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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Joe Manning Finds A “Gig At The Amtrak”

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, May 20, 2005

Author Joe Manning has written a new book "Gig At The Amtrak."
North Adams- Author Joe Manning’s latest offering “Gig At The Amtrak” knits prose and poetry with historical reflection and fresh perspective to create an artful, thought-provoking mosaic of ordinary people and the extraordinary moments they live.

Manning’s original poems are the focus of the 102-page volume.
“I felt it was time to establish myself as a poet,” Manning said during a Friday morning interview.

Poetry’s Voice

The poetry is Manning’s but the voices whose words pepper the page belong to countless numbers of folks Manning has encountered, including dozens of North Adams residents.

“A great songwriter once said ‘I don’t write songs, I find them,’” Manning said, and explained that for years, he has written down interesting phrases and descriptions he’s heard during conversations.

“I always thought ‘these people are more eloquent than I ever could be,’” he said.

News articles copied from old newspapers mingle with the poetry and deliver context to Manning’s work. “Little Immigrant’s Sad Lot,” originally published in the Daily Iowa State Press in 1899, relayed the story of Alice Knearsey, a six-year-old Irish immigrant whose father apparently killed her mother during a voyage across the sea to America. Alice, according to the report, was destined to return to Ireland and face life without either parent.

Manning’s poem “Elderly Housing” touches on fate and missed opportunity.

“I had my chance….when I was nineteen.
Earl wanted to go to California
When we got married,
But I wasn’t sure and so we didn’t.
He wound up at Sprague’s,
But he died before he could retire.
And now I live in the school
I used to walk to every morning.
They call it elderly housing.”

The poem continues on to consider “what is” against “what might have been.”

Snippets and Slices

A quest for his own genealogical roots led Manning to discover published snippets of ordinary life dating back to the mid-1800s, he said. While cities and towns and economies and cultures evolve through time, the essence of humanity remains constant, he said.

“While searching [the Internet] for the name Manning, I would come up with these old news articles from small communities in the 1880s or something,” he said. “I would read these stories and they were a wonderful window of history. These weren’t major news stories with famous quotes, but they were these little vignettes of life. And I would say ‘these are a lot like my poetry, slices of life.’”

Numerous articles were included in the book because “I think I was making a statement that these so-called little lives were very important,” Manning said.

“When you are growing up, you think that history was fashioned by famous people and big events,” he said. “But everyone has made history, everyone has contributed to history. All the great events in history have happened to people.”

Manning’s own ancestry illustrates his point: his great-grandfather Joseph H. Manning was one of nine children born to an Irish immigrant couple and the sole surviving son of the Civil War. The awe lies within the “what ifs,” what if Manning’s great-grandfather hadn’t survived? What if the five brothers had not been killed?

Gig At The Amtrak

Life’s precarious nature is acknowledged through the book’s title poem.

Manning said that as a “tremendous fan of jazz,” he is enamored with Hank Mobley. Despite international acclaim, Mobley died homeless in a railroad station in 1986. One of Manning’s daughters is a jazz musician, and Manning’s thoughts have turned to her.

“I started thinking about my daughter and thinking ‘will this be her fate?’” Manning said.

The title poem “Gig At The Amtrak” offers Manning’s creative thoughts about Mobley’s homeless life, he said.

“I wrote this kind of fantasy about him trying to eke out a living at the train station,” Manning said. “My daughter showed it to her college professor and he loved it. That’s what gave me the confidence to write poetry.”

A City Runs Through It

Many of the poems are about North Adams, as evidenced by titles including “Eagle Street,” “Furnace Street, and “The Hills Have Their Way.” Manning’s love of and fascination for the city have generated two previous books: “Steeples” and “Disappearing Into North Adams.”

While Manning resides in Northampton, he is a frequent city visitor and when asked, acknowledged that the city, its’ history and struggle to shed a “dying mill town” image and cloak itself in an artistic mantle may well serve as his “muse.”

He has evolved as a person and a writer since his first city junket about nine years ago, he said.

“I look at things differently now than when I first came,” he said. “This is not just a place to write about, this is where I see my friends. This is where I found myself, my spiritual home. And I like what it [the city] is becoming.”

His poem “Open Mic In Milltown” recalls his early days in the city.

“I think I’ve done something different with this book,” Manning said. “I think I was using the tools I was best at. An artist notices things that other people don’t notice and can make people see it, for the first time or differently for the first time. It’s a great gift, and you’d be a fool not to use it.”

“Gig At The Amtrak” will be introduced on June 11 at Papyri Books on Main Street during a reading and book signing. The event begins at 7 p.m.. Information about Manning and his books is available at www.sevensteeples.com

Susan Bush may be reached at 802-823-9367 or by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net.
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