Genesee County author celebrates the small, beautiful America
As the fireworks-fueled holiday weekend sparks patriotic emotions, a new book may provide appropriate companionship. In Poetry Night at the Ballpark and Other Scenes from an Alternative America, Genesee County author Bill Kauffman may add to patriotic thoughts while challenging some accepted notions of national pride.
"The glory and richness of America come not from its weaponry or wars, which debase us as much if not more than the relentlessly vulgar and witless products that are rolling of the entertainment industry's assembly line. Rather our numen is found in our regions, our little places, the unseen America beyond the ken of our placeless rulers."-Poetry Night at the Ballpark and Other Scenes from an Alternative America
The author of several books and a screenplay, Bill Kauffman has collected a series of his writings from nearly three decades from a variety of publications in producing Poetry Night at the Ballpark. With some articles two or three pages long, the book proves to be a page-turning journey through an often overlooked part of the country.
"It's the America that most of us see and live every day," Kauffman said during an interview with WBFO News.
"The neighborhood bakery. The country church. The sandlot baseball diamond. Neighbors talking to each other over a cup of coffee. To me that's the pith and stuff of life and it's from those small person-to-person relationships that most of what's good about this country has developed and grown."
Much of Kauffman's work looks to defend that part of America from what he sees as its biggest threat: the elected leaders who have dragged the Nation into conflicts around the globe for the last century. Kauffman is unsparing in his criticism.
Hillary Clinton? "A militaristic schoolmarm who is almost a perfect blend of servility toward Wall Street and sanctimonious warmongering."
John McCain? "Probably the most rootless American political figure in memory who if he had his way America would be engaged in a perpetual state of war against the rest of the world."
George W. Bush was the second-worst president behind Woodrow Wilson, who Kauffman blames for leading America into World War One, a conflict that connected the country to a century of global conflicts. He gives poor marks to President Obama while praising Grover Cleveland for his anti-imperial instincts.
The opinions shared in Poetry Night at the Ballpark won't be heard on Sunday morning network news shows, but they provide refreshing relief from the unproductive Blue-Red battles that dominate the national conversation.
After starting his professional career in Washington in the office of former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Kauffman eventually found his way back to his native Genesee County where he has been living and writing since the late 80's.
"I've been blessed," Kauffman reflected."The idea that I would actually make a living, make money, not a lot of money, but about what I deserve, I suppose, make money from 30 years of writing."
Kauffman's well-placed sense of humor mixes well throughout his work. He maintains he is an optimist who sees positive signs emerging throughout the nation. Community Supported Agriculture. Craft breweries. New Urbanism.
He also sees some of that fueling the revival of Buffalo.
While some in Albany and Washington might be quick to take credit, Kauffman tends to agree with the view that the city began making its turnaround when its citizens began embracing the region's rust belt heritage, which was the subject of scorn for so long.
"What are we here for if not to love the marred and the imperfect? We should take pride in the places we're from or the places or the places in which we live. Booker T. Washington said, 'Cast down your buckets where you are,'" Kauffman said.
"It doesn't have to be your hometown. But, it's the place where you make your stand and you learn about the history and the culture and the music and the flora and the fauna and even the sins and warts and imperfections of the place."
"I'm not from Buffalo, but I've seen that. Efforts of people like Tim Tielman (Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture) and others. Culture comes from the bottom up. It's a product of spontaneous and cooperative action. Not some central authority pointing his finger saying, 'let there be culture.'"