Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing

A Reader’s Guide

by Norbert Krapf with Liza Hyatt

1.According to the author’s Preface, Catholic Boy Blues is a collection of poems in four voices that tells us of his abuse experience and recovery from it. He says of these voices, the boy, the man, the priest, and Mr. Blues, “Each of them has contributed to my arc of moving from the depths of darkness toward the coming of light.” What are the stages of this journey, as you see it, and what does each voice contribute to it?

2.What does the author mean in saying, “I did not want to honor the topic by acknowledging its significance in writing about it”? What other reasons might there have been for him, or any abuse survivor, not to want to talk or write about the experience? Krapf admits that it took him 50 years before he was ready to write about his abuse.

3.If you know anyone who has survived any kind of abuse, how did that survivor respond to it? How long did it take before this person was able to talk to you about it? Why?

4. What point(s) does the author make about abuse in his dedication: “For my sisters and brothers of any age / in all lands / abused by priests / or other authority figures.” Besides sexual abuse, what other kinds of abuse are there?

5. Epigraphs, the words of other authors, are often used to point to or highlight an important theme or themes of a work you are about to read. How do the epigraphs (before the Table of Contents) by bluesman Muddy Waters and American poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson relate to the book as a whole, the four sections of it, or any of the poems?

6.Some books have a “prolog” that announces the subject of a book or calls attention to an important theme to follow. In “Prolog: Angel of Power and Protection” what does the speaker say about the long-term effect that his abuse by a trusted and revered pastor had on his relationship with God and his ability to pray? What other poems in the collection do you find addressing the issue of child abuse (or any other kind of abuse) as a betrayal of trust?

7. At readings, the author admits that the Catholic Boy Blues poems were hard to write, challenging to edit, difficult to read to an audience, and sometimes painful for an audience to hear read. What were for you the most painful poems to read? What made them so painful? Many readers and listeners cite “Counting the Collection” as a poem that is hard to read and hear. Why is this so? Why is it the first poem in the first section of the book?

8.What are some of the most positive, uplifting, encouraging, and healing poems in the book? What makes it a positive experience for you to read these poems?

9. What voices might help women describe their abuse story? The girl, the woman, the voice of the abuser/ relationship partner, and an archetypal figure similar to Mr. Blues who might offer the global healing perspective?

10. Women readers, who might serve as your counselor, advisor, mentor, healing companion on the road to recovery? The Great Mother? Mrs. Blues or Blues Mama? A Godmother? Medicine Woman? St. Germaine, patron saint of abused children? Other woman figures?

11.In the Introduction, theologian Matthew Fox, once a Catholic priest before he was silenced for a year by Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), who also had him expelled from the Dominicans, says, “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.” How could a book of poems like this lift some or any out of that misery? Can you list any poems (including what Fox calls “poems of praise”) that do so?

12. Matthew Fox also says, “This collection is a tribute to the power of music and the blues in particular to help us stay true to the truths that the Via Negative and the Dark Night want to teach us.” See Krapf’s short essay “Poetry and the Blues” for his explanation of how much the rural blues have meant to him as a poet [link: http://www.indianaauthorsaward.org/blog/poetry-blues/.] Which poems by Mr. Blues would you cite as examples of his power to help the boy, the man, and perhaps even the priest heal? Which of his poems, all written in the form and sometimes the idiom of the blues, do you find most healing? What kind of personality traits to you find in him, especially in his response to the boy?

13.What are some nature poems in the collection that contribute to the development of healing?

14.How does ‘Epilog: Words of a Good Priest,” about the author’s former pastor at St. Mary Parish in downtown Indianapolis, contribute to the sense of healing in the book? How does this poem relate to “Prolog: Angel of Power and Protection” and “Home Burial”? How do the words of this “good priest” contrast with the words of the priest we see and hear in the last section of the book? Why did Krapf include this poem, written six years after he drafted the other poems, and make it the last poem?

15.In the Preface, Krapf indicates that writing poems in the voice of the priest was not his idea, that when the therapist asked him to consider writing such poems, he resisted, but then changed his mind. How does the inclusion of the poems in the voice of the priest in the last section affect the poet’s journey toward healing? Some reviewers have suggested that these poems deepen the effect of the book. If you agree, can you explain how and why this deepening takes place? See the Will Higgins feature and interview for a discussion of the priest poems in the collection [link: http://www.indystar.com/story/life/2014/04/20/poet-laureate-confronts-childhood-abuse-priest/7946085/].

16.When he gives readings from Catholic Boy Blues, Krapf wears a different hat for each of the four voices, to give a visual clue as to which voice is about to speak: the boy (red St. Louis Cardinal baseball cap); the man (fedora); Mr. Blues (black leather flat cap); the priest (camouflage hunting and fishing hat.) If you were to create a verse drama out of this poetry collection, with the various voices speaking to one another and the audience, which poems would you select for inclusion? Mr. Blues would accompany himself on blues guitar. What other poems might have musical accompaniment, besides “Catholic Boy Blues I-VI,” “More Catholic Boy Blues,” and “Ode to No”?

17.What kind of other music (folk? jazz?) might accompany the reading, recitation, or singing of poems? Sometimes at readings Krapf plays blues guitar and sings a few of the poems. Listening to him recite and sing two of the poems, “Breakdown Blues” and “Mr. Blues Sings Yes,” with guitar backing by bluesman Gordon Bonham may give you ideas [link: http://themuseumofamericana.net/music-readings/16-17-two-poems-by-norbert-krapf-and-gordon-bonham/, ” as might listening to other collaborations with Bonham and jazz pianist-composer Monika Herzig .[links: http://www.krapfpoetry.com/gordon.htm; http://www.krapfpoetry.com/sepia_audio/sepia_audio.html].

18.Krapf and poet-therapist collaborator Liza Hyatt, who plays Celtic harp, have created a workshop based on Catholic Boy Blues and her The Mother Poems, “Mining the Dark for Healing Gold: Writing About Difficult Relationships.” They accompany one another on guitar and harp as they sing or recite some of the poems from their collections about healing. If you participated in this workshop, what difficult relationship might you write about? [link: http://www.krapfpoetry.com/cbb_mining.html.]


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