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This review is taken from PN Review 111, Volume 23 Number 1, September - October 1996.

PRIMARY CONCERNS: THREE AMERICAN POETS FRED CHAPPELL, Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press)
DEBORAH POPE, Mortal World (Louisiana State University Press)
ROBERT WATSON, The Pendulum (Louisiana State University Press)

Fred Chappell sits comfortably as one of the American South's more talented writers. His latest book, Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems, is a collection of poems old and new, 'not tough with cellulose/or soft with rot or nothing with hollow rind' -Chappell hand-picks his best. Though it is diverse, the book has backbone. Using the metaphor of gardening, Chappell has arranged his book by genre and theme. Epistolary prologues mark off seven sections; and each of these sections is characterized by a different theme involving gardening. 'Garden Poems', 'The Good Life', 'The Garden of Love'; poems about character, fantasy, and memory; and a section of epigrams - all are laid out in separate beds: a knot-garden this is not.

In each of the prologues, Chappell furthers the parallel between gardening and poetry through classical plant symbolism. Certain plants correspond with certain types of poems. Lettuce, once thought to signify luxury, typifies 'The Good Life' section. Watercress with its sharp flavour signifies the witty epigram; and the arcane Urtica garrettensis, phantasmagoric poetry. Chap-pell's broad-ranging tone and his skill at a variety of forms are illustrated in each of the sections. The General Prologue, the section prologues, and the Epilogue disarm any expectations of baroque and highfalutin stuff; they are reminiscent of the sort of playfulness found in Swift's verse apologia. This epigram, 'Upon an Amorous Old Couple', is one of many:
 

This coltish April weather
Has caused them to aspire
...


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