a rare and credible humility, humor, and enviable formal mojo, authored three subsequent collections, each arrestingly fresh in its tellings. A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Lone Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c., for instance, is a series of persona poems in the voice of the eponymous figure—as myth, as man, as “ground”; Bucolics is a kind of vernacular breviary of untitled psalm/poems addressed to someone the narrator calls “Boss.” The Common Man is full of the stories that we house and that house us. …[Keep Reading]…
Maurice’s new book of poems, The Gone and the Going Away will be released April 23 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The essay quoted above appears in Lisa Russ Spaar’s The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry (2013, Drunken Boat Media).