(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

To employ the full range of poetic forms that he had mastered, Fred Chappell drew up an intricate plan for Midquest, the four-volume compilation of verse that at the midpoint of a man’s life recollects and takes stock of his origins, his accumulated experiences, and his sense of how he might make use of what he has learned. Each of the four separate but interlinked books—River (1975), Bloodfire (1978), Wind Mountain (1979), and Earthsleep (1980)—focuses on one of the ancient elements of the cosmos—water, fire, air, and earth. Each book consists of eleven poems that cover twenty-four hours of the poet’s life from four different perspectives, although in many cases, there are extended recollections of experiences that occurred at the given hour on previous occasions. As Chappell explains, the numbers are carefully chosen and “obviously important,” because “four is the Pythagorean number representing World, and 4 x 11 = 44, the world twice, interior and exterior, Etc., etc.” The firm structure was necessary because Chappell wanted to employ a wide variety of verse forms, each one representing “different states of mind.”

For instance, “The River Awakening in the Sea,” the first poem in the book, is an open-verse interior monologue in which the poet rapturously exclaims his love for his wife in vivid, lyric language, using image clusters that convey a sense of the body alive and crackling with energy. The second poem, “Birthday 35: Diary Entry,” is a reflective meditation that sets the situation, a series of couplets following Dante’s well-known initiating statement “Midway in this life I came to a darksome wood” that forms the beginning of the second couplet. The third poem, “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet,” is an extended monologue with interpolations functioning as a commentary on her thoughts. The sixth poem, “Dead Soldiers,” introduces Virgil Campbell, a maverick individualist...

(The entire section is 807 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bizzaro, Patrick, ed. Dream Garden: The Poetic Vision of Fred Chappell. Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1997. A good overview of Chappell’s poetry, with several extended essays on Midquest.

Lang, John. Understanding Fred Chappell. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. Discusses Midquest with respect to Dantean allusions and parallels with classical mythology.

Stuart, Dabney. Introduction to The Fred Chappell Reader by Fred Chappell. New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1987. Stuart’s introduction concentrates on Midquest.