'Mining The Dark For Healing Gold'
Given mining’s prominent place in Southwestern Indiana’s heritage, it seemed poetically just that author Norbert Krapf alluded to it Oct. 28 when he visited the Diocese of Evansville Catholic Center.
He told about 50 diocesan and parish staff members, priests and religious that writing his 26th book – “Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing” – proved to be “mining the dark for healing gold.”
“I’m not trying to get even,” he said of the book, in which he explores the depths of abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest more than 50 years ago. “That doesn’t help you heal. If we don’t do something about abuse, we pay a heavy price … we and others.”
Krapf, 70, lives in Indianapolis now with his wife Katherine. He grew up in the Diocese of Evansville, where the abuse occurred.
He recently earned the 2014 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Regional Author’s Award. Indiana’s Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010, he has written 26 books, 11 of them full-length poetry collections – including “Catholic Boy Blues.”
“I felt a sense of mission to write this book,” he said. “Unless we talk about ‘taboo,’ we can’t break through it. Testimony is at the center of this book. In it, I testify to the long-term effects of this (abuse).
“I’m not playing games here,” he added. “I’m telling the truth.”
From the title through the 130 poems in the collection, Krapf pays tribute to his love of the blues music genre, which dates back several decades. It called to mind a line of dialogue from the 1986 coming-of-age romantic comedy “Crossroads,” which used Mississippi blues legend Robert Johnson as a foundational element.
A character in the film – a contemporary of Johnson – says this to the young lead character: “The blues ain’t nothin’ but a good man feelin’ bad … thinkin’ ‘bout the woman he once was with.”
When asked to modify that definition to fit his life and “Catholic Boy Blues,” Krapf replied, “The blues ain't nothin’ but a good man feelin' bad … thinkin' about the times a priest done him wrong, stole his joy and ruined his religion.”
He discussed his use of four distinct “voices” and perspectives in the poetry of “Catholic Boy Blues” – the boy he was when the abuse occurred, the man he became, the priest who was his abuser, and the fictional “Mr. Blues.”
“Dramatic poetry helps you get outside yourself,” he said, adding that he’d never considered writing from the priest’s perspective until his counselor suggested it. “My therapist knew what she was doing,” he said, “more so than I….”
The book’s dedication is, like its poems, direct: “For my sisters and brothers of any age in all lands abused by priests or other authority figures.”
“I believe the book makes painfully apparent the long-term damage of child abuse,” Krapf said. “I want it to provide a sense of hope to my fellow survivors and their families … that they can move through and beyond what they endured.”
‘Catholic Boy Blues’ is a very important book
By Tim Lilley
The Message editor
“Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing” – Greystone Publishing LLC, Nashville, Tenn., April 2014.
Norbert Krapf’s “Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing” is a very important book.
Why? Because abuse occurs everywhere; and it takes many forms – sexual, physical, emotional, psychological.
Abusers also take many forms. Some are parents or other relatives. Others are caregivers; others teachers and coaches.
And yes … sadly … some are priests.
“Catholic Boy Blues” explores, through 130 poems written using four different “voices,” the priestly abuse Krapf suffered while growing up in the Diocese of Evansville.
This work is not titillating, and it’s not-at-all vengeful. But it is direct – some of it unpleasant to digest.
The truth in the book’s pages, while dealing head-on with the abuse, also shows the world how one man has journeyed toward healing by moving through – mining, he called it – the darkness of his decades-old memories. You see that darkness on the book’s cover, reflected in the eyes of a young Krapf in a photo his abuser snapped – then later gave to his parents.
Krapf tells readers exactly where he has been – and where he is going as the healing continues – in the first six lines of “Mr. Blues Sings Again” – one of the 130 poems in the collection:
A man is never done singing the gut-bucket blues
A man ain’t never done singing the gut-bucket blues
Hear ‘em in your head, feel ‘em in your toes
But once you face the blues and start to sing
yeah, once you feel the blues and start to sing
you start to whittle away at the monster thing
His presentation at the Catholic Center, and the poems he read as part of it, reveal a person who has mercy on his abuser – although Krapf said that concept never entered his mind. “I really didn’t think of myself as being merciful, but yes; there is compassion and mercy in this collection.”
Compassion and mercy – they are Krapf’s “healing gold” in “Catholic Boy Blues.” And they are why anyone who has suffered abuse in any of its forms should read this book.
In its pages, they will discover hope – founded in knowledge that “the darkness” doesn’t have to remain forever. Compassion and mercy will shed the light of “healing gold” on abuse victims and their families – as they have for Norbert Krapf.
“Catholic Boy Blues” proves it.