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» » Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (Yale Series of Younger Poets)
Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (Yale Series of Younger Poets)


Maurice Manning


Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (Yale Series of Younger Poets)


Literature & Fiction

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1695 kb

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1590 kb

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1174 kb

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Yale University Press (August 2001)







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Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (Yale Series of Younger Poets) by Maurice Manning

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.
Sent wrong format and now I’ve missed the return date. Ugh. It’s in cassette, who has cassette any more? I wanted and selected hard copy book
Lawrence's Booth's Book of Visions is one of the strangest, wildest, most stunning books I have ever read. It is a novel in verse, a play in episodes, chronicling the life and visions of Lawrence Booth, a boy growing up in poverty stricken rural South around 1970. Characters reoccur in the poems reflect Lawrence's perception of them: abusive, violent, drunken Mad Daddy, a beloved red dog, a faithful friend Black Damon, little sister "hanging by a thread", Missionary Woman who fills Booth's sexual fantasies, a worn out mother chained to the kitchen, and various other characters. The places also figure prominently in the poems: Thirty seven acres, the Great Field where Lawrence enacts his childhood fantasies, the Indian Tree, the house, school, the church, the town. Reality interchanges with fantasy in the poems depicting Lawrence's visions, tinged with joy, despair, bravado, innocence, and longing. Black Damon's poems, written in his outrageous dialect, provide a window into Lawrence's actual existence and helps to orient the reader.
That said, this is a challenging collection that is difficult to enter. One feels that it almost needs an introduction so that the reader can be oriented rather than cast all alone into a bewildering sea of the unfamiliar. Halfway into the collection, I started to make sense of it all, and it was much more enjoyable the second time around. The rough and tumble language is suited to the subject matter, its spareness and concreteness lend intensity to the voice of the character, whose adolescent growing pains are magnified by the poverty of his circumstances. The style is Faukneresque in its ability to embody the character's inner voice. By giving voice to a character like Lawrence Booth, Maurice Manning illuminates with heartbreaking precision a world that few outsiders can penetrate and few insiders can articulate.
At times witty, always enigmatic, strangely regional and vernacular, Maurice Manning's "Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions" is never dull or uninteresting. Although written in a particular and inscrutable style, there are surprises at every corner. Manning has a particular talent at creating an interesting topology on the page, aping the style of forms, court documents, and report cards. This, coupled with the repeat appearances of a few characters, Mad Daddy, the Missionary Woman, Black Damon, and Booth himself, makes for a compelling series of poems which have a remarkable, compelling trajectory. Manning takes the reader on an eccentric, yet comforting journey, stoked with energy and power. Each page is a revelation of sorts.
Once again the Yale Series of Younger Poets has brought a wonderful collection to print. Maurice Manning's "Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions" is a deeply intense book of poems that is likely to affect every reader that comes across it. At times frightening, the poems are about the world of a boy named Lawrence Booth, or Law, at different points during his childhood and adolescence. The characters and events are recounted in a wonderfully vivid manner, but much of the time you are left wondering what is really is occurring in Law's life, and what is just a "vision."
The most remarkable aspect of this book is the use of voice. Different poems are written in different ways, which contributes to the animated nature of the book. At one end of the spectrum are the "Dreadful Chapters" which are written in a backwoods voice that, on the page, may look confusing because of spelling, but when read aloud are amazingly real and powerful: "An why come Law git stuck wit such a name / dat he alway cipher wrong from right-- / so much he git a tooth-clench mood to fight?" (from "Dreadful Chapter Two). At the opposite end is a more elegant voice that uses beautiful metaphors: "Sheepish as a far off echo, Lawrence Booth wades / into the Great Fields and the wide-yawning night" (from "Bellwether"). And, of course, there are countless voices to be found in this collection that lie somewhere in between these two extremes.
One thing must be noted is that this collection is difficult to understand. The poems are not in chronological order, and are sometimes missing some information that is given in another poem later or earlier in the book. Furthermore, some poems are "unconventional." One is in the form of a geometry proof, and another is a complaint form. Personally, though, I think that the search for answers in this book is a big part of the joy in reading it. Piecing together information, finding links between poems because of a certain voice, phrase, or word used, and concentrating on the imagery and form was a pleasure to do, and it really added to the experience of the book. I feel that the ambiguity within the pages helps to suggest the uncertainty in Law's life.
I have rated Manning's book at five out of five stars. It was undoubtedly the best book of poetry I have come across this year, and I am sure he will be bringing us more in the future.

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