A book about America by Joseph Brodsky.

Joseph Brodsky, one of the great poets of our century, was born in Russia in 1940. His early career as a writer landed him on the dissident list in the Soviet Union. He was expelled from his homeland in 1972, when he settled in the US and became a citizen in 1977. Brodsky won a Nobel Prize in 1987 and served as US Poet Laureate from 1991-1992. He passed away in 1996.

Brodsky ventured into children’s poetry with his wonderful book, Discovery, a book-length poem about America. Since my children are being exposed to a continuous anti-immigrant campaign on every radio station and news station in every waiting room in town (thanks to the ubiquitous popularity of Fox News), I thought it might be fun to re-discover America on a dimension that reminds us of this country’s history and the nature of “belonging” to a country.

The illustrator Vladimir Radunsky deserves his own post for his lengthy, stunning career in adding color and light to children’s books. For Discovery, Radunsky’s illustrations provide an opportunity for a craft, as you shall see a little further down.

In the beginning, there were just waves

hammering at the obstacles.

The stars were starring to constant raves

but had no Oscars.

The clouds would go a bit further and

frequently act impertinent

which was self-destructive, and downpours meant

obscurity to the continent.

So for millions of years or – as some insist-

longer, Nature played prudent:

on one hand, America would exist;

on the other, it wouldn’t.

Still, this bothered America little, since

it knew no public mention.

When you are a continent, you don’t mince

words and don’t crave attention.

So then Nature sat down and picked up her pen

to make what fish and seagull

saw a reality: off sailed men

and made America legal.

They stepped ashore and they rode across

this land of milk and honey,

and they settled it with their many laws,

their cities, their farms, their money.

Now America has all its maps and charts:

they would fill up your barn and cupboard.

But do you believe in your heart of hearts

that America was discovered?

Don’t you think that this land still has a few

secrets? That, huge and silent,

it waits for their being discovered by you,

since Nature is out on assignment?

Brodsky poses with his America.


Brodsky’s poem is perfectly suited for an artistic collage. You will need:

  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Glue
  • Magazine scraps
  • An imagination

I decided to collage with Max, since Micah and Milla were cooking up a storm in their kitchen. We both worked to create collages inspired Brodsky’s book but more specifically addressing the topic: “My America”. Naturally, Max and I had different visions of our America.

I used words and scraps from old issues of The Economist to create my collage. Words matter because the media helps frame our conception of what it means to be an American.

I created my buildings from crowds of people because essentially, America is just that. Crowds of people doing their best.

Our land benefits from an abundance of natural life and unsettled space. I didn’t really know how to reflect this in the collage.

Max’s vision of America included buildings, playgrounds, airplanes, children jumping– he stuck to scissors and shapes to represent these things.

I’m so glad he trusts and honors his personal visions. This is an important foundation for life.

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