Catholic Boy Blues:
A Poet’s Journal of Healing
by Norbert Krapf
READINGS / SIGNINGS
Click to enlarge image
In his twenty-sixth book, Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet's Journal of Healing, to appear spring, 2015 from In Extenso/ACTA Publications of Chicago. Norbert Krapf, at the age of seventy, speaks about his abuse as a child at the hands of a priest and the lifelong effects it has had on him, his family, and his loved ones. He speaks in four voices, the boy, the man, the priest, and Mr. Blues.
Indiana Poet Laureate 2008-10, Norbert has for almost fifty years had an ongoing love of the blues. In his last several collections, completed or published while he held a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis to combine poetry and music, with an emphasis on the blues, he often pays tribute to blues artists. In Catholic Boy Blues, “Mr. Blues” plays an important role in several ways, not the least of which is as an agent of healing. He speaks in the blues idiom, in dramatic lyrics delivered in the voice of a friend, advisor, counselor, and mentor.
Catholic Boy Blues is a brutally honest narrative filled with words of biting truth, painting explicit images of the effects of abuse. These words detail Norbert’s lifelong journey and show how abuse affected the various stages of his growth. This verse journal is both timely and newsworthy. It is a compassionate anthem directed to those struggling with their own abuse. It provides clarity to those who have never had to experience the indignity of abuse and affirms that healing and success can be achieved despite adversity. The book will appeal to survivors of abuse and their families and friends; the church and its members, clergy, and hierarchy who have an ongoing interest in the emotional, spiritual, and religious effects of child abuse and its prevention; and caregivers and others interested in knowing how to detect early signs of abuse.
The priest took the cover photograph of Norbert as a boy in the 1950s, during the abuse period, and gave it to his parents. There are four poems in the book, at various stages of the recovery process, in which the author reflects on the priest’s possible motivation(s) in saving and presenting this photo and ponders what implications a viewer may find hidden and/or revealed in it. In “Photo Postscript from the Priest,” the abuser says: “It is as if / I am trapped / inside the image / I made of you.”
In The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Archbishop Joseph Tobin states: “A reading of Catholic Boy Blues permits one to glimpse the incredible pain of victims of sexual abuse. The fact that such abuse occurred during the victim’s childhood and was inflicted by a priest, a person whom a child would instinctively trust, makes the pain even more hideous. Yet the spirit of Norbert Krapf emerges from this terrible crucible to offer a testimony to the power of God to bring light out of darkness and, finally, life from death.”
Catholic Boy Blues is a narrative and dramatic cycle in four sections that take the reader on the long road from childhood abuse to a vision of healing.
The first section grows out of the author’s awakening to the fact and recall of details and implications of his sexual abuse by a priest over fifty years earlier and the discovery that many other boys in his parish were also victims. The second section revisits the traumatic experience of fifty years ago from the perspective of the adult man who has reflected upon the abuse and begun the process of healing, partly through dialogue between the boy he was and the man he has become. Section three returns, after the reconciliation between the boy and man, to the scenes, events, and consequences of section one, in poems addressed to the priest-victimizer. In four, the priest, dead for twenty years, tries to defend and justify himself, as the boy speaks back with a new-found confidence and righteous anger. Four voices speak in the autobiographical poems, sometimes two or three in a single lyric: The Man who looks back; The Boy victim he was; Mr. Blues, an elder practiced in the performance and wisdom of the twelve-bar blues who counsels the boy and the man, commenting on the situation like a Greek chorus; and The Priest, who twenty years after his death denies or struggles to admit to the implications of the trust he betrayed and the moral values he corrupted.
The collection is adaptable into a play, perhaps a musical verse drama (many poems are written in the twelve-bar blues format) of four acts with intermission. The book, with an introduction by internationally acclaimed theologian Matthew Fox, formerly a Dominican, was originally published by Greystone Publishing (now defunct) in April, 2014, but is now available from In Extenso/ACTA Publications. Filming for a PBS documentary on the project, directed by Susanne Schwibs of WTIU (Indiana University Bloomington), winner of a regional Emmy, has been in progress since fall 2012.
