Review of Somewhere in Southern Indiana

Somewhere in Southern Indiana: Poems of Midwestern Origins by Norbert Krapf. Time Being Books, 1993. 107pp. $18.95 (cl) $12.50 (pb)

Between attractive covers, the 48 poems--some old, some new--form a mature mosaic of Norbert Krapf's unique embrace of his Midwestern origins, heritage, and ethnicity. The gently rolling woodlands of Southern Indiana with their "Sugar Maple," "Walnut," "Persimmon," "Pawpaw," "Sweet Gum," "Pin Oak," the "Chamomile" (an old German cure-all herb), "Purple Trillium," and man and beast therein form the magic terrain to which Norbert Krapf--a professor of English at Long Island University--is drawn with a love intensified by the distance from home and the contrast between East coast megapolis and Midwest country life.

Only when he came to New York did he start to write. "But what I wrote about was what I'd left behind," he said in a home-town interview.

Krapf's poems are a pilgrimage to origins, to childhood days and beyond into the past of the forebears leaving Germany behind and beginning a new life once "Entering the Southern Indiana Wilderness." Every step back into the place of his childhood turns into verse. "I come to touch / the twin flames / of love and memory / of those who came before / and disappeared / into the dark." He becomes their voice and tells their story for present and future generations.

Friends of Krapf's poetry will enjoy re-reading the popular "The Forefather Arrives," a tribute of awe, respect, and admiration to daring pioneer ancestors from Franconia.

Krapf is a master of portraying the ordinary things and happenings that become part of a boy's gradually widening circles of physical and inner growth. As he reflects upon himself as a writer, "Every sentence he begins will pull him / back to a scene in which a boy / sits listening to a baseball game / on the radio, a mother sits darning / socks, a father sits flipping through / a seed catalogue. The longer he / listens to the thumping within / the louder he will hear the barking / of a dog and the crunching / of pickup tires over rocks." The unheroic everyday has become a storehouse of "memory that is sacred" ("Curving Back").

In the longest of the poems, "Theodore Dreiser's Cathedral," Krapf, the poet, talks invisibly to Dreiser, the writer and "brother of sorts." Dreiser had returned to Indiana from New York after an absence of 30 years for a Hoosier Holiday (1916). Krapf flashes back into Dreiser's Indiana years from certain parallels to his own numerous returns. Why must Hoosier German-Americans of the pen live in New York? We should ask Kurt Vonnegut, too.

With poet David Ignatow you may call Krapf's work "a book of rural psalms" that celebrates the chain of generations past and still unborn. No doubt, Norbert Krapf is today's strongest poetic voice in search of German heritage. He celebrates the historical dimension of our very identity.

--Eberhard Reichmann

German Life Magazine, Dec./Jan. 1995, 57-58.

Selections from Somewhere in Southern Indiana
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