“I love Old October so,

I can’t bear to see her go—”

—James Whitcomb Riley

Via The American Conservative: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2009/dec/01/00050/ Subscribe, won’t you?

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Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.


  1. Funny how it’s been within the last few days that I’ve taken down my worn copy of the Oxford World’s Classics, M.R. James, Casting of the Runes and other Ghost Stories. But August Dereleth and his classic “Cassius” was a favorite of my misspent youth, though it be a tale of horror, madness and revenge.

    “On the whole, then, I say you must have horror and also malevolence.”
    M.R. James

  2. As a Hoosier, James Whitcomb Riley is certainly one of my favorites. My father during his 40 yrs of teaching 6th graders would read Riley, especially around this time of year. Unfortunately, his writings are only available to those with the ambition to learn more about Hoosier writers; rarely is he read or studied by our youth and certainly not in the curriculum.

    My own sentiments to October are toasted in his fine simple verse. I have always enjoyed your nod to the great Hoosier authors.

  3. Ode to Autumn
    John Keats

    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
    To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
    Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
    Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
    Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
    Steady thy laden head across a brook;
    Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
    And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
    Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
    The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

    –It is my favorite Keats poem of all, about my favorite season…

  4. October gave a party;
    The leaves by hundreds came.
    The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples,
    And leaves of every name.
    The Sunshine spread a carpet,
    And everything was grand,
    Miss Weather led the dancing,
    Professor Wind the band.
    The Chestnuts came in yellow,
    The Oaks in crimson dressed;
    The lovely Misses maple
    In scarlet looked their best.

    3rd grade – the first poem I recall memorizing because I thought it was so grand I wanted to remember it forever – sadly – I forget the last verse! Do they still teach this to children?

  5. My favorite poem that defines the autumn time, the end of harvest, and the joy in seeing the fruits of labor. In this poem Riley wrote dialect with such accuity that it reads just as I can hear folks talk today in southern Indiana. Some of his best work was capturing the dialect of the German immigrants in Indiana, as well…..Autumn, what a joy!

    WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
    And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
    And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
    And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
    O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
    With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
    As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

    They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
    When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
    Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
    And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
    But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
    Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
    Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

    The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
    And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
    The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
    A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
    The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
    The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
    O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

    Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
    Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
    And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
    With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!…
    I don’t know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
    As the angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me—
    I’d want to ‘commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
    When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

  6. Surely, it was just lack of space that forced you to leave out Ray Bradbury, right, Mr. Kauffman? Something Wicked This Way Comes is autumn poetry in prose form. It may be boyhood itself on the page! And October Country has many fascinating stories. I particularly remember “The Jar,” with the neighborhood men sitting around night after night speculating about what IS in that jar??

    I’m a big Lovecraft fan, but I don’t recognize the quotation. Where is it from? A letter?

  7. I agree, Chris: Ray B is the poet of October. I wrote about him here: https://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=3939.
    Coincidentally, Brandon, last night we read “When the Frost is on the Punkin.” Our daughter memorized it when just a couple of years old and even now she loves to say “they’s somethin’ kinda harty-like about the atmosphere…”

  8. Mr. Kauffman, “On Hospitality” was closed for comment today when I tried to comment. I appreciate your commitment to the libertarian crowd,of which I belong. You are the first, and only, person who has linked my inherit conservatism and small government libertarianism into an argument that did not require some amazing shift of belief or philosophical dispute that as happened on this site over the last week. Sure, as a philosopher of politics the arguments compel me to learn more, but I wonder what there is to learn? After reading “Come Home America”, and “Drunken Prophet” I have seen the misguided ways of the “American Way”. I love America more now but not for what we are taught is the “American Way”, but for the individualism, free thought, and self responsible life that truly means America.

    Keep up the great work for those who hold out hope that there is a better way and even if that way is thwarted, at least it stays alive…I don’t see government ever being the answer only the impediment. While sentiments different from this has led to the FPR being maligned in Takimag, I see how the FPR is a haven for differing theories however many of those may support big government locally (not always a good thing at all) versus federally or globally.

    I see Dorothy Day and Murray Rothbard as the perfect link, while many would say they both are not aligned and too stringent under the “reality” of government under our current system/empire… to be linked. I believe the best government is local, but I implore local officials to not make their government a substitute dictatorship.

    Bill Kauffman thank you for your sanity, keep it flowing, work hard, and stay on the message that you keep alive. People do listen and it is worth it.

  9. “The Withered Arm” by Thomas Hardy is an engrossing eerie story.

    The best ghost story that I know might be Burrage’s “One Who Saw.”

  10. Regarding James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” could you tell me what kyouck means? Thank you!

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