“The Gone and the Going Away” is a solid collection of poems from Maurice Manning, and my first read from the respective poet. I have to say what impressed me most about this particular set of poems were the distinct voice and theme of remembrance that colored the assortment, both long and short, in this compilation. Manning creates a fictional place in Kentucky called Fog Town Holler, with a common narrator walking through his experiences and relationships.
I had a number of poems that I personally liked in this collection – one of which was “The Slate” where it introduced a number of very interesting characters – Tiny, Tiny Too (Double T), Honey, and Birdie – giving them all a vivid portrayal in a retrospect that I couldn’t help but follow along with the narrator “when [he] was just a scratch of a boy”. Another was “The Transfiguration of a Certain Plowman” – where the narrator recalls the memory of a man who used to plow on the lands, but the lands keep changing and carrying on long past his passing, and the narrator reflects that even as his day hasn’t ended, eventually it will, and life goes on. Beautifully written imagery as evidenced in this particular passage from that poem:
“So I go to the broken garden to be
accused and broken down and changed —
that day I lay down in the grass
and dreamed. The bugs crawled over me,
and a roan-colored moth lit
on my outstretched hand and winked
like an eye and blinked, staring at all
I was and wasn’t…”
I loved “The Fogtown School of Thought” for its attention to detail in nature, as well as “The Shadow Branch.” There’s a toggling to be had between memories and details lost to time as well as identities here, but I’ll admit that not all of the poems caught my attention, even in their brevity. Manning has a way with words, and when he conjures an image, he does it quite well, but some of the shorter poems in this collection, while in the scheme of the theme and in the moment, didn’t really impact me as much as the longer ones did. The poem that takes the collection’s namesake does a nice job of rounding out some of the sentiments of the speaker and the collective themes in each part. I think it does a great job also showing the lives of the people here – poor, in smaller settings and with simple convictions of place and relation, but I’ll admit there did seem to be spots where it didn’t engage me as much as I’d hoped. I would recommend it on an overarching note, for the strong thematics and development of its very vivid place, albeit fictional.
Overall score: 3/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.