Southern Indiana roots inspired poet

Dan Carpenter

August 03, 2002

Norbert Krapf's fourth book of poems about the land and the culture that shaped him offers the expected tribute to his central inspiration, Walt Whitman, that earthy and expansive bard of the great democratic experiment.

But Walt must share the spotlight with a later poet who's enough of a Krapf favorite to have been the source of the book's title.

"The Country I Come From" is a paean to Indiana, predominantly the German-American Jasper area down south where Krapf grew up. But a restless Minnesotan named Bob Dylan also gets his props, not just in the title (a line from "With God on Our Side") but in a sly little ode in which he is depicted as a kind of perennial moth, resurrecting and winging away "just as his followers begin to wriggle in the cocoon that's left behind."

Krapf, likewise, has kept winging since his humble beginnings, earning degrees at St. Joseph's College at Rensselaer and the University of Notre Dame, teaching in England and Germany, publishing in several genres and, at present, directing the C.W. Post Poetry Center at Long Island University. This book is about the cocoons he has never shed, and it is a natural history in verse, a collage of smells and sensations and scenes from an elemental life seething with biological and cultural mystery.

The author's mission: to draw, from the welter of English and German and Miami and birdsong, a language of his own to do justice to his country -- "a voice which could reach back to include those who came before."

He succeeds admirably in this moving and evocative collection, which is graced with a stunning cover landscape portrait from the lens of noted Bloomington photographer Darryl Jones.

Carpenter is Indy Star op-ed columnist. Contact him at 1-317-444-6172 or via e-mail at