13 Poems from the Edge of Extinction, published by Ohio based Crisis Chronicles Press, is Adrian Manning’s latest chapbook of poems. The book is hand assembled and saddle stapled. It features white cover stock end papers and pastel ivory pages. The cover art is by poet and folk artist, Kevin Eberhardt.
As the title suggests, this sixteen page book consists of thirteen poems. None of these untitled poems exceed the page they start on and they all have a depth of imagery in common. In fact, I haven’t been this taken by a writer’s use of imagery since reviewing Nicole Rollender’s Ghost Tongue. The two poets are most certainly from different schools of style, but they both write with an artistic touch which somehow provokes those emotions the written word generally strains to reach.
During the first read through and in amongst my first page of notes I had jotted down the phrase, “outlaw poetry.” Once written I crossed this phrase out with some immediacy. It’s a term I’ve never been particularly confidant in unless used in reference to literal, literary outlaws like Jack Black, Herbert Huncke, Jean Genet, etc. Or perhaps when reflecting on the likes of the late, Todd Moore, whose own writing style broke so many literary rules as he penned all those poems, essays and reviews pertaining to the outlaw and the outsider; Manning’s ambient turn of phrase speaks of the latter – 13 Poems From the Edge of Extinction is outsider poetry. Here is a poet whose sympathies lie with the underdog.
Although I have only read two of Manning’s chapbooks – Dreams From Under a Rock and the one on which this analyses is based – I am quite confident opining that this poet could write a moving poem on any given topic. This assertion is largely based on the opening poem; a twenty-four word piece about drinking wine. Under other circumstances I would be fairly dismissive of this subject matter. Not that I’m opposed to alcohol, in fact, much like a powerful poem, a strong drink is one of life’s silver linings. However, most boozy poems shiver in the cold shadow of their subject matter; I’d rather have a drink than read about somebody else having one. I don’t want to give the wrong impression here, most of the books on my shelves were written by raging alcoholics. All of which, at one point or another, wrote about what they know.
And there lies my point; a drinking poem needs sturdy and sober legs if it aims to stand tall in the mix of its countless predecessors. And that is exactly what the poem in question does. It may be an obvious point, but I’m going to make it anyway; writing of any ilk is about choosing the right words. Given that the poet’s task is provoking emotion s/he’d better have an honest-to-God grasp of how language works when commenting on subject matter already covered by centuries of posey. Hence my earlier suggestion regarding Manning’s ability to write a moving poem on any given topic; the man understands the opportunities language presents. Opening another bottle of wine and drinking from it is the beginning, middle and end of this poem. Hardly a ground breaking or dramatic starting point, yet it sets a precedent of friction and power which is maintained throughout; a simple case of one good word after another.
The second poem, although lacking some immediacy of the first, does read with similar impact, albeit done so off the back of its forerunner. In the same way that a well-executed poem is constructed through picking the right words and organising them justly, good editing is about placing the poems in good-working order, so they can pull together in their chosen direction; one strong word in front of the other, one strong poem in front of the last.
And so the poems flow, the underdog is introduced from a position of friction and power which is perpetuated by the third poem’s battle between acceptance and defiance.
The fourth poem, in the traditions of the first, creates an atmosphere and sets a mood fitting for the bleak night ahead, which the underdog, the outsider and even the outlaw has come to know as their own. They spar and box/with the spies of/revenge, in the fifth poem. In the sixth, worms leaf around/the tentacles/of the earth/creeping upward/cracking dry ground. There is a spiralling sense of an unravelled mind. Or perhaps more accurately, the poet is busy ravelling up his thoughts for the sole purpose of letting them go.
The aforementioned immediacy of the first poem is quickened during the chapbook’s seventh instalment. There is an urgency that borders on rage as instructions of calculated insurrection are hammered out during the final hours of the day. The night finally takes hold in the eighth, in the down light/we are divorced/from reason/silence a muscle/leading us to the fight. True to the reality of conflict, the ninth poem recognises there must be winners and losers. However, in line with the spirit of Manning’s underdog, sometimes victory must be stolen. Stolen victory is a sentiment echoed and built upon in the tenth.
the madman of the
prairie cheated life
…the madman of the
(from poem 10)
By the eleventh poem, another instructional affair which reads almost like a note-to-self, sees our narrator playing with madness for the sake of the poem, the line and the word.
The twelfth and penultimate poem recedes, scarred by the night and hesitant of the encroaching day.
drinking with the moths
was a mistake
the radio wears
and he knows
he’s no match
(from poem 12)
The last poem and the final instruction captures and summarises the ethos of this chapbook of written pictures. Here and throughout, accepted principles of a standard life are ripped from the inside out as Manning stands firmly on the outside of reason declaring the underdog as champion of his own fate.
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