Reviews of Bittersweet Along the Expressway:
Poems of Long Island

Native Hoosier reflects on his life on the East Coast.
Poet born in Jasper turns to examine his life on Long Island

By Dan Carpenter

The third book in Norbert Krapf's trilogy about the root places of his poetry is a light but satisfying dessert after two heavy meals of history. Bittersweet Along the Expressway concentrates on Krapf's life on Long Island, where he has taught at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University since 1970.

Inevitably, it is less dramatic than his portrait of the German immigrant community of his native Jasper rendered in Somewhere in Southern Indiana. And it's far, far sweeter than the fruits of his visits to Germany in Blue-Eyed Grass, which is both a celebration of Krapf's ancestry and a confrontation with the Holocaust that forever shadows it.

The odd and enduring connections between those hard lives and the poet's good life make for thoughtful rumination in the new book. And they lend needed grist to domestic material that John Updike might cite as an example of the unheroic circumstances of the modern American writer.

A wife from Louisiana,
a husband from Indiana,
we drift off to sleep together
uplifted by sold walnut posts
supported by cypress sideboards
and in the morning a son
and daughter born in Bogota,
Columbia climb up onto
an old trunk that crossed
the Atlantic from Germany…

Krapf's wife, Katherine, and their adopted children, Elizabeth and Daniel, are frequent subjects, as are the flora and fauna of his adoptive home. Through them, the poet ("tethered at the navel / to the hills of southern Indiana") builds his case for the continuity and resiliency that redeem suffering and dislocation.

There is, of course, the bittersweet vine of the title poem, whose flowers clinging to a freeway fence "peer through wire diamonds / with bright orange pupils."

There are the "twin moons" of young Elizabeth's eyes, "daylight / breaking / through."

And there are the weeds -

they depend upon the favors
of sun, wind and rain alone
in their uncompromising devotion
to survival and rebirth
they indeed shall inherit the earth.

Such lines conjure the plainspoken pantheist Walt Whitman, who is invoked by name several times in this collection and who praised Long Island in print a century and a half ago. Whitman's effusion will never be confused with Krapf's Teutonic/Hoosier reserve; but as a singer of the commonplace, the heir is worthy of the legacy.

The Indianapolis Star. Sunday, November 5, 2000