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Picture of AuthorTom Koontz

Hoosier Connection: Tom Koontz was born in Fort Wayne and got his masters and doctorate from IU Bloomington. He wrote several poems inspired by Indiana nature.

Works Discussed: Charms, In Such a Light, To Begin With. . .

Tom Koontz was born in Ft.Wayne, Indiana in 1939. He grew up on the outskirts of Ft. Wayne and spent his boyhood in a large wood with a creek from which he says it was actually not dangerous to drink. He attended Miami of Ohio as an undergraduate and received his masters and doctorate in English and Contemporary Literature from IU Bloomington. He went on to teach at George Washington University, but eventually found himself at Ball State University in 1967. At BSU, he taught creative writing and American Literature. Mr.Koontz is a co-founder of Barnwood Press, a not-for profit publishing company.

Koontz said “In creating poems, my imagination is strongly influenced by birds, trees, water, light; my thinking by Taoism, Zen animism, existentialism; my emotions by love and loss, and my artistic technique by music.” He has four published chapbooks, including Charms, To Begin With. . ., In Such a Light, and most recently, Rice Paper Sky. He also has many other individually published poems, as well as many published in periodicals.

Many of Koontz’s poems pertain to nature, as it is one of his main influences. The poem In Such a Light discusses the experiences of a dreaming boy, and the challenges of a grown man. The beginning of the poem sets a surreal scene.

The boast if sunlight, dancing in the watery diamonds
the moon left strung around the barn and up
the wagon road, flashed me a dare to take the poet
at his word, and I remembered how a boy crowed
from the highest branches of the tallest oak
in Indiana, once upon a time, then rocked the limb
in wildly supple arc and laughed at double-daring
friends left stranded in the shade below. His eyes
blazed wild as any summer day. (12)

In his 1983 collection Charms, the poems are more condensed, most consisting of four to six lines. He addresses air pollution in the poem Against Smog:

No sir No sir
It ain’t from me
These fumes are rising
Ain’t from me
These fumes are rising
No sir

One poem stands out from the rest, because of its light nature, and direct references to plant-life. To Grow Old Gracefully has a peaceful tone, and compares growing older to the changes trees and flowers go through in autumn.

Autumn does get mighty breezy.
Oak tree swaying nice and easy.

Flower tops all turning brown.
Petal wisdom. Seeds of calm.

Another collection by Tom is entitled To begin with.... This collection is more sentimental than Charms, and the tone is more nostalgic. The title poem To begin with. . . discusses death from a contented and reprieved perspective. It was most likely influenced by magical realism. Koontz said, “Magical realism uses dreamlike imagery side by side with realism to provide a literary imagination of life that explores and reveals the nature of the consciously experienced world.” The nature references in To begin with. . . are imaginative and force the reader to take a journey along with the words.

To begin with my death . . . the river rain-rushing, irrevocable. . .
carp swimming in the corn rows, wriggling in the freshets across
the road. . .I pull my feet from the suction of the muddy bank. . .
perhaps I’ll float, like a watermined sycamore, down the center
of the flood. . .limbs out, like the six dancing necks of a
dragon, seductive six arms of a dancer. . .maybe I’ll slide dpwn
below. . .cup earfuls of silent descent from the midland. . .cool
and then hot and then colder. . .forgetting, remembering, and
forgetting again. . .stone tumbling over and over. . .feeling how
strange is such a motion, such lightness, such grace. . .praising
the waters. . .knowing that this is no deam. . .transported by
hands of a week’s rain. . .rounding smoothly. . .dissolving. . .
enriching the river. . .soaking into the bank. . .gliding upward
to moisten the air (6)

Koontz appreciates what Indiana’s nature has to offer, and which is made clear in his various works. He has a devoted following of students that appreciate not only his teaching style, but also his vivid, inspired, and artistic poetry. He retired from the Ball State University English Department in 2005. According to Koontz, "For humans, things of the natural world are major sources of wonder, delight, and as Thoreau pointed out 'respect for life.' Seeing less and less respect for our land, I infer less and less respect for life, human and other."



Koontz, Tom. Charms. Muncie, In. Barnwood Press, 1983.

---. In Such a Light. Muncie, In. Mississinewa Press, 1997. White River Prize, 1995.

---. Letter to the Author. 16 August 2005

---. Personal Interview. 15 August 2005

---. To begin with. Muncie, In. Barnwood, Press, 1983.


Thomas W. Koontz. 09 Dec 2005. English Dept., Ball State U. 2004<http://www.bsu.edu/english/faculty/koontz.htm>


Links: Tom Koontz Home Page,

Barnwood Press