Maurice Manning: “Tell It Like It Is” Kind of Guy

Here’s Maurice Manning reading a poem from his most recent book of poems, The Common Man, which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize last year.


And here’s what Adriane has to say about him:


Maurice Manning was born and raised in Danville, Kentucky.  He is forty-six years old (born in 1966). His first book, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions, was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 2001. Manning’s other books include A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Lone Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c. (2004), Bucolics (2007), and The Common Man (2010). His poems have been published in Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Poetry, and The New Yorker.

Manning received a bachelor’s degree in English from Earlham College, a liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, in 1988. He earned his master’s in English from the University of Kentucky 1996 and a master’s in creative writing. from the University of Alabama in 1999. He taught at DePauw University for four years. Currently, Manning teaches at Indiana University.  In September, he will join the faculty at Transylvania University in his home state of Kentucky.


Earthy. His poems are typically about Kentucky and the characters he has created to populate the state. Manning also tends to muse about life in a philosophical way through his characters. He writes narratively, so his poems make sense.


Manning was greatly inspired by the lives of his grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers. He was also influenced by Shakespeare’s sonnets and Biblical parables. Kentucky is the heartland of all his poetry.

“I think writers in general are people who have some instincts, the first of which is to pay attention — a particular kind of attention — to the world around you, to the place you’re from, and I think writers, beyond simply paying attention, have to be curious.”

Also, Denise Levertov:

“Then one day, I think I was a junior in college, I was taking a poetry course where all we did was just read poems and talk about them. Our textbook began with Chaucer and went up to, say, Robert Frost, but one day, we read a separate book, a collection of poems by Denise Levertov, called Candles in Babylon. I didn’t realize it, but that was a contemporary book of poetry, and the week we read it, this little wire-haired woman was sitting in the class. This was a small class of about 10 people, and here was this other woman who was obviously not a student, and it turned out to be Denise Levertov. I went to a Quaker college, and our professor was very involved in Quaker causes internationally, and so was Denise Levertov, and they had somehow become acquaintances. She was coming to work with him that week for some kind of human justice movement, and he just asked her to come to class one day. That was the first time I had seen a living poet. It was the first time that I knew there was such a creature. And that really inspired me. It’s not to say Levertov’s poetry inspired me necessarily, but to hear her talk and articulate how she worked and why and all of that suddenly made me feel like there’s at least another person in the world who thinks this way and looks at the world this way.”


Both Manning and Komunyakaa draw from their childhood homes — Komunyakaa Louisiana; Manning Kentucky. Komunyakaa was influenced by the jazz of Louisiana. Manning said in an interview with Tim Brouk,

“I grew up with a powerful sense of Kentucky history and my familial history for generations. All the old ballads and all the tall tales were always present for me.”

In The Common Man, Manning writes in iambic tetrameter. Some of his poems are also free verse. Komunyakaa always writes in free verse. Both make philosophical observations about life through their writing. Komunyakaa writes more autobiographical, while Manning writes fictional poetry.

Manning leans more toward Whitman on the Whitman/Dickinson scale. He writes about America just like Whitman- except on a smaller range. Manning writes about Kentucky, while Whitman wrote about America as a whole. Manning’s point in his poetry is almost always clear, unlike Dickinson. He seems more like a “tell it like it is” kind of guy.

3 thoughts on “Maurice Manning: “Tell It Like It Is” Kind of Guy

  1. Lita March 8, 2012 / 12:48 am

    Please don’t tell Maurice Manning that I have a crush on him. This may not be the correct way to read poetry, but I have a tendency to flip through a book until a title or a phrase jumps out at me. Other poetry collections I’ve picked up at the bookstore have been the literary equivalent of a stagnant pond; Manning’s books, however, teem with dragonflies, snapping turtles, and frogs (figuratively, of course). There are poems that take the form of proofs, prayers, timelines, dramatis personae, lists, and legal documents. There are poems written in the Southern vernacular (which I love). I love how, on at least one occasion, Manning takes a sonnet and modernizes it. The narrative is similar to the stories my mother tells me about our relatives who were sharecroppers in Alabama. The poems are conversational and interesting and make me proud to be a Southerner. I’ve read many poems in “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” and “The Common Man,” and I intend to get my own copies of the books because I like them so much. Manning is the type of poet my entire family would love.

    • livi March 9, 2012 / 1:29 am

      Don’t be ashamed I totally think he is pretty cute. He seems to be a really cool person and I enjoyed his laid back reading in the Youtube clip above. From what I’ve read/heard so far I seem to really like his work. I also love the Southern vernacular in writing if it’s done well which I think he nailed( even though I’m not so quick to be proud of being from the south.) I admire the fact that his voice comes through lucidly in his work. In fact I would say that it’s very prominent and makes his style unique because it’s so similar to the way he speaks.

      I’m not particularly gifted at writing in the southern vernacular but I would say that a lot of my personal voice comes through in my writing much like Manning’s.

  2. Kathleen March 12, 2012 / 9:14 pm

    Personally, I really like how friendly his writing is. It has a very conversational tone and you feel like he’s just telling you a wild story about something that happened to him the other day. It makes you feel comfortable, like you’re old friends, and not strangers sitting on opposites of a computer screen.

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