Bob Kaufman’s Collected Poems: A celebration AFTER his 95th birthday—poetry and jazz

Thursday, October 29 - 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Remote access event
Bob Kaufman-photo by A.D. Winans

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In celebration of the recent publication of the Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman, edited by Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye, and Tate Swindell, by City Lights Books, we’re assembling a gathering of video contributions by poets, artists, and musicians, AFTER what would be the late poet's 95th birthday — our planned event from this past Spring for April 18, Kaufman's actual birthdate, having been canceled. Now we're back on track.

This remote-access event begins promptly at 7:00 pm Pacific Time, and is free and open to the public. Media Captioning provided.

Co-sponsored by The Poetry Center, City Lights Books, and The Green Arcade. Photo of Bob Kaufman by A.D. Winans.

"He was an original voice. No one else talked like him. No one else wrote poetry like him."
––Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Contributing musicians: Bruce Ackley and Aurora Josephson (Steve Lacy’s songs to Bob Kaufman's poems); Hafez Modirzadeh, Francis Wong, David Boyce, Lewis Jordan

Contributing poets and artists: Josiah Luis Alderete, Will Alexander, Arlene Biala with Brittany Biala, James Cagney, MK Chavez, Neeli Cherkovski, Dewey Crumpler, Kwadwo Duane Deterville, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Raymond Foye, C.S. Giscombe, Leticia Hernández-Linares, Jack Hirschman, Genny Lim, Sarah Menefee, Alejandro Murguía, Jevohn Tyler Newsome, Kim Shuck, Tate Swindell with Parker Kaufman, Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, Michael Warr

Bob Kaufman (April 18, 1925, New Orleans, LA–January 12, 1986, San Francisco) was one of the most important—and most original—poets of the twentieth century. He is among the inaugurators of what today is characterized as the Afro-Surreal, uniting the surrealist practice of automatic writing with the jazz concept of spontaneous composition. He seldom wrote his poems down and often discarded those he did, leaving them to be rescued by others. He was also a legendary figure of the Beat Generation, known as much for hopping on tables to declaim his poetry as for maintaining a monastic silence for months, even years, at a time.

Kaufman produced just three broadsides and three slim books in his lifetime. Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness (1965) debuted with New Directions. In 1967, Golden Sardine was published by City Lights in its famed Pocket Poets Series and became an instant cult classic. Raymond Foye collected scattered work for The Ancient Rain (New Directions, 1981). Bob Kaufman's life and work were documented in L.A. Rebellion filmmaker Billy Woodberry’s remarkable 2015 film And when I die, I won’t stay dead—Bob Kaufman, Poet. Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman, 2019, is a landmark poetic achievement, bringing together all of Kaufman’s known surviving poems, including an extensive section of previously uncollected work, in a long overdue return to City Lights Books.

  • "With this magnetic new unveiling, Bob Kaufman trenchantly sunders endemic retrocausal error and neglect that has casted his fate into a secondary enclave of lesser mastery. To set the story straight it was his spirit that helped sire the Ginsberg that we know and not vice versa. It was he who magically hoisted the invisible umbrella under which Kerouac and others such as Corso were enabled to protractedly flourish. Arrested 39 times for poetic brilliance via bravura he was the absolute contrary of the sterile academic scrounging for golden verbal eggs. Never concerned with immediate notoriety he passed across unerring emptiness as a poetic lahar sweeping in all directions at once. He volcanically en-veined the Beats as a mirage enveloped Surrealist; not as a formal poet, but one, like Rimbaud, who embodied butane. Following the scent of his butane on one anonymous North Beach afternoon led Philip Lamantia to audibly utter to me that Bob Kaufman as per incandescent singularity is 'our poet.'" Will Alexander

  • "Bob Kaufman is one of our most vulnerable, mysterious, and beautiful poets, a nomadic maudit, surrealist saint of the streets, votary of silence, the consummate Outrider with trickster imagination and visionary power. What does it take to be such a poet-man, veils/layers of existence laced with hardship, suffering? Not many like this anymore. The Black American Rimbaud, as he was christened in France. His poems make me weep and bow with humility and wonder. I last saw him, shape-shifting shaman on Ken Kesey's stage in Oregon, swirling in a torque of rage, enlightenment, and prescience. Pure product of America's madness: fury and tenderness. The writing is complex and lays its soul-baring down on jazz-inflected syllables and riffs for all to read and tremble within. No serious canon is complete without this insistent rhythm, poetic acuity, and a body's last resort to sing." Anne Waldman

  • "Uplifting the voice of this under-sung literary master to future's light is the mission of the Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman. This poet's poet on the cliff edge of no ledge is still continuing to foster new surrealizations. Read this bebopian wordsmith, his pen turned saxophone and ink notes that are black tears." —Kamau Daáood

  • "In collecting Bob Kaufman's work, the editors have sought to bind earthquakes with book paste. These pages vibrate, a pulse not from way out, but from way in this strange, strange country. Wearing the poet's trembling, subterranean eyes, I see the dirt of imperial graves, grocery store corpses, swank gas chambers, and bomb shelters cut an inverted skyline against a too orange American sun. Blinking, I look up and the real sun seems just as radioactive, which is perhaps what leaves me the most shaken. To call these poems 'surreal' seems, now, to muffle Kaufman's prophetic genius. He saw us, our images in pools of blood, milk, and saxophone spittle. Maybe it was ever our shivering made the ripples that distorted the reflections." Douglas Kearney

  • "Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman should finally liberate the kaleidoscopic surrealism of this San Franciscan, and in many respects, secular Franciscan, poet from the shadows of Allen Ginsberg and the other Beats. While poems like 'Night Sung Sailor's Prayer' and 'Believe, Believe' presage both the linguistic flights of Will Alexander and the affirmative exuberance of Ross Gay, the bulk of the book hearkens back to familiar figures like Blake, Apollinaire, and Artaud. In the end, of course, Bob Kaufman is Bob Kaufman, and as this collection confirms, the poems tend to extremes, lurching between the sweeping force of a tornado (e.g., 'The American Sun' and 'The Ancient Rain') and the precision of a stiletto (e.g., "Demolition" and 'I Am A Camera'). Kaufman's libertarian tendencies (see, for example, 'Abomunist Manifesto') made him a largely apolitical, if compassionate poet, but what comes through above all else is a human being beset by the furies and desires he/she unleashed. Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman is a memoriam of unmitigated joy and abysmal despair." —Tyrone Williams

Event contact: 
The Poetry Center
Event email: 
poetry@sfsu.edu
Event sponsor: 
The Poetry Center, City Lights Books, and The Green Arcade