For more info, visit ACTA Publications
From the Introduction by Theologian Matthew Fox:
William Carlos Williams says that “it is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Today there are men and women all around the globe who are part of the news of child abuse. This collection of poems, this deep journey into the dark night of the abused soul, can prevent further death and lift some of the misery of the horrible experience of child abuse. These poems invite us to pray the news, not just react to it or respond to it with lawyers, media and financial compensation. It takes us to the real hurt, the unspeakable pain by daring to speak the truths that only the soul knows. It will rank, along with the work of John of the Cross, as a truthful telling of what a dark night means as well as what it has to teach us and what the news is telling us. But we owe it to ourselves to read it in the context of the poet’s other works, his praise poems, of the blessing that life and existence are and that no one can snuff out.
For more information, visit ACTA Publications.
Advance Praise for Catholic Boy Blues:
A Poet's Journal of Healing
To read Catholic Boy Blues is to enter into the pain and confusion of an abused child and the despair and anger of an adult man. It has been a spiritual journey to walk with Norbert Krapf through this "dark night." His courage to share this journey with us will be a resource for others who have experienced abuse and for their caregivers. Publishing this book required a lot of strength and prayer, and the Holy Father should have a copy.
—Rev. Michael E. O'Mara, Indianapolis
Norbert Krapf has used first-hand experience to provide space for the millions of boyvoices from which we have not yet heard; voices we have always wondered about—childminds we have never been able to bring ourselves to invade for the selfish fear that we will not be able to handle the hurt we find, nor handle the resulting guilt we’ll feel for the “white horse” we, out of ignorance, never rode. In offering the boychild/presentman a place to speak, release, a chance to be reborn: fresh, clean, newly pure—Krapf has provided a powerful and necessary service for the powerless “back-in-the-day” victim—now free and clear of the past, appreciably in control of the present, anticipative and open to a secure, wholesome future. Catholic Boy Blues is a gem.
—Mari Evans, author of I Am a Black Woman—
Catholic Boy Blues is a significant book not just because of its subject matter. It will be a great comfort to men and women who were abused, to the families of such victims, but also to the great body of Catholics who have faith in the church and its priests and are ashamed of the failure of the church leadership to confront the abusers, to level with the victims and their families, and to admit their complicity in the cover up. It is ironic that something called the Blues can rejuvenate the human spirit.
—John Groppe, Emeritus Prof. of English, St. Joseph’s College, IN
These searing, savage, heartbroken, fearlessly naked poems take us into the depths of the agony that early sexual abuse causes and explore the fiery alchemy that leads from brutalized silence to molten outrage to forgiveness. This is a major work which deserves the widest readership throughout the Catholic Church and far beyond.
—Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.
Take, eat, for this is the body of the blues. And drink the spirit of these sublime—the sublime as opposed to the merely beautiful has terror in it—and hardwon painsongs sung in communion with and compassion and advocacy for all the haunted and wounded, the innocent defiled ones who now have their voices. Norbert Krapf’s Catholic Boy Blues is a poetry of trauma and trembling faith.
—William Heyen, author of Shoah Train and A Poetics of Hiroshima
Catholic Boy Blues is a kaleidoscope of memory. The poet arranges the shifting scenes of his thought field with a spiritual voice that hums like a sound track. Norbert Krapf fuses the rolling wisdom of blues singers with incantations of his own past that echo sacred ritual. Along the way he turns trauma into elegy, and takes suffering to a plateau of human triumph.
—Jason Berry, author of Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children
Norbert Krapf shares the truth with unique clarity, empathy, and honest grace. The poet that he has always been, even when he was a boy betrayed by a priest, speaks directly to the heart. Read and understand.
—Michael D'Antonio, author of Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal
For more info on Norbert Krapf's work, click here.
Features, Releases, Interviews, & Reviews
Norbert Krapf, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, is available for interviews, speaking engagements, and readings. To make arrangements for an event or interview or receive a review copy if you are an editor, book reviewer, or reporter, please contact Greg Pierce.
- Interview with Norbert Krapf on the the Blues and CBB in Blues Greece the Blues and CBB in Blues Greece.
- Read Norbert Krapf’s comments on receiving the Alpha and Omega Award for Religious Risk and Catholic Boy Blues as part of the Indianapolis Spirit and Place Festival.
