The Common Man by Maurice Manning, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Common Man

The Common Man

by Maurice Manning

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The Common Man, Maurice Manning’s fourth collection, is a series of ballad-like narratives, set down in loose, unrhymed iambic tetrameter, that honors the strange beauty of the landscape and the idiosyncratic adventures and personalities of the old-timers who were his neighbors, friends, and family of the Kentucky mountain country he knew as a child. Playing


The Common Man, Maurice Manning’s fourth collection, is a series of ballad-like narratives, set down in loose, unrhymed iambic tetrameter, that honors the strange beauty of the landscape and the idiosyncratic adventures and personalities of the old-timers who were his neighbors, friends, and family of the Kentucky mountain country he knew as a child. Playing off the book’s title, Manning demonstrates that no one is common or simple. Instead, he creates a detailed, complex, and poignant portrait—by turns serious and hilarious, philosophical and speculative, but ultimately tragic—of a fast-disappearing aspect of American culture. The Common Man’s accessibility and its enthusiastic and sincere charms make it the perfect antidote to the glib ironies that characterize much contemporary American verse. It will also help to strengthen Manning’s reputation as one of his generation’s most important and original voices.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Manning's latest book (after Bucolics) offers multilayered poems that muse on life and death in a manner reminiscent of Louise Glück's The Wild Iris. But Manning, a Yale Younger Poets Series winner for Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions, writes in a down-home, head-to-the-Kentucky-hills tone—unlike Glück, whose language captures the "high church" voices that one might find in a flower garden. Both poets add ironic twists to their lines—sometimes even humor—and they inject spiritual undertones into their work, with some of their poems almost prayers. Manning's "A Prayer to God My God in a Time of Desolation" is a good example. The poem itself seems anything but reverent since the narrator addresses God in a sacrilegious tone as he is working in the field and musing on his dislike for people and his love for animals: "Have I told you you're a weirdo? You/ should have made me a horse and been done with it…." As the poem ends, though, it takes on a tone of existential angst that seems just right. VERDICT Manning's poems possess a freshness that, although a little disconcerting, offers its own highly recommended garden of earthly delights.—Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD
Publishers Weekly
This fourth book by Yale Younger Poet's Prize-winner Manning is, like his previous books, a unified sequence, though this one takes an autobiographical turn, recounting the Kentucky of the poet's childhood, evoking “the first time I heard the story// I was born to tell, the first I knew/ that I was in the story, too.” The poems are friendly, if also full of sadness, as in “Old Negro Spiritual,” which recalls a lost friend, “his voice, the way/ it sounded, a song inside a sound;// it hurt to hear it then, and it hurts/ that I can't hear it anymore.” While recalling his private world, Manning also reaches out to what everyone has in common: “not a day goes by/ that isn't stabbed with common sorrow,// with death, regret, and loneliness,/ and some of us get a bigger portion// of the little tragedies. That's not/ uncommon, though, now is it?” But there are happy memories too, or sad ones tinged with happiness, as in a story about a donkey named “Clyde.” All set in couplets, the poems have a way of running together, but most readers will find themselves charmed by Manning's smart, companionable voice. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"This fourth book by Yale Younger Poet's Prize–winner Manning is, like his previous books, a unified sequence . . . The poems are friendly, if also full of sadness. . . . Readers will find themselves charmed by Manning's smart, companionable voice." —Publishers Weekly

"Maurice Manning’s fourth collection of poems, The Common Man, brings the tales and idiom of a sort of American Robert Burns, a rough-hewn Appalachian experience that’s comedic and exuberant, sly and pointed as it works its way around what Manning calls ‘the big ideas.’ James Dickey used to say he wanted to write ‘country surrealism’ and meant the tales, as strange as they are cultural reflections, that come with fireside talking. And, oh yes, singing. Manning has big talents and none are more impressive than his singing, a word much overused when speaking of poets. I think few will disagree this is memorable music, entertaining, rich, often spooky-wise. The Common Man marks Maurice Manning as a most uncommon poet." —Dave Smith, author of Little Boats, Unsalvaged

