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Philip ApplemanPhilip Appleman
(1926- )

Hoosier Connection: Born in Kendallville, Philip Appleman is a distinguished professor emeritus at Indiana University at Bloomington and has written several volumes of poetry in addition to two novels set in Indiana.

Works Discussed: Memo to the 21st Century, Nostalgie de la Boue, October 15, Shame the Devil, To the Garbage Collectors in Bloomington, Indiana, the First Pickup of the New Year, Train Whistles

Philip Appleman’s depiction of Indiana is tinged with nostalgia for his childhood land met with the recognition that Indiana is suffering from a technological evolution which is destroying the beauty of the land. Appleman, who was an English professor at Indiana University and is an enthusiast of Darwinian evolution, has published several nonfiction books on evolutionary theory, three novels, and numerous volumes of poetry.

Appleman’s works contain some of the most alluring descriptions of Indiana’s environment in the 20th century. In the poem “October 15” Appleman describes the events of a “little Hoosier town…on one of those maple-red / Indiana noons”:

The maple-bright Indiana
noon was the color of bonfires
and the color of brick schoolhouses
and cherries in Mason jars
and firecrackers
and sunburn
and maple trees gone blazing (27).

The poem celebrates the colors of autumn through homely images relative to the affairs of the Indiana of Appleman’s childhood. Appleman recounts “familiar things” of an old-fashioned Indiana autumn—skipping children, “Model-T’s” and “rusty Fords” in the streets, and “brick schoolhouses”—and intermingles those memories with the emotions evoked by the season.

Likewise, in the poem “To the Garbage Collectors in Bloomington, Indiana, the First Pickup of the New Year” Appleman combines the image of garbage collectors at dawn with naked maple trees against a January sunrise:

A half hour later, dawn comes edging over
Clark Street: layers of color, laid out like
a flattened rainbow—red, then yellow, green,
and over that the black-and-blue of night
still hanging on. Clark Street maples wave
their silhouettes against the red, and through
the twiggy trees, I see a solid chunk
of garbage truck, and stick-figures of men (29).

Appleman’s appreciation of the Indiana environment rarely neglects the presence of the humanity that coexists with nature. The value of nature is reflected in its usefulness to humanity, and likewise, the value of humanity is reflected in his treatment of nature. For example, in the poem “Nostalgie de la Boue” Appleman describes the harmonious relationship between the working person and the land or “mud” of Noble County:

We go back a long time together,
Hoosiers and mud: to devil summers
on Noble County farms, and weariness
no city work ever shared
with a back, the ache in our marrow dissolving
to memories of mosses, ferns,
protozoans in the soup
of ancestral mud: all
in our bones, out there in that little town (6-7).

The mud of the land is described as being in the bones of the farmer, but the poem continues to describe the harm of civilization that is “superimposed” on the mud:

Their civilization, superimposed
on the Indiana territory…
brittle streets laid over first
with gravel, then with bricks,
concrete, asphalt—generations
of style, paving over the mud (7).

Humanity’s mere presence proves a paradox to the value of the environment—how use of the land both cherishes and devalues nature. On one hand, by using the land, the land becomes part of humanity, “in our bones;” however, humanity is also invading the land like “croquet balls / lumping along a rough back yard / toward the tragedy of / chrysanthemums.”

Appleman’s appreciation of Darwin and the evolutionary theory shapes his bleak outlook on Indiana’s contemporary environment in the 21st century. The “maple-bright Indiana” of Appleman’s childhood is being forgotten in the onset of deforestation, pollution, and urban sprawl.

In the novel, Shame the Devil, Appleman describes the toll of these environmental issues through the eyes of Frank, a young man driving through Ash Garden, Indiana:

Frank played the Stringray past a double row of ancient ash trees that no doubt gave the town its name, past the tallow blinkers of auto salesrooms and used-car lots, past the stone gates of a public park, where bulldozers were uprooting trees, past the concrete banks of a river, foamy as beer, past a coal-burning power plant, its smoke-stacks pumping a brown odor into the thickening sky (3-4).

Appleman was aware of the influence of cities like Chicago and New York, the proclaimed industrial and cultural centers of America that send the message of a fast-paced urban lifestyle across the country. In Appleman’s writing, Indiana is an oasis surrounded by the corruption of an urban world slowly creeping in on the placid Indiana environment. The poem “Train Whistles” uses trains as a symbol to warn of the influence of urban centers:

They’d howl us out of childhood dreams
like old dogs mad at the moon,
and I’d lie awake in the summer dark,
thinking the sounds of night
are messages of death,
and feeling the rails that split the state,
projecting visions of New York,
Chicago, necessary evils
for the ends of Indiana roads;
in midnight eyelids I could see
the twinkling cars, portable
fairylands, with names
like Golden West and Silver City,
rattling through the corn fields, past
our shadowy elms and lacy
spindled porches, carrying
tired men home to lonely women
in Fort Wayne, South Bend,
Kendallville (52).

The poem “Memo to the 21st Century” warns of the frequent destruction of the environment, claiming that “we are moving out now, scraping the world smooth”:

Towns fingered out to country once,
where brown-eyed daisies waved a fringe on orchards
and cattle munched at clover, and
fishermen sat in rowboats and were silent,
and on gravel roads, boys and girls
stopped their cars and felt the moon and touched,
and the quiet moments ringed and focused
lakes moon flowers.
That is how it was in Indiana.

But we are moving out now,
scraping the world smooth where apples blossomed,
paving it over for cars. In the spring before the clover goes purple,
we mean to scrape the hayfield, and
next year the hickory woods:
we are pushing on, our giant diesels snarling,
and I think of you, the billions of you, wrapped
in your twenty-first century concrete,
and I want to call to you, to let you know
that if you dig down,
down past wires and pipes
and sewers and subways, you will find
a crumbly stuff called earth. Listen:
in Indiana once, things grew in it (3).

Appleman begins the poem by reminding Hoosiers of the value in the beauty of the Indiana environment, and then warns of the urban sprawl and deforestation caused by the outward-moving cities taking over what is left of the rural areas. By “moving out” and “pushing on” we are losing our connection with the land, the “mud…in our bones,” instead to be “wrapped / in your twenty-first century concrete.” Humanity is devaluing the land, and in the process, devaluing itself.



Appleman, Philip. Darwin’s Ark. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.

---. Open Doorways. New York: Norton, 1976.

---. Shame the Devil. New York: Crown, 1981.

---. Summer Love and Surf. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 1968.


Appleman, Philip. New and selected poems, 1956-1996. Fayetteville : University of Arkansas Press, 1996. Cover Image.