Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday Muse: Indiana's Poet Laureate

The words come from the people you descend from, those
who made you and brought you up and taught you to read
and write and talk and communicate and how to live and
conduct yourself. The words come from the culture you live
in. . . the books you read and the songs you listen to, but if
you learn how to listen to the deepest part of yourself, that's
where the most important words that are yours come from. . . .
~ Norbert Krapf *

Norbert Krapf began his term officially as Indiana Poet Laureate in June 2008. At the conclusion of his two-year term, in June 2010, he agreed to remain an additional six months. The Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) expects that a new Poet Laureate will be chosen by December of this year. Until then, Krapf and Joyce Brinkman, the first Poet Laureate (2005-2007), are sharing the duties of the office. 

The position of Poet Laureate was established by law in 2005 (Indiana Code 1-2-12 as enacted by Senate Enrolled Act No. 433). Under the statute, an eight-member committee is required to meet biennially to select a Poet Laureate by December 1 of each odd-numbered year. The person chosen, who may have served previously, is to serve a two-year term, beginning January 1 of the year following selection. The Poet Laureate's specific duties are to make formal appearances at schools, libraries, and other educational facilities; offer advice to the Indiana Arts Commission on ways to foster and promote poetry and poetry-related educational programming throughout Indiana; and represent the state and poetry to the public. The IAC may pay the Poet Laurate an annual honorarium of $2,500, and also a per diem when the Poet Laureate makes an official appearance. The state Department of Education is responsible for assisting in scheduling the Poet Laureate's appearances.

During his service, Krapf scheduled special poetry readings during National Poetry Month (April), coordinated a collection of poems for the Indiana Humanities Council blog, participated in numerous readings (at least 100 in the first year) and other poetry-related events in schools, colleges, libraries, community centers, museums, festivals, restaurants, and many other venues, and gave a series of poetry-and-music performances involving jazz musicians in particular. (He views poetry and song as "kissing cousins".**) For The American Cabaret Theatre in Indianapolis, Krapf created the series Together Again: Music & Poetry. As he stated here, he made collaboration a hallmark of his laureateship and one of his missions the reuniting of poetry and music.

Interestingly, Indiana also has an unofficial state Poet Laureate position — now called Premiere Poet — that dates to 1929 and the appointment of Emory A. Richardson. Sometimes, the incumbent is recognized via a legislative resolution. Since 1945, the incumbent has been appointed by the Indiana State Federation of Poetry Clubs. The term of office has varied over  the years and is now a two-year term that begins January 1 of the year following selection. Peggy Martin, who served until the Fall of 2009, was the first person to hold the title of Premiere Poet. Counting Martin, there have been 45 unofficial Poets Laureate. 

* * * * *

. . . words come from beyond and through you,
if you learn how to put yourself in the right place
and develop a keen pair of ears, good eyes, and an open heart.

Poet, memoirist, essayist, translator, and editor Norbert Krapf, Ph.D., has published, most recently, the collections Sweet Sister Moon (WordTech Communications, 2009), comprising love poems and tributes to women; Bloodroot: Indiana Poems (Quarry Books, 2008), which gathers 175 poems Krapf wrote between 1971 and 2007;  Invisible Presence: A Walk Through Indiana in Photographs and Poems (Indiana University Press/Quarry Books, 2006), on which he collaborated with photographer Darryl L. Jones;  Looking for God's Country (Time Being Books, 2005);  The Country I Come From (Archer Books, 2002), nominated in 2002 for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry; and Somewhere in Southern Indiana: Poems of Midwestern Origins (Time Being Books, 1993). Krapf's first published poetry collection was The Playfair Book of Hours (1976). In addition, Krapf is the author of The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008) and The Sunday before Thanksgiving: Two Prose Memoirs (1998). His edited work includes Under Open Sky: Poems on William Cullen Bryant (The Stone House Press, 1986). 

Krapf also has collaborated with singer-songwriters Kriss Luckett and Greg Ziesemer and jazz pianist-composer Monika Herzig. With Herzig, he released in December 2008 the CD Imagine — Indiana in Music and Words (Acme Records, 2007). (Krapf's site includes a page about this collaboration.) Krapf's poem "Back Home" is incorporated in a stained-glass panel created by architectural glass artist Martin Donlin for an installation, "Airpoets", at Indianapolis International Airport. (The work of Krapf and four other contributors to the installation is collected in Rivers, Rail and Runways (Pennsy Trail Press, 2008).

