A new interview with faculty member Maurice Manning, titled “The Kentucky Stage,” appears online at the Poetry Foundation:
The Kentucky Stage
Maurice Manning on the South, Spoon River, and why he’s not a fan of Facebook.
By John McIntyre
Maurice Manning speaks slowly. He’s intent on clarity. If it’s possible to be searching and precise at the same time, he is. Manning lives on 20 acres of farmland in Kentucky. He keeps a picture of the great bluegrass musician Roscoe Holcomb on his refrigerator, and often finds himself working through poems while doing farm chores or walking in the woods near his house. None of that will seem a surprise to readers familiar with his work.
Since Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions, for which he earned a Yale Younger Poets nod in 2001, Manning has homed in on the lives of men and women in rural Kentucky. His next effort was A Companion for Owls, a collection that imagined a commonplace book by the legendary Daniel Boone, in verse. Bucolics was a series of takes on the pastoral poem: 78 untitled, unpunctuated poems, all addressed to “Boss.” He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize on the strength of 2010’s The Common Man, a collection that reached back to his childhood. His new collection, The Gone and the Going Away, faces a Kentucky in flux with a brave face and a healthy dose of humor. The Poetry Foundation recently spoke with Manning by telephone, after one of his standard days of teaching and farm chores. A condensed version of that conversation follows.
You were on a panel of writers recently discussing the question “What is Southern?” What’s your perspective?
That was an interesting conversation. People on the panel had widely different perspectives. My thought was, we still have people who have a long time living in the same place, and who live in a region that they have real roots in, family history, and they know that their grandparents lived here, and their great-grandparents lived over here, and that sort of thing. At least that’s my experience of Kentucky. And a sense that the past matters, I would say, is still detectable around here.