I hesitate to write about this poetry book, because I am intimated by its brilliance and inventiveness. But then I want to stand on a soapbox and shout out –Shadow Box! Yes! It’s that good. It’s also rich, deep and chewy as a California coastal mountain Cabernet, so you need to sip and savor it. Admire the color and complexity. Fred Chappell has written embedded poems – a poem within a poem – and made it seem effortless.
Fred Chappell is the author of a dozen other books of verse, including Backsass and Spring Garden; two story collections; and eight novels. A native of Canton in the mountains of western North Carolina, he taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from 1964 to 2004. He is the winner of, among other awards, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Aiken Taylor Award, T. S. Eliot Prize, and Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry eight times over.
If he could love her less, he might succeed in seeming unaware
of those fleet changes in her she herself would never recognize,
not seeing how her shadow that had bleached until it was
a bare half-shadow, until it was the color of morning rain, seeing nowhere
signal that it will now begin to overfill (the way that sighs
overfill breathing) its edgeless contours with a serene and depthless power,
a resistless immaculate azure-like sky-shine: and though he tries,
deception fails because she is in love again, and mist-cold
fear he can no longer flee or put from him the well-intentioned lies
comes on like April’s heartless frost to wither him once more.
Here is a review from the back of the book: “In this sharply innovative collection, renowned poet Fred Chappell layers words and images to create a new and dramatic poetic form—the poem-within-a-poem. Like the shadow box in the volume’s title, each piece consists of an inner world contained, framed, supported by an outer—the two interdependent, sometimes supplementary, often contrary. For example, the grim but gorgeous “The Caretakers” is a landscape that reveals another image inside it. Chappell also introduces sonnets in which the sestet nests within the octet. Play serves as an important component, but the poems do not depend upon gamesmanship or verbal strategems. Instead, they delicately or wittily trace human feelings, respond somberly to the news of the world, and rejoice in humankind’s plentiful variety of attitudes and beliefs. Just as an x-ray can show the inner structure of a physical object, so the techniques in Shadow Box display the internal energies of the separate works.
With this new form—the “enclosed” or “embedded” or “inlaid” poem—Chappell broadens the expressive possibilities of formal poetry, intrigues the imagination in an entirely new way, and offers surprise and revelation in sudden flashes. At once revolutionary and traditional, Shadow Box contains an Aladdin’s trove of surprises.”
<> I met Fred in 2002 at a small workshop at UMD in Duluth Minnesota. I listened carefully to what he said. I laughed. I learned important basics about writing. I discovered trusted him more than nearly anyone with whom I had studied poetry. Then he taught at the WCU Formalist Poetry Conference in 2004. I went there just to see him. I told him I had dozens of poems about Prophet Muhammad’s Wives but no one knew their stories so I couldn’t just make a book of the poems. He wisely suggested “the prosimetrum.” I’d never heard the word but for me it was magic. I set the poems in a narrative, as Boethius did in the fifth century. I devoted several years to this. This November I will visit North Carolina on my book tour and offer thanks to my friend and “Godfather” of Untold – Fred Chappell.
More word dancing from Mirage:
1 Somewhere sidewise lies the untitled time of earth/
before the mind becomes a work of art…
also recommended ~
Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You by Fred Chappell, New York, Picador Press (a novel).
Understanding Fred Chappell, by John Lang. Columbia: USC Press, 2000.