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Arboretum Naming Song

A Poem by Renowned Poet Norbert Krapf

Poets Jeanetta Calhoun and Norbert KrapfIn October of 2002, poet Jeanetta Calhoun -- whose "Tongue Tied Woman" won the Edda Chapbook Competition for Women -- traveled from Texas to the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y. to give a reading as part of the campus's popular Poetry Center series.

On the day of her reading, she met with students taking the course "American Poetry" led by C.W. Post Poetry Center Director Norbert Krapf www.krapfpoetry.com.  Calhoun explained to the class the oral tradition throughout Native American Poetry, including the "naming tradition" — which is a kind of religious ritual whereby the names of plants and animals are spoken in order to evoke their spirits. "In essence, the individual gives thanks for the beauty of creation and blesses what he/she names," said Dr. Krapf. "There is an obligation to honor what you see and revere, and that, of course, includes nature."

Students then participated in a workshop where they read relevant passages Calhoun selected from both traditional and contemporary Native poems in which plants and animals are named, thereby gaining an even keener understanding of the ritual. After the class, Dr. Krapf took Calhoun on a tour of the C.W. Post Community Arboretum. Inspired by the arboretum's myriad and beautiful specimens and Calhoun's discussion with students, Dr. Krapf later wrote the poem, "Arboretum Naming Song," which he volunteered to contribute to this web site. (Dr. Krapf also serves as Poet Laureate for the C.W. Post Campus).

One of the students in Dr. Krapf's American Poetry class, Christie Cooke, who came to the C.W. Post Campus from a Navajo reservation in Arizona on a volleyball scholarship, was so moved by Calhoun's poetry reading that she was inspired to begin her "Memoir of a Diné [Navajo] Woman." This prose memoir won the Louis P. Bunce Creative Writing Award and the first annual Cosenza Prize and was the basis of her being awarded a graduate teaching assistantship and minority scholarship to begin work on an M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Arizona.

Since her visit to the C.W. Post Campus, Calhoun received her M.A. in English from the University of Texas, Permian Basin and received a teaching assistantship to begin Ph.D. studies in English at the University of Oklahoma, where she will write a thesis on Working Class Women's Poetry.

ARBORETUM NAMING SONG

C.W Post Campus, Long Island University

1.
We cannot remain
in love with what
we cannot name

and because on this
October day when air
is crisp & sunlight
so clear we do not
want to risk falling
out of love with this
world into which
we were born
no matter how
bruised it may be

we come from different
places and traditions
to stand, to see, to say:

Thundercloud Plum,
burgundy leaves
stirring in the breeze;

Tabletop Scotch Elm,
grainy bark climbing trunk,
smooth bark stretching
across tabletop branches
above a seam where
grafted skins touch;

Blue Atlas Cedar,
blue-gray needles
falling light
as snowflakes
to Paumanok ground
far from mountains
in African home.

We look, we read, we say,
we lay hands on ancient trunk;
what we feel lies beyond
palms, fingertips & words.

2.
We walk through a formal garden
where late roses bloom,
into a woods where chipmunks
chip & squirrels scamper.

What we see comes
to us so fast we step
outside ourselves, untie
our tongues & let them
sing praise to what stands
on either side of us like
familiar spirits happy
to have their names
on this earth invoked:

White Oak, Red Oak, you say.
Scarlet Oak, Black Oak, I reply.

Black Locust, Tulip Poplar, you sing.
Red Maple, Sugar Maple, I answer.

Sweet Gum, you chant.
Black Birch, I conclude.

--Copyright © Norbert Krapf 2003