- An Appalachian Heritage InterviewMaurice Manning
Maurice Manning lives both in and apart from the world. On one hand, he is actively engaged with his own farm and is a vocal environmentalist and activist. He is a respected writer and teacher in local, regional, and national writing communities. On the other hand, he eschews any type of social media and can only bear to look at the news "just long [End Page 47] enough to know what is going on." As a poet he is passionate about using language as a way to articulate and assign meaning to experiences, and yet he often isolates himself from worldly concerns while writing. Even his office on the busy campus of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, is located in a small tract house that sits on the edge of campus, away from the main buildings and gathering spots of campus life.
Manning's first book of poems, Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions (2001), was chosen by W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His other collections are A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Lone Hunter, Back Woodsman, & c. (2004), Bucolics (2007), The Common Man (2010)—a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize—and The Gone and the Going Away (2013). In late 2016, his sixth collection of poems, One Man's Dark, was published by Copper Canyon Press.
Manning serves as professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at Transylvania and lives with his wife and daughter on twenty wooded acres in a 165-year-old farmhouse in Washington County, Kentucky, about fifteen miles from the city of Danville, Kentucky, where he was raised. A Guggenheim Fellow, Pulitzer finalist, and winner of many other prizes and fellowships, Manning also teaches regularly in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and at the annual Sewanee Writers' Conference.
He talked with his friend and fellow poet Marianne Worthington in that Transylvania office on a sunny afternoon in mid-September about his latest book of poems, the importance of craft in poetry, and the role of the artist in society. [End Page 48]
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One Man's Dark has been summarized as "elegant pastorals" that combine the "corporeal and the spiritual." Likewise, another critic said the collection "emphasizes human beings' dependence on both nature and the divine, and thus the book is filled with poignant descriptions of nature's beauty… as well as with explicit references to God…" Were these ideas what you had in mind while you were writing the poems?
When I was working on the poems, my thinking was to work from a recurrent set of images. All of that was intentional on my part, and there's a motion to that because it is repetitive. And the writing style of this book is dense and repetitive in a way that a blackberry bramble is dense and stuck together. Or, in our region of the country when you look out at the hills, it's hard to tell when one hill ends and another begins. That sense of inter-connection, of inter-weaving, there's a motion and flow to that as well; there's a continuity in the landscape. I feel like this book is attempting to get hold of that, and I wanted the writing to parallel that.
And what about the notion of the dream motif that also recurs throughout One Man's Dark?
Actually, I would find myself writing many of the poems in my sleep. It's been rare when I've had an experience like that.
Could you remember the poems when you woke up?
Yes. I could remember lines. I could remember images. Certainly rhythms. And there was a point where, in the several years that I was working on the poems, it didn't matter to me [End Page 50] to make a distinction between reality, memory, or dream. They all seemed to be flowing in and out of each other in a way that parallels what I was...