Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

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Making it Relevant: Villon the Villain

July 27, 2009

My field trip to the new John Dillinger exhibit at the Indiana State Library has done more than make me reconsider my childhood aspirations to become an international jewel thief; it has reminded me of one of the most valuable gems in all of the humanities – Francois Villon. Rogue, rake, and rascal all, Villon was a second-class criminal who wrote first-class poetry. We may very well even consider him the founder of gangsta rap. As the Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg of medieval France, he celebrated his villainy and criticized his society in such style that baggy, underwear-revealing blue jeans dominated the Parisian fashion scene for much of the 13th century. He shot cops, robbed banks, and generally kicked back and chilled “like it ain’t no thang.” His artistic legacy blossoms within the verses of one of his only known published works, Le Testament.

His biography is the stuff of all the best Hollywood films. Born into an impoverished family, his natural ability earned him an excellent education at the University of Paris. In a tavern one evening, he drew a dagger against an attacker who died from the wounds. Thus began the criminal career that had him banished from Paris, robbing cathedrals for their gold, and leading an infamous band of student thieves all across the French countryside. After years of this life, he was condemned to be hanged. As he awaited execution, his Ballade of the Hanged sprung forth from his pen as a marvelous contemplation on death, exile, and forgiveness – ideas proper for the condemned but just as important for us.

Villon’s supplications, of course, prompt us to consider that mysterious land of death. It is Hamlet’s “undiscovered country,” which has puzzled people for time immemorial and which the intellect seems entirely unable to grasp. Villon, as one condemned by his society, asked what his own legacy would be after he took that journey – and we all will one day too.

One legend holds that when Villon’s executioners went to his cell to bring him to the block, he had disappeared. History proper holds that his sentence was commuted to banishment. Nevertheless, after 1463, his published works and public crimes vanish from the pages of history. At 34-years-old, Villon vanished like a wisp of wind into the unknown stories of our history and culture. While we will never know what happened to the condemned man, Villon’s tremendous contribution to the humanities, and his notorious villainy, remain gifts to us that no thief could steal.

This weekly series (by Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council) will help expose the relevance of studying the classics.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Any Best Books of Indiana?

June 24, 2009

The Best Books of Indiana Competition had a record-tying 62 entries in 2009. Are you reading any of them? http://www.in.gov/library/bbi09.htm

If so, share your thoughts.

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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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2009 – Hoosierati is Back

February 1, 2009

January has come and gone, the month named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks both backward and forward, guarding the doorway to the new year.

Jim, the founder of Hoosierati, has also gone on to new enterprises, and we wish him every good fortune.

Among the festivals of January were New Year’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Inauguration Day, and the Big Snow. All of these were times to look back (especially on Dr. King’s legacy) and to look ahead because sometimes the only way forward is through. Another myth from classical times tells us that when all the evils of existence are let loose on the world, one thing alone remains in Pandora’s box – hope.

Watching the inauguration of Barack Obama, I was reminded of another winter day when Robert Frost was the first poet to be invited to read his work at the inauguration of an American President. Frost wrote the poem “Dedication” for John F. Kennedy, but the glare of the sun on the snow made it impossible for the elderly man to see the words on the page. Instead, he recited his poem “The Gift Outright,” declaring that we (Americans) gave ourselves to the land, “Such as she was, such as she would become.”

In 2009, the poet Elizabeth Alexander was able to read her offering for another young President, saying in conclusion:
        In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
        any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
        On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
        praise song for walking forward in that light.

So the festivals of January are past, and we look ahead to the celebrations of February:  Lincoln’s 200th Birthday, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, Mardi Gras, Black History Month. (Check out the Indiana Humanities Council’s Resource Connection for learning resources.)

But first, let us pause to observe one of the great American festivals – the Super Bowl. Tomorrow, Groundhog Day.

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Sycamore Review is Reviewing Submissions

August 26, 2008

Sycamore Review is now accepting submissions for Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Art/Design. Submission guidelines for the various categories are explained on their site.

Deadline is October 17 so get to mailing!

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Latest Sycamore Review is Out

August 26, 2008

I’ve been way behind on my blog reading (as you might have noticed if you saw the date of the WYA link from yesterday). But this is information worth passing along even if it’s a couple of months old.

The newest Sycamore Review is (ahem…has been) out. Unlike a lot of university literary mags the Sycamore Review is not only produced at Purdue U. but it features content from students there (I could be wrong but I think student content is all MFAs and PhD candidates). At the time that this issue was being put together Michael Chabon was set to deliver what turned out to be a marvelously engaging talk at the university. As a result Chabon was interviewed for the issue and Friend of Hoosierati, Nancee Reeves,1 wrote a review of Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road.

1. Nancee is resistant to all attempts to get her to start posting again on her own blog, Fickle Foe, but many of the personal essays she’s posted about her teeny tiny hometown are worth re-reading.

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Rhymes Needed

July 31, 2008

I feel bad posting this blog in full so allow me a small digression by way of advertisement first. Futility Closet has been one of my favorite blog reads since I first discovered it years ago. It is the only blog I go to absolutely every day and the one I most frequently send my friends links to.

The entries are a not-so-eclectic mix of riddles, sea monsters, natural oddities, quotes, and mathematical perplexities. Even though I’m giving the entirety of this particular quote, I hope that you will head over to the site anyway and see it beneath the picture I’m not reproducing, and hopefully you will keep checking it out in the future.

I play a game with Futility Closet such that if a topic of one its posts is on something that I’m caring about that day anyway, I pretend it means something. It’s a game that works with Futility Closetb-based coincidences in a way it doesn’t with other coincidences.

So here’s the quote from yesterday that I thought Hoosierati readers would appreciate.

A whimsical letter written by W. S. Gilbert notes ‘a great want’ among poets. ‘I should like to suggest,’ he says, ‘that any inventor who is in need of a name for his invention, would confer a boon on the rhymsters, and at the same time insure himself many gratuitous advertisements, if he would select a word that rhymes to one of the many words in common use, which have but few rhymes or none at all. A few more words rhyming with ‘love’ are greatly wanted; ‘revenge’ and ‘avenge’ have no rhyming word, except ‘Penge’ and ‘Stonehenge’; ‘coif’ has no rhyme at all; ‘starve’ has no rhyme except (oh, irony!) ‘carve’; ‘scarf’ has no rhyme, though I fully expect to be told that ‘laugh,’ ‘calf,’ and ‘half’ are admissible, which they certainly are not.’

Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, March 1894