July 11, 2008

Catholic News Around Indiana: Diocese of Evansville

Jasper native is named Indiana’s poet laureate

By Mary Ann Hughes (Message staff writer)

Norbert Krapf, a Jasper native whose family roots run deep into Dubois County soil, has been named Indiana’s poet laureate.

It’s a fitting honor for a poet who has spent his lifetime writing about people and places in southern Indiana.

He was raised in Jasper, a community that offered him a “strong sense of belonging, of extended family, of being close to nature, of being not far removed from the farm that I grew up with. Both my parents grew up on farms and I spent a lot of time as a child on the farm where my mother grew up.”

Those childhood experiences kept him in touch with the world of nature and animals and the cycles of life and death, all of which are reflected in his poetry.

Both his mother’s and his father’s families arrived in Dubois County in the 1840s from northern Bavaria, and he was born in 1943 in Jasper.

“Few of us then, not long after World War II, had any command of the genealogical details, but many if not most of my Jasper relatives, friends and acquaintances had a similar background. We were one generation removed from the farm, two or three generations removed from Germany.”

That small community of German-Americans has often been the focus of his poetry.  “The southern Indiana landscape and the culture of Jasper -- that place where I grew up – is seen, felt, touched, tasted, smelled and heard in my poems.

“I like to say the way to get at the universal for an artist is to go through the concrete particular.  Jasper, Dubois County, southern Indiana hill country -- these are my particulars.”

One particular is St. Joseph Church in Jasper. “St. Joseph's was my parish and church for the first nine years of my life. After that we moved to the then new Holy Family Parish, but I always considered St. Joseph's Church my church.

“I love its history, its grandeur, its simple elegance, its strength and fortress-like quality, the fact that it was built by local pioneers whose descendants were my friends and relatives.”

His father built a replica of the church after they became parishioners at Holy Family. “We always placed this little St. Joseph's under our Christmas tree. My father died in 1979, my mother in 1997, and after she died I claimed this hand-made heirloom.”

The faith that he grew up with, “German Catholicism,” also “clearly influenced my poetry,” he said. “It gave me a wealth of imagery to draw on.  Many of my poems are, in effect, prayers, hymns of praise to nature and the Spiritual Reality within it and beyond it.”

Janet Kluemper went to Jasper High School with Krapf; she is the exhibits chairperson at the Dubois County Museum. “He is totally committed to the arts, and he is a natural poet. He is part of southern Indiana, and he writes from his heart.”

He is “just very deep in knowledge and in his commitment to poetry. He is a poet. That’s who he is.”
She said that he is “totally committing his life to increasing the awareness of poetry and having poetry become a part of our lives.”

Krapf received his bachelor’s degree in English from St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, Ind. He received a master’s degree in English from the University of Notre Dame, and also his Ph.D. in English and American literature with a concentration in American poetry.

He is now an emeritus professor of English at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, and he lives in Indianapolis. His poetry collection includes “The Country I Come From,” which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

He said he is “moved and honored to be named Indiana Poet Laureate,” adding, “this is the right time for me to make a contribution to the life of poetry in our state. I wish that my Indiana-loving parents were still alive to savor the unexpected honor.”

The Indiana Arts Commission names the Indiana Poet Laureate. Duties include making presentations in schools and libraries and promoting poetry and writing.

(Go to the website of the Diocese of Evansville)

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