For a poet so passionate about exploring his Indiana German origins
and searching for home, being named Indiana Poet Laureate
is a tremendous affirmation.
~ Krapf on His Appointment in 2008

As the above quote suggests, landscape, nature, and place, family history and heritage, time, and relationships figure foremost in Krapf's poetry. As Krapf said in this interview, "The southern Indiana landscape and the culture of Jasper — that place where I grew up — is seen, felt, touched, tasted, smelled and heard in my poems." He added, "I like to say the way to get at the universal for an artist is to go through the concrete particular. Jasper, Dubois County, southern Indiana hill country — these are my particulars." The imagery of Krapf's German Catholicism also is cited as an influence. "Many of my poems," he explained, "are, in effect, prayers, hymns of praise to nature and the Spiritual Reality within in and beyond it." Another important influence Krapf has noted is his mother.

Here are excerpts from two of Norbert's poems:

When you find 
a string of onions
in the attic next
to a mitten hanging
from a rafter how
can you use this
legacy to increase
your portfolio of 
earthly possessions?

Peel away the skins
slice across the grain,
wipe away your tears,
lay slices in a skillet
sizzling with animal fat,
and let these wafers
of filmy liquid flavor
transform themselves 
into translucency. . . .
~ From "Onions and Mitten"

Blue-eyed grass,

your small flower
reminds me of the eyes
of the Prussian family
my Bavarian grandfather
married into in
southern Indiana. . . .
~ From "Flax" in Blue-Eyed Grass

Krapf has published in print and online literary periodicals and other publications, including A Prairie JournalPoetrybayCaffeine DestinyTipton Poetry JournalValparaiso Poetry Review, Houston Chronicle, and Ixion Magazine.

In addition to receiving the Pulitizer Prize nomination, Krapf was been awarded the Poetry Society of America's Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, an honorary doctorate of letters from St. Joseph's College, a David Newton Award for Excellence in Teaching from Long Island University, where he taught for more than three decades and is professor emeritus of English, a Trustees Award for Scholarly Achievement from LIU, and an appointment as Fulbright Professor of American Poetry at Germany's University of Freiburg. While at LIU, Krapf directed the C.W. Post Poetry Center and served as university poet laureate from 2003 to 2007.


All Poetry Excerpts © Norbert Krapf

* Quoted in "Norbert Krapf: A Statement on Words and Poem on Localism", Hoosierati, April 8, 2009

** Quoted in "Celebrate National Poetry Month", Think Read Talk Blog, March 31, 2010 (In this post, Krapf discusses poetry and song, which he says "always have a place and a future.")

Dan Carden, "Indiana Seeks New Poet Laureate", Northwest Indiana Times, September 15, 2010

Norbert Krapf, Blue-Eyed Grass: Poems of Germany (Time Being Books, 1997), on GoogleBooks

Norbert Krapf, Beneath the Cherry Sapling: Legends from Franconia (Fordham University, 1988), on GoogleBooks (Go here for an example of translated text and an audio recording of the Introduction.)

Norbert Krapf, Looking for God's Country: Poems on GoogleBooks

Norbert Krapf, Somewhere in Southern Indiana: Poems of Midwestern Origins on GoogleBooks

Norbert Krapf Poems Online: Selected Poems are available here on Krapf's Website and on the Fulbright Website. Also see: "Arboretum Naming Song"; "The Local News"; "Rumi for Breakfast"; "Wildflowers" and "Call of the Quail"  in A Prairie Journal; "Translations" at Poetrybay; "Morning Glories" at Caffeine Destiny, "Dolls and Guns" in Tipton Poetry Journal; "The Blueberry Bush" and "Still Dark" in Valparaiso Poetry Review; "Running with Pierre Garcon" at Think Read Talk Blog; "Soul Song" at Poetz; and "Ghost Road".

Interview with Norbert Krapf, Indiana Historical Society Press Blog, May 1, 2008 (In this interview, Krapf discusses memoir writing, his community ties, and his writing life and inspirations and influences.)

Interview with Norbert Krapf, Indiana University Press Blog, January 21, 2009 (This interview also is available on FaceBook.)

