Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Another State of the Union

"The state of our nation is far from healthy, and will never be so long as I am your leader. Therefore I call upon the American people to show its strength by immediately arresting me for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, for trampling on the constitution, for stealing elections, for spying on otherwise law abiding citizens. I ask for your forgiveness. Please take me to a place where I cannot harm anyone. Pump me full of tranquilizers. Keep me in a padded cell. Or maybe in a nice open prison where I can ride my mountain bike without harming anyone. In my defense, let me just say that it’s congenital. My father is an idiot. So is the rest of my family. For the benefit of humanity, do not let me or any member of my family hold public office. I ask for your help in my hour of need. The state of the union depends upon it."

A far more sane view of America than that of our leader can be found in the selected prose and poems of Don West, No Lonesome Road (edited by Jeff Biggers and George Brosi, University of Illinois). West was a poet-activist from the Appalachians, who grew up dirt poor, but never lost his progressive vision of the American south, and the Southern Mountains in particulaer. As well as a poet, he was a preacher, union organizer and founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, instrumental in training civil rights workers. Pictured on the cover is West atop his Indian Chief motorcycle, which he used to help him escape on various occasions from the KKK. Though I didn't know it at the time, West was also the father of folk singer Hedy West, who must have been one of the first musicians I ever saw who played traditional music and frailed the banjo in the old time style. Don West published a number of volumes of poetry, much of which, along with a selection of his prose, is published here. Hedy, by the way, died not so long ago. While West's poetry is somewhat dated, it is still very moving and can be compared favourably with the work of his friend, Langston Hughes. No Lonesome Road makes for a wonderful antidote to the real State of the Union, and is a testement to what America might have been, and could still possibly be.

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