In a noteworthy career Fred Chappell has created a body of verse that will likely endure as long as the North Carolina mountains that are the setting of so many of his poems. In such works as the tetralogyMidquest and the long poem Castle Tzingal, Chappell has shown himself to be a master of his craft—acutely inquisitive and keenly observant, adept at a variety of forms and styles. Earlier this year Chappell’s poetic achievement was honored when he received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry. With Source, his newest collection, Chappell again reveals himself as a mature and gifted poet writing at the peak of his powers.
The poems in Source show the breadth and diversity of Chappell’s range. They are by turn soft and lyrical, elegiac and formal, speculative and experimental. They draw on mythic images of the past and horrific visions of the future, but most important, they reflect Chappell’s southern roots and his knowledge of a simple people and a simple way of life, as seen in these lines from “Humility”:
In the necessary field among the round
Warm stones we bend to our gleaning.
The brown earth gives in to our hands, and straw
By straw burns red aslant the vesper light.
The village behind the graveyard tolls softly,
To glow with new-laid fires. . . .
. . .
This is the country we return to when
For a moment we forget ourselves,
When we watch the sleeping kitten quiver
After long play, or rain comes down warm.
Here we might choose to live always, here where
Ugly rumors of ourselves do not reach,
Where in the whisper-light of the kerosene lamp
The deep Bible lies open like a turned-down bed.
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