Written by Joe Scotchie Thursday, 27 June 2013 00:00
It has been a number of years since Norbert Krapf has lived in Roslyn Heights, but the area is still on his mind as the Indiana native who recently served as Poet Laureate of the Hoosier State continues to publish more volumes of verse, solidifying his hold as one of America’s most prolific poets.
American Dreams: Reveries and Revisitations is Krapf’s latest collection of poetry, coming on the heels of 2012’s Songs in Sepia and Black and White. American Dreams follows familiar patterns of Krapf’s recent poetry, with verse about not just life in Long Island, but also the loss of loved ones, a visit to Franz Kafka’s grave in Prague, the German immigrant experience in the Midwest and a string of homages to the “Minnesota Minstrel,” Bob Dylan.
The book opens with the chapter “American Dreams,” which contemplates life in both Long Island and Indiana. The strangeness of an Indiana native living in suburban Long Island is the subject of “An American Dream,” while Roslyn is remembered in “The Houses of Roslyn, Long Island” and “Walking with Walt Whitman & William Cullen Bryant,” the latter inspired by a visit to Cedarmere, while the former poem is about the precarious nature of old homes in a village dedicated to the restoration of such structures.
The poems in American Dreams are written in a prose style, lines running together rather than in stanzas. In “The Houses of Roslyn, Long Island,” Krapf images what the old houses, if they could talk, might indeed be saying.
In the earliest hours of the morning…the houses mumble to one another about the good old days, but they have been around too long not to know that nostalgia is impractical, that they have no rights or recourse. Whenever a drunken car smashes into the front of one of them, rumors of withdrawal blow up and down Main Street like dead leaves, but not one house is known to have disappeared overnight. During the day, the houses of Roslyn stand their ground and put up a good front. Those of us who live inside them…listen to the floors creak, the pipes clank, and the winds breathe through the attic and fall asleep uneasily every night.
The poem on Cedarmere, on the other hand, finds inspiration from that old home, its history and its surroundings.
You look up and see a full sail on the Sound and know these are now your poets, your woods, your sun, wind, and water; and this is your place.
The 10 poems in the Dylan chapter closes the book, as they chart the latter’s career from his time in New York to his devotion to the blues. The book gives copyright to Krapf to all the poems except the last one, “When I Play My Guitar,” in which the Dylan persona pays tribute to Krapf himself.
I heard this guy had some poems about me in a book, Songs in Sepia and Black and White. I may read it one day or night, on the sly! I heard he lived around NYC for thirty-four years, overlapped some with me my second time ‘round there, came to Gotham a youngster from the Midwest, like somebody I know! He even stole one of his poetry collection titles form a song of mine, The Country I Come From [is called the Midwest.] Well, good thieves pay homage when they steal good lines, in poetry or song. Ain’t nothin’ better than a literary thief with good taste!
Did Dylan write those lines? Who knows? As with other volumes, American Dreams has received many salutatory reviews. Gert Niers hails Krapf as the “preeminent German-American poet of the English language.” Martin Tucker compares Krapf to Robert Frost and Walt
Whitman, wile Dan Carpenter says that Krapf “has shown a sense of place and ethnic identity that radiates out to universal brotherhood.” It appears that Norbert Krapf will continue to celebrate his postage stamp of both the geography and the mind for some time to come.