"The Common Man is Maurice Manning’s homage to a way of being human that has all but vanished, but he has the lyrical powers and the gumption to resuscitate and carry it—in tetrameter couplets, on a voice that seems, at once, of another era and utterly contemporary: bawdy tales, philosophical questions, jokes, prayers—the heart’s truth. This is country in the way that Twain and Faulkner were country, and if you miss the high art of it all or the elegiac underpinning, check your pulse. This one’s for the ages." —Rodney Jones, author of Salvation Blues

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.27(d)

Read an Excerpt

The older boy said, Take ye a slash
o' this - hit'll make yore sticker peck out -

which would have been a more profound
effect than putting hair on my chest,

to which I was already accustomed.
Proverbially, of course, he was right.

I took a slash, another, and then
I felt an impassioned swelling, though

between my ears, as they say, a hot
illumination in my brain.

The shine had not been cut; full of
the moon it was for sure. I knew

the mountain county it came from -
my family's section, on Little Goose.

A distant cousin would have been proud
to know another cousin was drinking

what might as well be blood, at least
the bonds that come with blood, the laugh

before the tragic truth, the love
of certain women, the hate for lies,

the knowledge that death can be a mercy,
the vision blurred and burning there

in the mind and in the wounded heart.
This was the first time I heard the story

I was born to tell, the first I knew
that I was in the story, too.

If you go up the holler far
enough you'll spy a little house

half-hidden in the trees. It's dark
up there all day and when the night

comes down it's darker yet. There's two
old brothers living in that house

and the younger one is fatter than
a tick with lies and sassy tales.

One time, a bear came through and ate
a couple dozen pawpaws these brothers

had shaken from the tree and left
lined up on the porch rail to ripen,

and Murdock, their good-for-nothing dog
who had retired to the porch on account

of all the work he'd done that day,
never so much as growled nor raised

an eye. The brothers were tending to
the pole beans in the garden patch

and once the bear had slunk away
both brothers said at once: Why, shoot

an' H-E-double-toothpicks, Murdock!
And then the younger one said: Jinx.

And the older brother spit in the dirt.
According to the younger one -

who couldn't hold his belly still
from all the laughter he'd provoked -

it was about a year and a half
before he let his brother speak,

but then it didn't last too long
on account of Murdock treed a woman.

She'd come up there to see how poor
these brothers were and if they needed

some religious reading material.
She called hello, then Murdock woofed

his woof as fierce as he could be,
and she shinnied up the pawpaw tree

and hollered: Help! Ole Murdock, well,
he never left the porch. The brothers

were digging a privy hole behind
the house and when the woman hollered,

they came running around and six feet off
the ground this pretty red-haired woman

was trembling in the pawpaw tree,
and the poor thing's skirt had gotten bunched

around her thighs as she was climbing up -
this otherwise respectable woman

came near to blinding the brothers right there,
her bloomers were so bright. Now, it took

a moment or two before the brothers
could gather their wits, but once they did

they tried to look concerned and turned
to the porch and said in a single voice:

You son-of-a-biscuit-eater, Murdock,
you've done scared this young gal halfway out of

her drawers! The younger brother grinned,
and jinxed the older one again.

Because I jinxed him! he told me one day
when I asked why I'd never heard

the older brother speak. How long
has he been jinxed? I asked. Lord, years!

he said, and I don't reckon he
remembers how to speak, and it's been

so long, I've plumb forgot his name;
I can't take back the jinx no more.

Now remember what I said - this man
is fatter than a junebug with lies

and he can spread them pretty thick,
though I've never minded listening.

Many a time I've stopped up there
to visit and every time it seems

the younger brother has just been waiting.
What's the good word? he always asks.

Yes, many a time I've stopped up there,
but I've never seen a pawpaw tree.

Lord knows what became of that young woman
or if she continued her ministry;

and one day ole Murdock went to Heaven -
why, even a bad dog gets to go.

Meet the Author

MAURICE MANNING is the author of four previous books of poems. His last book, The Common Man , was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, he teaches at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.

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