In its nearly 200-year history, the state of Indiana has had only three official poet laureates—the practice did not begin until the early 21st century. For its second laureate, the Indiana Arts Commission chose native Hoosier poet Norbert Krapf.
Krapf was born in 1943 in Jasper, Indiana. His paternal grandparents were immigrants from Germany, and he grew up in an area of southern Indiana heavily influenced by German culture. He worked as a professor of English at Long Island University, New York, from 1970 to 2004; upon retirement, he returned to live in Indiana and took up the position of laureate from 2008 to 2010.
Krapf has been writing about Indiana for decades. He has written about immigrants, like his grandparents, arriving in a strange new place, children holding onto their father’s coat “like cockleburrs.” He has imagined some of the first white people who entered the great forests along the Ohio River, where in midday one could feel “sunk in twilight.” He has composed poems about cornfields and sycamore trees, and about the smell of sheets drying on an outdoor clothesline.
And Krapf has also written about his sports-crazy fellow Hoosiers. His poem “Basketball Season Begins” describes a Friday night during the high school season where “Except for the throng/buzzing in the gymnasium/the town might seem deserted/ Tonight no one drives / up or down Main Street.” And he echoed the secret wish of many Colts fan in his “Prayer to Peyton Manning”: “Hey, hey, Peyton Manning, / please throw me a pass.”
The poet’s love of place runs throughout many of his writings. “In Transit” was written in 2008 for Indianapolis’s new airport, yet the poem speaks of the past and continuities through time: “Where you stand has a history that goes back a long human way./ If you know how to listen, as you stand here in transit, you will hear voices / of those who have come and gone, and will enter into our quiet history.”
Sources: Norbert Krapf, Bloodroot: Indiana Poems; Krapf, Songs in Sepia & Black and White; Krapf, American Dreams: Reveries and Revisitations; www.in.gov/arts
A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.