- Podcast of hour-long interview with Cheryl Castille of The Exchange on KRVS (NPR) Radio Acadie, Univ. Louisiana Lafayette, Feb. 25, 2014. CBB discussed some in first quarter hour and all of the last quarter.
- New Book by Distinguished American Poet Norbert Krapf Reveals He Was Sexually Abused as a Child; Calls for Understanding and Action.
- Will Higgins feature with interview, Indy Star.
- Terry Grundhoefer, Madison Courier (Associated Press pickup in Kansas City Star, Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Anchorage News, others).
- Chi Sherman, SkyBlue Window.
- Jonathan Streetman, The Herald (Jasper, IN).
- George Vecsey (formerly of NYT), Poems About a Terrible Time, for Four Voices.
- Over a dozen CBB reviews at Amazon.com.
- NK (16:30 min. in) and poet-therapist Liza Hyatt, who are doing joint workshops, interviewed on NPR/WFYI.
- Review by William D. Lindsey: Parting Reflections on NK's CBB: Letting It Rip (for the Good of the Whole Church).
- Cybersoleil review by poet Ken Hada, with three new NK poems.
- Norbert Krapf essay “Poetry and the Blues” on the Indiana Author Awards blog that refers to CBB.
- Review by Maureen Doalles on her Writing Without Paper blog.
- Barnes and Noble Review.
- New Krapf essay "A Boy Who Finally Spoke Out" has just appeared on the Spirit & Place Festival Blog. This is about the "journey" (Festival theme) of the "Catholic Boy Blues" experience, meant to help others heal. You can see the photo taken by the author’s abuser (and given to his parents) that inspired the cover art and is included on the title page. The book includes four poems that meditate on the implications of the photo.
- Here is Norbert Krapf’s abridged version of the above essay “A Boy Who Finally Spoke Out,” as he recorded it for the Indy NPR station WFYI, on a slot made available on the national program All Things Considered, 11/3/2014.
- A feature on the author's reading from the book to the staff of the Diocese of Evansville and a review in the Nov. 21, 2014 issue of the diocesan newspaper The Message. Click here.
- Front-page feature in The Criterion, with photos, by Natalie Hoefer includes strong endorsement of the book by Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, who sent the book to Pope Francis.
- Somewhat condensed version of the Natalie Hoefer Criterion feature picked up by Catholic News Service.
- The new Winter/Spring 2015 (No. 39) issue of Notre Dame Review includes five new poems of mine from a cycle titled “Little Boy Blue” that’s a spinoff from Catholic Boy Blues. Included is a comprehensive essay-review of CBB that places it in the context of my whole work titled “A Language of Spirit Grounded in Earth” by Gabrielle Robinson that you can also read on NDR Online.
- Also included in the Notre Dame Review online is Matthew Fox’s Introduction to Catholic Boy Blues: .
- The NDR online also includes three poems relevant to CBB, “Elijah and the Hearthcake,” “Homage to Mr. Berryman,” and “Fighting with Angels”. The NDR online also includes a list of links to online discussions of CBB, interviews on various aspects of my work, some of my poems and essays available online, and audio files of poetry and jazz and poetry and blues performances with Monika Herzig and Gordon Bonham.
- Stefanie Lipsey, Book/Mark Quarterly Review (Winter, 2015).
- Mining the Dark for Healing Gold: Writing About Difficult Relationships. Click for workshop responses.
- Norbert Krapf recites "Breakdown Blues" and "Mr. Blues Sings Yes" with guitar backing by Gordon Bonham.
- Review by editor-author Kerry Temple of CBB in the online version of Notre Dame Magazine.
- Catholic Boy Blues Reader’s Guide by Norbert Krapf with Liza Hyatt 11/10/15
- Review of CBB by Fran Salone-Pelletier in Today’s American Catholic
- NK survivor's review of "Spotlight" film on Matthew Fox blog.
- New Amazon review of CBB by poet Marjorie Skelly, “Murder of the Soul.”
- NK survivor’s review of the film “Spotlight.”
- Review of CBB by the late Gert Niers, native of Germany.