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Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 12.57.48 AMFirst, let’s introduce the char­acters. There’s Red Dog, the loyal com­panion, and Black Damon, the trusty friend. There’s Mad Daddy, “with the shotgun full of history, / The horse and the flame, and the domino shoes.”

And then there’s Lawrence Booth, self-styled hero, lover of nature, bril­liant, bois­terous, starry-eyed dreamer, and “bull’s‑eye boy.”

The setting is a 37-acre plot in rural Ken­tucky:  young Booth’s home and the Great Field of his dreams.

The play­wright and poet is Maurice Manning in his first col­lection of poetry, “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions,” a comet of a coming-of-age tale that won the Yale Younger Poets Award in 2001.

This book of visions didn’t come in a flash of lightning for Manning, who spent 10 years on the project while com­pleting his master’s degree in English at the Uni­versity of Alabama. But in its slow refinement by fire, the work reached mythic pro­por­tions. Manning incor­po­rates his rural setting, real­istic char­acters, and a com­pelling nar­rative into a fiery tale of growing up in a South that is not what it once was.

Enter Lawrence Booth, a poor Ken­tucky farm boy from a family strug­gling with poverty and sub­stance abuse, for whom life in the South is still a grand, romantic tale of heroes, beau­tiful women, breath­taking land­scapes, and big dreams.

Young Booth loves his “blood brother” Black Damon fiercely, but he may love Red Dog more. He likes to hear his father’s old war stories, but he doesn’t like when Mad Daddy drinks and hits his dog. He loves playing outside, and he can’t stand math or tech­nology or TV.

Booth’s voice is that of a modern prophet: his visions are bril­liant and inspired, and he’s

unafraid to set the world on fire with his dreams for a better future.

Yet Manning allows readers to see the young prophet as an ide­alist whose dreams are some­times too grand for this world. The poet’s master stroke lies in this self-con­scious earnestness, mixing rap­turous odes to nature with bru­tally honest depic­tions of Booth’s poverty-stricken, violent family life. Thus, the reader’s knowing smile is not without com­passion when Booth rails against modern culture’s dis­re­spect for nature: “Oh, you, and your can­tan­kerous visions of peace.”

Manning is often com­pared to writer and poet Robert Penn Warren — both for his Southern set­tings and nar­rative-driven poetry. And though Manning and his nar­rator are no strangers to poetic flights of fancy in word­plays like “feath­er­weight­iness” and a rock called “unfor­get­tenite,” it’s the power of Booth’s story that drives the poetry.

Form makes a frame for the collection’s content, as well. A math­e­matical proof of misery sketches Booth’s family troubles as a schoolboy, rap­turous odes to nature reveal Booth’s love for his rural home, and the “wanted” section of a news­paper adver­tises his quest for love.

With his down-to-earth char­acters and familiar set­tings, Manning aims to revive a “pop­ulist poetry” that is “acces­sible to more people.” Though he employs a wide variety of poetic forms, cloaked lit­erary ref­er­ences, and an impressive array of voices, Manning remains intensely focused on his “bull’s‑eye boy,” driving readers relent­lessly toward a fiery climax — “I love you like a furnace, boy!” — that pits Booth against his father in a fiery con­frontation.

In “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions,” Manning writes the life of a small-town Southern boy as a drama of mythic pro­por­tions. And whether Booth’s drama is ulti­mately comic or tragic, it’s cer­tainly cathartic to read.

Through the char­acter of Lawrence Booth, Manning’s readers squint at the bright flame of col­lision between dream and reality and come away cleansed — if singed and a bit tender — from the expe­rience.