Poems So Good They Hurt

They’ve got no punctuation, no capitalization, and no titles. Yet the poems in Maurice Manning’s Bucolics are probably the most captivating, devastating poems I’ve ever read.

Each poem, addressed to ‘Boss,’ is a brief look from the speaker’s rustic life into the (sometimes fiery) eyes of God. Their simple questions ache for an understanding of the universe. Why, he wonders, does the Boss do what he does? And does he actually control everything around us.

These questions, while universal, are asked with the imagery the speaker knows best: birds, foxes, the sky, horses, farm equipment, etc. Do these items, working beautifully in tandem, reflect God’s will? We ache to know.

I had to put the book down after quite a few of these poems; I needed a breather. They’re relentless in their goodness. And the speaker’s curiosity made me question the lack of my own. I’m not inclined to believe in a single absolute being/power/deity, but the speaker’s (almost) unwavering faith has a powerful pull. He makes me want.

The concept I find most pulling is the concept of ‘twoness.’ From the forty-eighth poem:

there’s always something else that’s just
the way it is side by side Boss
just like I said O one plus one
is too as in also Boss always
also O one thing also then
another that’s the way you are

Throughout the book, for every process there is an equal, supporting process or object. The wind beneath the hawk’s wings, if you will. It’s heartwarming. It puts in me the desire for another – be it a god or a partner. This book is filled with love, with wonder.

I am so, so glad I stumbled across it at the library, and I can’t wait to own it outright.

Also, Manning teaches at Indiana’s MFA program. I’m adding it to the list of possibilities.


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