Giles Hoyt, Interview with Norbert Krapf (Excerpt on Krapf's Website) (Krapf speaks at length here about the importance of place in his work, his poetry style, the accessibility of his poetry, his childhood with a father who suffered from depression, the relationship of poetry and music, and reviews of his work.)

Heiko Muehr, "A Norbert Krapf Interview" (Excerpt on Krapf's Website)

Mary Ann Hughes, "Jasper Native Is Named Indiana's Poet Laureate", The Criterion Online, June 30, 2008

Webcast, "Poetry at Noon: The Air Poets", December 9, 2008 (with Brinkman, Krapf, Ruthelen Burns, and Joseph Heithaus

John D. Groppe, "A Hoosier's Legacy: Norbert Krapf's Bloodroot: Indiana Poems", Valparaiso Poetry Review

Giert Niers, "Norbert Krapf, Poetic Voice from Indiana", Germerica, July 16, 200

Norbert Krapf on FaceBook and MySpace

Acme Records (This page features information about Krapf's collaboration with Monika Herzig. Go here to listen to some of their work.)

Archer Books (This page is for Krapf's The Country I Come From. His author profile is here.)

Fred D. Cavinder, The Indiana Book of Records, First, and Fascinating Facts, on GoogleBooks (This book also is available on Amazon. It contains information about Emory Richardson.)

Indiana Arts Commission (On the IAC's site you'll find a comprehensive section on Poet Laureate News, a biography for Krapf,  a description of the position of Poet Laureate, and a statement about the benefits of poetry in education.)

Indiana Historical Society, Manuscript and Visual Collections Department, Norbert Krapf, Interviews and Readings, 1979-2003  (Collection InformationBiographical SketchSeries Content)

Indiana Humanities Council (Think Read Talk Blog)

Indiana Page at

Indiana University Library, Ruth Lilly Special Collections & Archives, Norbert Krapf Papers, 1977-1996 (This collection includes Krapf's research and publication materials for Finding the Grain: Pioneer German Journals and Letters from Dubois County, Indiana (Max Kade German-American Center, 1996). Audio excepts are here.)

Indiana University Press

Office of the Governor, "Norbert Krapf Chosen as State Poet Laureate", Press Release, June 20, 2008 (A legislative resolution honoring Krapf is here.)

Time Being Books

University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, Norbert Krapf Papers

Virtual Museum of Learning, Resources for Norbert Krapf 

WordTech Editions

In the video below, which is just under six minutes and a good introduction to the poet, Krapf is interviewed for WTIU, speaking about his life, his poetry, and the position as Poet Laureate. He also reads from his work. Another brief interview for WISH CBS 8, Indianapolis, is here; during the interview, which comes at the end of his service as Poet Laureate, he reads his "Love Songs in the Kitchen" from Sweet Sister Moon. A video of Krapf readinging "Bessie's Business/Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" is here.


Jerry said...

Thanks for sharing one poets journey. What a wonderful honor and position Indiana put in place. I wonder how many other states have this going on?

Maureen said...


Today's is the last state I had left to cover. I've done an entire state series as "Monday Muse". Next week, I have a post on the 7 states without Poets Laureate and several updates on states where the position is threatened. After that, I'll do updates as new PLs are appointed.

S. Etole said...

"Every time I write a poem I wake up to something" ... I like that.

Kathleen Overby said...

Your introductions to these lovely souls have added so texture to my poetic education, Maureen. Thank you. The exposure has been necessary for growth. :)

Louise Gallagher said...

wow -- the last state.

I love ht idea of listening to my deeper self and knowing, that's where the words come from.


Robyn said...

Is there a reason Indiana was last? I live in southern Indiana and didn't know we had a state poet laureate in our midst. And one's who collaborated with Greg Ziesemer and Kris Luckett, who are fellow Madisonians. Thanks for gathering this info and sharing it.

Maureen said...


My choice of which state to do when was totally arbitrary. I just didn't feel like doing the series alphabetically, and it just happened I did the other states ahead of Indiana.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

To find a post in my series, just use the search box on the right side of the page.

Norbert Krapf said...

I have just discovered your excellent piece about my poetry and tenure as Indiana Poet Laureate. It turned up on a search I did about Garrison Keillor's reading my poem "Boy Scouts Camping Out" on yesterday's The Writer's Almanac."

Is there any way of providing a direct link to this presentation that I could put on my website and also include on my Facebook wall?

Thanks again for the care you took.

Norbert Krapf