A beauty of a poem about America

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One of my favorite books is titled “Our American Heritage” and it was edited by Charles L. Wallis, and published by Harper & Row in 1970. My recollection is that I purchased it at the Newberry Library‘s annual book sale at least 10 years ago, and perhaps even closer to 20 years by now. It’s filled with American poetry and thought, and I decided that the Fourth of July was an ideal day to pick it up and see what spoke to me about the country I’ve lived in all my life.

I found a poem on page 92 by a poet named Allen E. Woodall. I wanted to link to it online, because of course everything is available on the internet these days. The book lists Woodall as being born in 1903 and died in 1957, so it’s very likely that his work is still under copyright, and a source for it, or at least a date of publication of his work, would be found in the book’s Acknowledgements section. As a long-time publishing guy myself, I know that’s the first place to find out more about an otherwise mysterious piece.

The editor of the book thanked the estate of Allen E. Woodall, the last author alphabetically to appear in the work, but offers nothing more than that.Without a date of publication, I couldn’t even tell if the work was still under copyright or not. But surely I could find that out through the magic of Google.

But a search for “Allen E. Woodall” turned up nothing. Neither did adding “poet” or “1957” or the title of the poem I enjoyed so much. Nothing on PoetryFoundation.org, either. In a world where all human achievement seems to be migrated onto the internet in some form or fashion, I can’t find any record of Allen E. Woodall. It’s a shame, too, because his poem “Map of My Country” is a very positive, uplifting read about the U.S. of A.

With apologies to any copyright holders who may exist to his work, I’m going to type it out here and share with the world. I’m humbled and inspired to present–for possibly the first time in the online world–“Map of My Country” by Allen E. Woodall:

MAP OF MY COUNTRY

by Allen E. Woodall

Every now and then, when the world grows dull,

And the edge of sunshine or the song of a bird

Frays away to the shadow of a dream,

I take a map, a map, perhaps, of my state,

One of my states-New York of the glorious hills,

Or Pennsylvania of the shaggy woods,

Or great high-shouldered, blue-eyed Minnesota,

Or swart New Jersey, the commuters’ pocket,

Or cramped and memory-riddled Massachusetts,

Or the enigmatic steppes of the Dakotas,

 Or California of the laughing sunshine-

They are all my states, and I have loved them all,

Worked, sweated, hated, and taken joy in them.

I know their streets, their roads, and the ways between

The great green stretches south of the Great Lakes,

The hills and dunes, and plains, and sunny crossroads,

Remember the turns, the heartfelt run of the land,

The weeds beside the road, the meadow larks,

The waiting houses, the whispering cry of rain,

Lakes in the sunlight, and darkness over the land.

And I see roads I have not yet come to travel-

But I know they, too, are good, and I shall be there

Some day, all in good time, for this is my home,

This is America, my own country.

I love the optimism here, and the idea that there will always be something new to discover and enjoy in America. We know all about it because it’s our home, and if we haven’t yet seen parts of it for ourselves, maybe we will someday.

Happy 4th of July to everyone reading this. May we appreciate our home, today and always.

 

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Still life

 

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Last night, as I was waiting with my family for a fireworks display to begin, my little one amused herself by doing gymnastics moves. The soft glow of the early evening, and an outsized American flag in the vicinity, seemed like a picture in the making.

As darkness drew closer, my daughter continued her flips and whatever the names are, but she handed me her iPod and told me to record her moves. Being the dutiful dad that I am, I complied and made about a half-dozen videos, which she watched until the show started. It was a great show, too.

It occurred to me, as she was watching the videos of her that I had made, that any images of me from the stage in my life she’s at now are all of the still variety. The first time I was videotaped, at least to my knowledge, was probably when I was in college. At age 11–which is how old my daughter will be in a few days–no footage of me exists, and I’m quite happy about that.

Does all of the video recording, and selfie taking, and other ways to record an image for posterity have an impact on the way that today’s children grow up? It would be silly to suggest that it does not. Whether or not that’s a good thing is not for me to say, but it seems clear that watching themselves–and others, when videos are shared online–is a part of childhood now. But sometimes a good still frame can capture a moment well enough.

