Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review of David Manning's "Continents of Light"

Continents of Light, by David T. Manning
Finishing Line Press, 2010, 29 pages, $14
ISBN 9781599245362

There are days when I’m driving down the road or sitting in a coffeeshop and I see something so remarkably tender that I feel for a moment like I honestly love everyone. It’s a nice feeling, albeit usually brief. David Manning, it seems, has had similar epiphanous moments of agape, written poems about those moments, and recorded them in his new collection of poems, Continents of Light.

The poems in Continents of Light are by and large memorial poems, memorials to the particular objects of love they are about, to those in love, and to the human capacity for love, and by reading these poems, the reader achieves his own epiphany, the sudden understanding that the desire to memorialize is itself a form of love, one that poets in particular are familiar with. In “Opus Anonymous,” Manning wonderfully captures the romantic hope of poets to get something important so right that that thing lives on in the words of the poem: “Perhaps she escaped from his dreams / and fell between stanzas into / the white spaces of his poems.” And for Manning, this desire to memorialize becomes something even more. As suggested in “Duende,” it becomes duty: “I cannot turn my face away. / God has found me and I have / no place to hide.”

The flip side of great love, however, is great loss. Reading these poems one feels that Manning has loved well and lost much and understands more than most the nature of the longing that results from having loved and lost, the longing not to simply have something one has never had but to have again what one has known, grown accustomed to, and integrated into one’s fabric of being to such a degree that it seems no longer desire but necessity. The reader shares this understanding in poems like “Too Old for Vicky:” “I have lost the color / of her eyes . . . . // Vicky has been taken // beyond all nights and assignations. / Taken to the bosom of one / much too old for us all.” Perhaps it is even stronger in “Coastal:” “I feel you waiting / where I cannot find you. / I follow you / from empty room to empty room.”

The emotional undercurrent of these poems, the longing for connection or reconnection, is so strong that it carries the reader away. This is, perhaps, clearest in “Skipping Stones”

. . . their voices startled me
from far across the lake. I hope

my thoughts reach you this way
sometimes, . . .
distracting you in mid-breath,

soft as the touch of a stranger
in a crowd, . . .

. . . If only
there were this lake

and nothing else between us
I could skip my words
across to you like stones.

This poem is undoubtedly very personal, but the reader can’t tell who this long lost “you” is -- a lost wife or child or parent, even perhaps the speaker’s own past self. Such lack of clarity is often the death of a poem, but in this one, the ambiguity makes it possible for the reader to fill in the blank as they need to. It becomes the white space between the stanzas where Manning has already spoken of memorializing those we love, and the emotions are so familiar and so solidly imagined (made into image) that the poem succeeds regardless of who the “you” becomes to the reader -- the world, God, or my favorite, the reader, such that this becomes, in Dickinsonian tradition, Manning’s “Letter to the World.”

1 comment:

  1. Spooky. See www.seniorwomen.com under the "relationships" tab. My essay isn't very long. I can't wait to read some poetry about suffering that isn't quite so negative as too much I've seen lately. At my age, I guess I need a lift.

    Best wishes as always--