It turns out to be a great time for the release of Robin Chapman's latest volume of poetry, Abundance (Cider Press Review). Although Abundance won Cider Press's 2007 book award, it's just been published this month. The collection's title is a gentle reminder that the earth is still a rich resource for our psyches. These are comforting poems for those who find nature a solace in discomfiting times. Usually this is subtext, seldom more overt.
These poems take us camping, up to the Boundary Waters, over to the Wisconsin River, to "The Hill in Marquette County," to "Fall at Vilas Park." The poems feel familiar; they are very much of the landscape of the upper Midwest.
Chapman's poems are straightforward and lucid, running from almost direct description -- glances at a scene -- to takes that reverberate more, like "Sadness," "Enough," and "What's Left Out."
There's a bit of the Zen in "If Crickets Didn't Sing":
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.
In the excellent "Enough," Chapman reflects on the death of a beloved cat:
...when the time came, he slipped out a loose door into the cold world
whose abundance included the death of his choosing.
While these poems resonate, they never feel too heavy, which again seems right for the times. It's reassurance: There will be days ahead for canoeing and eating by the campfire.
It turns out to be good weather, too, for the poems in Chapman's 2008 collection, Smoke and Strong Whiskey (WordTech Editions). While these are poems of winter, it helps to read them just as we are peeking out of winter rather than enmeshed in it.
These are lines that give an instant nostalgia to a more rugged winter; many were written as Chapman, who lives here in Madison, spent time writing at the Banff, Alberta, Center for the Arts. These are poems about moose, mountains, 30-degree-below-zero days, procrastination, and how nature can both elicit and intimidate the poetic voice.
Time, opened wide, allows precise observation of nature, as in "All Morning":
All morning I watch the pine marten
hunt the woods,
arcing one, two, three curves to stop, stand, a stump; look around, checking out the red squirrel tracks, mouse runs, headfirst up the lodgepole pine, headfirst down, long slink of motion.
Finally, listen to Chapman in "What Shall I Do?":
I ask the trees--
Breathe, they say.
Bend in the wind.
These are two rewarding volumes -- assured, carefully noticed, lyrically composed.
Chapman is slated to read along with Jesse Lee Kercheval at A Room of One's Own on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. Poetry fans can find more verses at