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Norbert Krapf: A Statement on Words and a Poem on Localism

April 8, 2009

For National Poetry Month, Norbert Krapf, Indiana Poet Laureate, has supplied this post to Hoosierati:

As part of an e-mail interview for National Poetry Month with Rosa Salter of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, I was asked, as Indiana Poet Laureate, to answer ten questions. The last one produced what I think are the best results: “Where do the words come from?”

Here is my answer: “The words come from the people you descend from, those who made you and brought you up and taught you to read and write and talk and communicate and how to live and conduct yourself. The words come from the culture you live in, they come from the books you read and the songs you listen to, but if you learn how to listen to the deepest part of yourself, that’s where the most important words that are yours come from, in your unique combinations and rhythms, in what is your verbal DNA! And words come from beyond and through you, if you learn how to put yourself in the right place and develop a keen pair of ears, good eyes, and an open heart.”

In summarizing my experience of almost forty years of writing and publishing poems and prose, such as the memoir The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008), I was drawing on my principle of “localism.” In a sense, “localism” is another word for “regionalism.” I am fierce about this, that we must live locally even as we think internationally, that we must dig down into the place where we live, find the universal by going through the particulars of our daily life. There is more than enough darkness and light to explore anywhere.

In the end, all places are one. Even Shakespeare was “a local writer” in Stratford-upon-Avon. As I say in the memoir, a sense of place and time travels well. We benefit from exploring our place, our past, our heritage, a process that illuminates our present and future.This principle of localism involves engaging with our artists, sculptors, photographers, writers, musicians, dancers, actors, filmmakers, our farmers and food-suppliers, independent booksellers, and arts and humanities organizations, which in turn encourage and challenge us to explore our identity, the multiple layers of our sometimes mysterious humanity. We cannot live fully and be healthy and balanced without committing ourselves to this process.

Where did I get this principle of localism?

I could say books I read, writers whose work I love, such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, William Stafford, Wendell Berry, James Alexander Thom, Etheridge Knight, Mari Evans, Scott Russell Sanders, Susan Neville and Jared Carter. That would be true, but perhaps the most important influence was my mother, a farm girl who never had a chance to go to college but loved the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley and Tennyson, as she told me late in her life. Bloodroot: Indiana Poems (IU Press, 2008), 175 poems written 1971-2007, includes the following poem, in the concluding section of new work that bears the same title:

The Local News

When the mid-day meal was about over,
we children knew it was time to hush.
She grew taut as a high-intensity wire
ready to spark. The local news was about
to come on WITZ AM, our local station.
Who died and where and when would he
be laid out? Who was admitted to the hospital,
and for what? Who was arrested for drunk
driving? Who got hauled into court for what?
Whose baby was born and how much did
it weigh? The national and international
economies might dip or bounce,
regimes might rise and collapse,
Joseph Stalin might be laid out
in his famous coffin on the front page,
planes may be shot down over Korea,
but the bigger picture, the greater story,
was always and forever the local news,
the news at noon. When the local news
was over, she would relax and say,
“Okay, you kids can talk again now,”
and she moved on with her chores.

© 2008 Norbert Krapf

[For more information and a photo gallery documenting Norbert Krapf’s many appearances as IPL, go to www.krapfpoetry.com

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3 comments

  1. I find the idea of localism very interesting, especially Krapf’s idea of the “local news.” In a time where local newspapers are dropping like flies, I wonder how the loss of such an integral news outlet will impact the communities in which this occurs.

    Sure, you can get the national news coverage from the Internet; but, like Krapf’s mother, many get their sense of community and belonging from the local news — the obituaries, birth notices, police reports, etc. This article made me realize just how important those “local” sections of the paper really are, and what a loss a community might suffer if they were to disappear.

    Andrea Cohn


  2. I just wanted to mention that, after I last posted, the New York Times posted an article, ‘Hyperlocal’ Web Sites Deliver News Without Newspapers, that discusses how websites are popping up that deliver local news to replace the information that is no longer carried by newspapers in certain areas. I just thought I would add this follow-up …

    Andrea


  3. I think there is a difference between “localism” and “provincialism”. We in the Midwest, and Hoosiers especially, are often accused of being provincial. How sad that is, especially as the gates to the world outside our immediate environment have opened wide.

    The cliche “Think Globally; Act Locally” could not be more true. We must broaden our boundaries to encompass the whole world as our neighborhood, but also remember that we act within cultural, economic and political confines of our local and regional communities. We are like a plant, turning its blossoms to pick up energy from sun’s rays, yet with its roots firmly planted in the ground to receive its needed nourishment. That’s what I feel localism is all about.



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