The Real World
Imagine a situation where you have worked as a street cop for
most of your life and, like Joseph Wambaugh, were also an aspir-
ing writer. Such is the case of Ronald Manning, now a weather ob-
server at the Tonopah airport.
In the process of going through the volumes of mail received for
the contemporary anthology of Nevada poets, I came across
Manning's work. (If Tonopah seems am unlikely place for a poet, it
is a very tranquil place for a former beat cop. He works the grave-
yard shift and writes and reads when time permits).
What struck me most about his poetry was its flowing narrative
quality. The telltale signs of academia are refreshingly absent: a
rigid, stilted line with little or no true expression of feeling. But I
suppose that is to be expected from one who has spent a lifetime in
the "civil wars in/Watts and/Berkeley and/Oakland and/
Hunter's Point." There is no pretentious introspection here; the
poems are grounded in personal experience and relayed with care-
ful attention to detail.
In a reflective piece about
his first boyhood date, "the late
Poetry Shelf sun/in collusion with my
Shaun Griffin senses," he slips to the back row
of the theatre "and then, soft,
her lips pressed to my hand/I
remember that most of all." (In
seventh grade, she was "a gift
for which I had no
thanks.") These lines are reminiscent of Garrett Hongo's work-
they tell stories that the reader can relate to.
His work can be light-hearted, too, as in "An American Sym-
phony": "fast break, coffee break, news break, gimmie-a-break/
and.../soup for one." But the refractive lens he holds up to the
world is not self-conscious. These poems are candid, open vi-
gnettes, rooted in a life spent at the seams of society, albeit some-
times unpleasant seams. In talking to him, you get the feeling there
is great solace in that quiet place he has retreated to, a solace that
permits him to reflect on a "Saturday Rat Shoot and River Walk."
The poem traces his days chasing rats as a boy: "In the spring/
river paths/like sunken graves/have to be reclaimed/from the
musty pack/ of dead/winter-pressed leaves." He scares a mother
duck when he gets too near her nest and then happens upon "a
sparrow/...impaled on a rusty length/of forgotten,twisted/
barbed wire. "Further up the river, the "bloated white bellies" of
carp with "blue bottle flies/gather(ed) on their chests like medals."
In a word, the pictures he creates are real. One comes away from
these poems replenished, at the very least reminded of a life before
home videos: "The free shows every Tuesday night/a big canvas/
stretched and tied/between two trees. "These lines aren't loud;
they have an inner quiet that gathers as you read them. Occasion-
ally they lose focus but that is to be expected when one straddles
the border between literature and "the real world." Thankfully we
are richer for his efforts. Though they are not in book form at pres-
ent, I suspect this, too, will change soon.
A Lesson in Plowing
He would mark the turn-around
with a great splash of tobacco juice,
as he re-set his course.
Lying in the hot, green weeds,
I watched the furrows open.
Wavering, wet heat
swallowed the tractor tires
and shimmered up his back
leaving just a head,
on a distant noise.
The far turn-around
was my cue.
I made my guess,
ran to the spot
Reprinted with the author's permission, 1989
Biography: Ronald Manning was born in 1938 and raised
consin. For 21 years he was a street cop in California, Nevada and
Utah. In 1986 he received hi bachelor's degree in English from the
University of Utah. Though primarily a novelist (a manuscript is in
the archives of the Society of Medal of Honor recipients), he "finds
a separate and satisfying reward in the writing of poetry." His
work has appeared in the literary journals at West Los Angeles City
College and Southern Utah State College, where he received first
prize in short story fiction in 1980. He plans to continue graduate
study at University of Nevada-Reno in the near future.
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