Book Review

Abundance by Robin Chapman. Halifax, PA: Cider Press, 2009. $16.95.

Reviewed by Richard Swanson

Robin Chapman undertook some ambitious ventures in her recent books. In Images of a Complex World she explored the phenomenon of chaos. In The Dreamer Who Counted the Dead she ranged far, geographically, and paradoxically inward, to some troubling family history. Chapman’s latest book doesn’t stretch as much as those volumes, but it’s no less satisfying. Abundance is the work of a poet pro working smaller scale, more frequently opting for textural refinement over vision.

Abundance opens with a series of mostly nature poems, many of them short. “If Crickets Didn’t Sing” is a typical example, with sly line breaks and lovely consonance in lines four and five:

If crickets didn’t sing
So loud, telling how warm
It is, you’d hear quieter things—
Flies landing, flick
Of the frog’s tongue,
The heron stepping.

Readers familiar with Minnesota’s Boundary Waters will revel in Abundance’s middle section, a diary-like account of a trip into that wilderness. This part is both a botanical survey and an account of personal ruggedness, and two poems “Moose River” and “At Boulder Bay, the Snake Swallowing the Toad,” are gripping narratives of wildlife working its natural course. The poems in this section are more varied in form, more prose-like, mirroring the text in a traveler’s notebook. “Isabella Lake” is another example of Chapman relying on traditional technique, chiaroscuro, as she catalogs her surroundings:

Loons, rapids, beaver lodge,/kestrels, and light—light/rose and golden climbing/the feather of clouds, rose/and purple entering the water reeds,/every shade of green/in the blueberry leaves.

In the book’s final section Chapman develops the theme implied in the previous ones, bountiful richness we often overlook. Sharp observer that she is, in “Dailiness,” she says:

It is the birds
    who call me back
            to the world

Animation of sparrows
     among arbor vitae branches
            in my morning dash with the dog

Brief glimpse of geese
     crying their ragged way across sky
            as I wait in traffic …..

There’s an adroit understatement in these lines, and the quasi-haiku form of the stanzas gives the writer’s observations a pictorial clarity, yet another instance of Chapman’s solid craftsmanship. No wonder that Abundance won the Cider Press Book Award.

Richard Swanson lives in Madison, Wisconsin where he reads, gardens, and writes. His previous volume was Men in the Nude in Socks (Fireweed, 2006). His forthcoming work will be available in early 2010.