Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Companion for Owls by Maurice Manning

Could Daniel Boone have ever written poetry? According to the American National Biography, his education is much debated. He claimed to have never had any formal schooling, but there persist stories of his mischief at school. He must have had little schooling if any, the biographer guesses, because his letters are full of misspellings and bad grammar.

Maurice Manning has taken a very unconventional approach in writing A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Long Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c. He has taken on the persona of the frontiersman to write verse about his daily life and adventures. Most of the poems are less than a page in length and convey some part of Boone's story. "Without Vision," which begins "Don't ever name a son Israel," tells about the death of his son in the Battle of Blue Licks, the final battle of the American Revolution. "The Sum Result of Speculation" describes his work as a land speculator. In "Jemima's Idyll" the poet tells of Boone's rescuing his daughter from the Shawnee. "A Recipe for Chink" instructs the readers how to build a log cabin.

The poetry is full of attitude and opinions. I liked the opening of "Opposition to Bridges":

If a man cannot cross a river on its own terms,
Then he doesn't deserve the other side.

The strength of A Companion for Owls is the communication of Boone's experience. Soaked with the rain, his teeth hurting, angry at the educated men who have cheated him out of property, ready to try something new, ready to leave eveything but Rebecca and head for Missouri, Boone contemplates his life. Of course, being poetry, it is self-conscious and philosophical. It is a fantasy, but one I enjoyed.

Manning, Maurice. A Companion for Owls: Being the Commonplace Book of D. Boone, Long Hunter, Back Woodsman, &c. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2004. ISBN 0151010498

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