What better way to honor National Poetry Month than to celebrate the poems and poets who embody the spirit of Indiana? This collection of poetry that will have you falling in love with the state all over again is recommended by local teachers, poet laureates, award-winning poets and authors.
“I Am a Black Woman” by Mari Evans (1970)
I am a black woman / the music to my song / a sweet arpeggio of tears / is written in a minor key / and I / can be heard humming in the night / Can be heard / humming / in the night
You may have seen her on Mass Ave towering high, painted on the three-story Davlan Building, wearing a pink cardigan with a penetrating gaze. Evans may have been born in Toledo, but she made her living in Indy as a poet and teacher for many years.
Mitchell LH Douglas, Associate Professor of English at IUPUI, poet and author of “Dying in the Scarecrow’s Arms” and “blak al-fə bet”, recommends this seminal work of Evans because it shows her advocacy for black women and contribution to the Black Arts Movement.
“It’s a poem that has the power to make you feel as big as its mural,” says Douglas.
“On the Banks of the Wabash, Far From Here” by Paul Dresser (1897)
Oh, the moonlight is beautiful tonight along the Wabash, / From the fields comes / the breath of new mown hay. / Through the sycamores the candles shine / On the banks of the Wabash, far away.
This nostalgic piece is more of a lyric than a poem as it evokes life near the Wabash River. Written by American songwriter Paul Dresser, the tune was adopted as Indiana’s official state song in 1913.
Current Indiana Poet Laureate Matthew Graham, who is widely respected for his contribution to poetry and the arts, commends this song for its power to evoke such vivid images.
“I love the nostalgic, romantic longing these lines evoke about a place and a time that probably never existed, except maybe in the imagination. And that suits me just fine,” says Graham.
“Haiku” by Etheridge Knight (1986)
Eastern Watchtower / Sunset Reflections; the condemned are resting
Natalie Solmer, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Indianapolis Review—a quarterly poetry and art publication – and assistant professor of English at Ivy Tech, appreciates this piece by Knight because it suggests the desire for freedom and demonstrates Knight’s mastery of haiku poetry.
The legendary Etheridge Knight is widely known for the poetry he wrote while incarcerated in an Indiana prison. As a blues poet, he once wrote, “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound and narcotics brought me back to life.” I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.
“The Idea of Ancestry” by Etheridge Knight (1986)
I know their dark eyes, / they know mine. / I know their style, /
they know mine. / I am all of them, / they are all of me.
Mitchell LH Douglas also recommends the work of Etheridge Knight.
“Knight’s story is one of personal redemption through art. His transformation into a poet while incarcerated ensured that there would be more to Knight’s story than the time he served. ‘The Idea of Ancestry’ is a poem about valuing family and understanding the consequences of your actions,” says Douglas.
“Spoon” by Ross Gay (2015)
Who sits thus on the kitchen floor / at two o’clock in the morning tossing and turning / the silent little body in his hands / the closed eyes touching the ornamented / tendrils of ivy delicately thrown into the spoon / who has returned with me eight months ago
“Spoon” was written by Ross Gay, associate professor of poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington, as a tribute to IU colleague Don Belton, assistant professor of English, novelist and essayist, who was murdered in December 2009.
“The poem is a celebration of the writers’ friendship that shows the dynamic, humorous personality of the reader Belton and all that we have lost in his absence,” says Douglas.
“The Ballad of the Avenue” by Wendell L. Parker (1985)
Of all his prosperous early years / The black heritage is gone, / an era lived… an era ends.
“The Ballad of the Avenue” praises the rise and fall of Indiana Avenue. It was written by Wendell L. Parker, a longtime Arlington High School teacher and the first black poet to be Indiana’s Poet Laureate in 1985. Parker is recommended by contemporary poet Adrian Matejka.
“His poetry is both local and universal, elegant and unexpected,” says Matejka. “Even when the poem is set in Indianapolis, the events are accessible to anyone willing to listen.”
“Don’t Cry For Me Indiana” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (2000)
I feel like I was beamed by Scotty in star trek / What is this place – Indianapolis 2000?
Want to know how a foreigner sees Indiana? Read “Don’t Cry for Me Indiana” written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti during a brief stay in Indianapolis. Norman Minnick, author of two books of poetry and editor of The Indianapolis Anthologyrecommend this piece.
“It’s a raucous, insightful take on Indiana in the early 21st century. Like the Hoosier Hurricane roller coaster, you’ll immediately get back in line to ride them again,” says Minnick.