Travis Lane Wade on Maurice Manning’s poem “Culture”

In Maurice Manning’s poem, “Culture,” the balance of simplicity and complexity of a rural, small town setting is explored though the opening lines:

Some of us in cahoots with the birds
are smiling, silly smiles, because
the sun in the barn lot is warmer
today and that means nothing in
particular, but it is a change.

Manning’s use of the idiom, “in cahoots,” sets the tone of this poem and invites the reader to take a journey through a pastoral world and meet the people that inhabit it. There is a sense of personality that Manning explores in these lines that defines the community—a community where culture is shaped by place and the place is shaped by its people. It is in the specific details of the place, the people and their memories, that the identity of their culture is born. Manning shows us the unique intricacies and details of a place where we are invited to be locals. There is a connection that Manning is making with the reader. He is extending a hand as if to say, “Welcome, won’t you come in?”

I feel this connection with Manning’s lines—the small town existence where something as common as a shift in temperature becomes a point of interest. I understand the relationship with nature that gives those in rural communities a sense of belonging and identity—the idea that, “some of us in cahoots with the birds/ are smiling, silly smiles.” The oneness of nature and community that Manning connotes in these lines gives the reader an inside look at this particular life—the kind of life where simple pleasures come with connections and relationships, but where the complexities and meanings lie just below the surface waiting to be explored.

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