Monday, July 2, 2012

Maurice Manning

Maurice Manning is a Kentucky poet who seeks to capture something of the lost Kentucky of his childhood — especially the backwoods characters he remembers. His first poetry collection, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions, was selected by W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

Manning characteristically writes persona poems. His third collection Bucolics (2007) is completely formed from the rambling prayers of a rustic Kentuckian who only refers to God as “Boss”. Because these poems, and those in his new collection The Common Man (2010), are not in Manning’s own voice, it’s harder to ascertain the poet’s own spiritual attitudes. I attended a reading, at the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan this April; and I was present when L.S. Klatt interviewed him. Maurice Manning talked readily about prayer, and his strong, constant sense of God’s presence.

The following poem is from his latest collection, for which he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

A Blasphemy

You wouldn't have believed it, how
the man, a little touched perhaps,

set his hands together and prayed
for happiness, yet not his own;

he meant his people, by which he meant
not people really, but trees and cows,

the dirty horses, dogs, the fox
who lived at the back of his place with her kits,

and the very night who settled down
to rock his place to sleep, the place

he tried so hard to tend he found
he mended fences in his sleep.

He said to the you above, who, let's
be honest, doesn't say too much,

I need you now up there to give
my people happiness, you let

them smile and know the reason; hear
my prayer, Old Yam. The you who's you

might laugh at that, and I agree,
it's funny to make a prayer like that,

the down-home words and yonder reach
of what he said; and calling God

the Elder Sweet Potato, shucks,
that's pretty funny, and kind of sad.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: