American Dreams: Reveries and Revisitations by Norbert Krapf ($15, Mongrel Empire Press, ISBN 978-0-9851337-4-0)
Guided Tour of History, Place, and Memory
In American Dreams: Reveries and Revisitations, Norbert Krapf details family history and depicts place—especially Long Island, rural Indiana, and Bavaria—in the plain spoken voices of profoundly honest personae. Voice is the hinge upon which these poems hang, and the voice is very American, echoing Whitman and employing Dickinson’s advice to tell the truth at a slant. For Krapf, the slant takes the idea of home and place to uncanny locations. You will be well served to follow Krapf on this journey.
The book’s first poem “An American Dream” sets the stage for unraveling family history and the narrator’s place in that history. The opening lines reads: “Sometimes when I’m sitting on the patio of this old house on Long Island, staring into the wooded hillside as rush-hour traffic swishes behind my back, I wonder if I have not dreamed the history of my family” (1). The narrator is a lone individual, removed from his native Indiana, removed from his ancestors’ native Bavaria, and using dreams and poems as research tools, attempting to shed light into the dark recesses of memory and history. The poem ends with: “When I write poems and stories, do I dream these people and their history? Sitting here on a Long Island along the East Coast of America, staring into the woods, am I dreaming myself?” (1). Ending with “am I dreaming myself” is a philosophical question that has been asked for many millennia, and it is a question that virtually all writers—at least honest writers—ask as their understanding of themselves evolves through their art. In Krapf's hands, this question becomes thought provoking art.
In the book’s last section, “The Minnesota Ministel in Manhatta,” we explore American music, specifically the blues. In the poem “Welcome to NYC,” poetic influences mingle with musical influences as Whitman, Dickinson, and Bob Dylan unite: “Who still hears the song of America singing? Who, in Walt’s time, wrote mysteriously rich letters to the world that never wrote back? Even if she, Emily Dickinson, our other greatest poet, never lived here, her spirit too abides in the air. Here comes the boy from the Heartland, too, to sing his song and make his way into the world” (91). Readers may not have lived where Krapf’s personae have lived, but just like Emily Dickinson never resided in NYC but “her spirit abides in the air,” readers discover the world Krapf’s collection creates, and they are the better for the experience.
Reading American Dreams: Reveries and Revistations, takes one on a journey through history, geography, and memory. Along the way, Krapf and his personae work as adroit guides, making the trip entertaining and thought provoking.
Review by Hardy Jones, Executive Editor