Long may it wave

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I saw a clip online today that made me angry. On the eve of celebrating the birth of this great country, there was Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly, chattering on about illegal immigration. Terms like “anchor baby” were used, and the right wing fantasy that people can–and should–leave the country en masse reared its ugly and ignorant head.

America is predicated upon people coming here from all parts of the world. They think they can better their lives here, and usually they are correct. To turn our backs on this is to deny American history, and sell this great nation short. It’s nothing less than unAmerican to do that. You might just as well take down the flag and cut it into pretty ribbons, because it won’t be the same flag that once attracted our ancestors to these shores.

Let’s all honor our country–and our immigrant ancestors, wherever they may be–by remembering what this country is, and by slapping down those who would make it into anything less. Happy 4th of July to everyone.

The setting sun

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I’ve always appreciated a good sunset, and the one that I saw on the 4th of July this year was certainly one of them. The anticipation of the impending fireworks show made the sunset feel like a formality more than anything else. But Nature gave it a go, anyway. The single light stanchion helped to frame the beauty behind it. I liked the show that followed, but the quiet beauty of the sunset helped to set the tone.

A new twist on an old thing

Tonight was the Fourth of July, and last night’s fireworks show was going to be hard to top. I don’t think tonight’s show beat last night’s, really, but there was a novelty involved that’s hard to explain. And I may never watch fireworks the same way again.

As my daughters and I entered the place where the show was to occur, on a high school field about 20 minutes from where we live, we each received a pair of “3-D” glasses. The looked like 3-D glasses used to look about a decade ago, before the ones with plastic frames became the norm (and the ticket prices went higher as a result). These were cardboard glasses frames with refracting lenses, and without the blue and red coloring on the lenses themselves.

The glasses also had a cool kaleidoscope effect, which made every explosion appear like a hundred little rainbows to the eyes. A video of what it looked like is posted above. It doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s probably more useful than anything I can come up with at this late hour. Enjoy.

Appreciating American music

As I was returning home from a long and most enjoyable vacation today, I commenced the battle of finding something on the radio. I wrote about this once before, and it makes me appreciate the concept of satellite radio. You pick a station you like, and never have to worry about whether it comes in or not. I would never pay for this service, but I can at least understand it now.

I was thinking about the upcoming 4th of July holiday, and how it will chop up my first week back in the office into two smaller chunks. Or, as I heard someone put it, two Mondays and two Fridays, with a holiday wedged in between. I suppose that can be called a soft landing.

I was turning the radio dial when I heard the opening strains of “Stray Cat Strut.” I sang along a little bit, and thought about how the Stray Cats were an American band, from Long Island. I thus decided to try an experiment: I would listen to the next few songs and see which were from American artists. The songs that followed were: “Babe” by Styx (from Chicago), “The Long Run” by the Eagles (from California), “Hold on Loosely” by 38 Special (from Florida), and  “Do Ya Know What I Mean” by Lee Michaels (from Los Angeles). That was five songs in a row, all by American artists.

The radio station, 93.5 FM in Toledo, apparently wasn’t doing anything intentional with American Artists, though, because the next song they played was U2’s “With or Without You.” U2’s an Irish band, from Dublin city (that’s how they introduced themselves at Live Aid, anyway). As I continued listening, I heard songs by Cyndi Lauper (from Queens, New York), Chicago, and War (from California). I started to think of  other American artists that I didn’t hear played, from Bruce Springsteen to Van Halen to Aerosmith to Jimmy Buffett (who admittedly doesn’t get very much airplay, other than “Margaritaville” but has had a very long and distinguished career, just the same). The experiment ended when the station’s signal began breaking up, during Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care Of Business” (and they’re a Canadian band, so it could have ended in a more American fashion, but the point had already been made.)

It’s no big shock that an American radio station plays more songs by American artists than anyone else. But it’s a reminder that America always has, at least since the invention of recorded music (which was done by an American, I might point out), been the driving force in the music industry.  It’s easy to take this type of cultural heritage for granted sometimes, since I’m immersed in it, all day long. But a long drive through Ohio can sometimes be more significant than it may otherwise appear.