Wild Soil by Frank R. Chappell is a collection of poems that were written during formative phases throughout the author’s life. Divided into several thematic sections, Chappell pens observations on various aspects of humanity and examines how key crises of our existence—death, religious fervor, loneliness—inform our experience. Chappell calls upon his anthropological prowess to highlight the duality that is present in all things, questioning our species’ purpose for pursuing goals that we know will come to hurt us in the end. One particular poem, ‘Death of a Believer,’ takes up just that line of intellectual interrogation and manages to pack an emotional punch using, of all things, a housefly.
There’s no getting around it: Certain poems in this collection produce discomfort. Like watching a scientist pin down a butterfly’s wings to a display board, we’d prefer to avoid having to see some things up close, static and unmoving. But, if anything, that only goes to show how Chappell “pins down” precisely the qualities of ourselves that we would choose to ignore. His work is reflective without being aggressive, and the reader’s opinion of the poet will undoubtedly shift from poem to poem. When faced with subjects like death, our gut reaction is to clench up and deny that it’s acceptable to explore these subjects, and, what’s more, to do so in a positive light. But nonetheless that’s exactly what Chappell accomplishes. While it would perhaps be too chummy to suggest that he provides comfort in addressing the perennial fear of death, it isn’t too much to say that Chappell’s poetry gives the reader license to think, providing a protective environment not unlike a chrysalis, wherein they will be allowed the space to slow down and consider their place on this planet.