If any other book gets any award for the most outstanding Appalachian poetry book of this year, one could easily argue that to be a travesty. Fred Chappell has to be considered one of a bare handful of the most distinguished contemporary authors of Appalachia, and, certainly one of the very most erudite. He has this amazing ability to make his writing accessible and enjoyable for the common reader while at the same time providing for those most knowledgeable about world literature all kinds of allegories, and symbolism, and framing devices, and eucatastropes, and stories within the story, and red herings and Chekhov’s guns and other devices that parallel previous works of both fine and folk literature. How wonderful it is that at the age of 83, Fred Chappell has provided us with a book of his poems that all relate to fables! And – if you were doubting my attributing erudition to him – here are the headings under which he has organized the poems – Social Class, Social Function, Psychology, Philosophy, Folktales, Fabulists, Fox, Parable, and Preambles/Postambles. He even includes short essays to begin to explain those choices in hopes that readers more knowledgeable and smart and wise than I can figure out that sequence and those relationships and why each poem occupies their particular space. Don’t worry, the poems are delightful in themselves without considering any of that. Fred Chappell grew up in Canton, North Carolina, and had a distinguished career teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was instrumental in creating its MFA program in creative writing that has produced more outstanding Appalachian authors than any other graduate school. In 1987 he received the highest teaching award bestowed by the whole UNC system. He is the author of more than thirty books of poetry and prose including the 1968 novel, Dagan that was named the Best Foreign Book of the Year by the Academie Francais. In 1985 the Yale University Library bestowed upon him their Bollingen Prize for Poetry. St. Martin’s Press published The Fred Chappell Reader in 1987, certainly something that few writers achieve. In 1997 the Sewanee Review awarded him their Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry in recognition of his substantial and distinguished career. Chappell served as North Carolina Poet Laureate from 1997 until 2002.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. 231 pages. Trade paperback.