The O’brien Poetry Reading with Maurice Manning
By t love smith, Ad Manager
The O’brien Poetry Reading is an annual honored tradition upheld by the English Department at USM. The tradition is to have a poet-in-residence visit the Portland campus every year “to meet with students and to give a public reading,” according to the Department of English’s webpage. Last year the acclaimed poet, Ada Limon, the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States visited USM. This year’s poet-in-residence was Kentucky poet, and 2011 Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Maurice Manning.
The event, held in the early evening on Wednesday, October 18th on the 7th floor of the Glickman Library, began with a question and answer circle attended by about a dozen students, community members, as well as English department staff and faculty. Manning expressed his devotion to the form of tetrameter, quoting the famous poet Robert Frost, as likening free verse to “playing tennis without a net.”
An English student asked how Manning started out with practicing poetry meter and he compared it to learning how to play music. The lines of Manning’s poems fit into the 4/4 measure of a musical bar. Each line has four beats making the rhythm lyrical in nature which, according to Manning, lends itself well to the dialect of his elder relatives who spoke in song. These lines work with Manning’s metronome lyricist mind as attendees soon find out with his performance of poems, tall tales and bluegrassy ballads.
Manning has eight collections of poetry and teaches English and creative writing at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. He’s won over ten literary recognitions including being one of three finalists for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He currently has an exciting creative project of tall tales, called The Grinnin’ Possum podcast which can be found easily online. The site describes the program as “chock full of down-home humor, tall tale adventure, old time music and a little bit of insight.” Attendees of the O’brien reading were privy to witnessing these fun comedic ditties, which had an even more wholesome and comedic feel then the old 1970’s syndicated American television skits of Hee Haw and the Beverly Hillbillies, except grounded in rural reverence and authenticity, not Hollywood mockery. Manning’s stories bring to life characters from his upbringing for the purposes of veneration, praise and memorial.
Keeping this poetry reading alive is critical in preservation of this traditional fine art. Poetry may be having an existential crisis for the new generations of writers as enrollment numbers have decreased in USM’s Creative Writing MFA in recent years. There’s only one poetry writing course offered in the undergraduate English curriculum with an occasional poetry workshop when there’s interest. There’s not a poet on staff in the English department even though USM has an MFA program for poetry through Stonecoast and the Glickman Library houses the literary non-profit, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. According to faculty, this is not without requests from the English department.
A graduate student at the O’Brien event pointed out how there’s a new student group attempting to address this concern, the USM Poets’ Society which meets bi-weekly in McGoldrick 334 and is hosting their first event, the Halloween Poetry Slam and costume contest from 4-6pm in the Diversity Equity and Inclusion room, which is open to all students. Another option for students to study poetry more specifically at USM is to apply for the UROP Fellowship and conduct an independent study which runs from September through March and includes a small stipend, equipment and travel expenses. Also, any poets and creative short writers who are interested in publishing in the Free Press may submit work to the editor for consideration. Another tip is to keep an eye on the MWPA website for upcoming workshops, fellowships, literary contests and readings which are accessible through lower membership fees, scholarships, or are often offered free.
Earlier this semester, the English Department held a Welcome luncheon which featured a handful of students who read their poetry. Regular events like this, along with the O’brien Poetry Reading help to keep traditional oral arts like poetry alive while building community on campus within the English Department..
Development, P. (n.d.). The Grinnin’ possum. a podcast by Maurice Manning. https://thegrinninpossum.podbean.com/