Snakedoctor by Maurice Manning is a sonorous collection that makes use of varying styles and forms that intrigue the reader and tantalize one’s senses. Manning presents a rural world where contrast elevates the mundane and gives new found meaning to some of life’s most universal experiences and perhaps, truths. Manning’s punchy imagery and calculated rhyme leave a lasting impression on the reader as they progress through this collection.

“His father beat the hell out of him
for no good reason, but the boy
expected the beatings and learned to mark them
like notches on the stick of life.” (3)

Manning places emphasis on the unknowns that demarcate reality from imagination, fiction from truth. Interestingly, Manning shows that perception is key to understanding even that which we deplore; violence. The aforementioned extract acts to show a juxtaposed against the ramifications associated with love. The consequences and indeed, unforgivable acts of love that often do more harm than good. But it is in this reflection that the reader is made to contend with the strangeness of love in that its meaning and the actions associated with it, not only varies but also gives greater context to the ways in which singular perception can distort such a universal emotion. Thus, turning love into shards of meaning that intersect and give this sentiment new life whether positive or negative.

“And that meant clearing a patch of land,
cutting the trees, breaking the dark,
original canopy in violence
to let the sunlight reach the ground.” (32)

Manning reflects on generational trauma and the hope of Earthly salvation and survival amongst the raw majesty of nature breaking the suffering and disposing of loud anguish in hope of a quietude most humbling, but welcoming still. Manning’s words have a certain universality that allows for the reader to empathize beyond personal connection. I found this desire for peace and simple living rather striking within this collection as it centers the reader on one innate human truth; the desire for safety and protection. In this case, within the bosom of nature.

“Protestant American darkness
is always worldly, beginning in failure,
a failure that deepens in time to acquire
a punishing weight that can’t be shaken.” (74)

This extract affirms the rampant dichotomous nature of this collection that engages the reader beyond its natural emphasis and highlights the contrast between dark and light, survival and death. The elements within this collection maintain readability and allow for the reader to centre their focus on the often-covert dualities that make up this transient life. This living in search of safety.

Snakedoctor is a collection that speaks to the beauty of nature, the complexity of human existence and the power to be found and understood within the mundane. This collection makes great use of diminishing poetic forms that only add to its uniqueness. Manning’s words train the reader’s ears to find a mighty musicality throughout these poems whilst  giving new meaning to the mundane.



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