This year's winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is Maurice Manning's Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions. These compelling poems take us on a wild ride through the life of a man child in the rural South. Presenting a cast of allegorical and symbolic, yet very real, characters, the poems have "authority, daring, [and] a language of color and sure movement," says series judge W.S. Merwin.
Lawrence Booth is a vigorous, trash-talking, frustrating and entirely made-up young man from a rural South that's equal parts carnivorous nightmare, Freudian pastoral and deep-fried family romance. Manning, who hails from Kentucky, becomes the latest in the venerable Yale Younger Poets series (now judged by W.S. Merwin) with these sometimes over-the-top, often surprisingly difficult poems about Lawrence's boyhood and youth in a "sweet tobacco, cornmeal, archetypal world." Sonnets, catalogues, shaped poems and non sequitur-filled rambles consider Booth's "gradeschool days," his vivid nights, his television-viewing habits, his explorations on foot, his difficult sister and his comic attacks on his region's heritage. Manning also depicts Lawrence's companions the vicious, overwhelming father Mad Daddy; Red Dog, a faithful dog; Missionary Woman, a love interest; God; the devil; and Black Damon, a young African-American who speaks seven of his own poems (called "Dreadful Chapter One," "Dreadful Chapter Two," and so on) in a deliberately outrageous minstrel dialect ("Red Dog barkie echo plum back to the house"). Manning's mesh of voices, fears and incidents (not to mention his blackface moments) recalls John Berryman's Dream Songs, and Merwin notes the similarities in a perceptive foreword. Yet Manning's adventurously uneven verses bring him close to ambitious Southerners, from Robert Penn Warren to Frank Stanford; his often antirealist forms seek to capture a South many people will find incredible. (Aug.) Forecast: Merwin's third pick for Yale since becoming its judge is also his second Southern-set, book-length sequence in a row, following last year's Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs. Yale'sprestigious first-book series reached its peak in the '50s, when then-judge W.H. Auden picked (among others) Ashbery, Hollander, Rich and Merwin himself. But with the right regional and national publicity, this uneven volume could do well. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.