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Four Michiana writers added to Indiana’s online poetry archive

Aaron Burden/Unsplash

This fall, the Indiana Arts Commission announced the addition of 30 poets to INverse, the state’s digital poetry archive – including four from Michiana. 

INverse is a collaboration between the arts commission, the state library and former state poet laureate Adrian Matejka. The goal is to preserve a diverse array of Hoosier poetry for future writers and readers. 


Two of this year’s preserved poets are from St. Joseph County, one is from Elkhart County and one – Steve Henn – is from Kosciusko County. 


Henn is an English teacher at Warsaw Community High School, and ever since he was a kid, he has always wanted to write.


“I suppose it helps you process things,” he said. “But really, a lot of the time, I’m just trying to entertain myself and others. I just write the poems that I want to see.”


Henn’s poems deal with some heavy themes, like grief and fatherhood. But they’re also funny, and sometimes use a uniquely rural dialect. 


He said it’s those kinds of touches that make Hoosier poetry worth preserving. 


“If you’re from Elkhart or South Bend or Fort Wayne, there are certain pieces of your perspective – or there’s certain elements of your experience – that can’t really be replicated by poets in New York or California,” Henn said. “That’s part of what you share as a poet – what it’s like to be a working Hoosier.”


Nancy Botkin, a poet from St. Joseph County, agrees. She said it’s “ridiculous” to think that you have to live in a “fancy city” or a “cool state” to write poetry.


“Art happens everywhere,” she said. “People think that you’re going to write about better things if you live in a cosmopolitan, hip, up-and-coming city, when there are things to be said in rural America. There are things to be said about small towns and small-town people.”


Botkin taught creative writing at IUSB for almost 30 years. She’s retired now, but old habits die hard – her writing process still has an academic rigor to it.


“Poems often don’t just come to you. Poems come by working hard,” Botkin said. “You have to go down different paths that don’t always work until you get something that you think you can work with. It’s a rewarding process, it’s a frustrating process, but the important thing is this sort of stick-to-it-ness that you need in order to be an artist.”


But, all poets are different – Jim Carpenter, from Elkhart County, follows a somewhat more spontaneous process. 


“I’m on call for my poetry pretty much 24 hours a day,” he said with a laugh. “And I have such a strong desire to take my random thoughts – which can be very random – and explain it in verse.”


Carpenter said he does tend to write every day, though, and often in the same place. 


“I go back to the woods by myself [and] set there with a pad of paper and hot tea,” he said. “It just lends itself to the solitary function of writing.”


And writing truly can be a solitary endeavor. But Aaron Quist, another poet from St. Joseph County, said Michiana does have its own poetry community – you just have to find it.


“I know a lot of times it feels like there’s not a lot of people that have the same interests or that are into writing,” Quist said. “But then again, I’ve been to a lot of different open mic nights around the area. And every time I go to those, it’s always surprised me how many people get up there and read. It’s more common than people think.”


Quist said that’s what he wants people to take from his poetry if they find it in the state archive one day – a sense of community.


“That their experience isn’t so lonely,” he said. “That they can maybe recognize something universal in it. Something uncanny, that – it’s familiar, in some kind of strange way, but very alien at the same time.”


Poets who want to submit to INverse are encouraged to do so between Feb. 1 and April 30 each year.


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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