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Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman: A celebration on his 95th birthday—poetry and jazz

April 18, 2020 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm PDT


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 poets, artists, and musicians on what would be the late poet’s 95th birthday. Hosted by McRoskey Mattress Co., in their wonderful 3rd floor loft space, and co-sponsored by The Poetry Center, City Lights Books, and The Green Arcade, this event is free and open to the public. Please join us. 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

Bob Kaufman (April 18, 1925, New Orleans, LA – January 12, 1986) 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 or even years at a time.

Kaufman produced just three broadsides and three books in his lifetime. In 1967, Golden Sardine was published by City Lights in its famed Pocket Poets Series, and became an instant cult classic. Collected Poems 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.

Musicians: Bruce Ackley and Aurora Josephson (performing Steve Lacy’s songs to Bob Kaufman’s poems); Hafez Modirzadeh, Francis Wong, David Boyce

Poets and other artists: Josiah Luis Adelberte, Will Alexander, Arlene Biala, James Cagney, MK Chavez, Neeli Cherkovski, Dewey Crumpler, Justin Desmangles, Duane Deterville, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Agneta Falk, C.S. Giscombe, Leticia Hernández-Linares, Jack Hirschman, Sarah Menefee, Alejandro Murguía, Jevohn Newsome, Barbara Jane Reyes, Kim Shuck; Tate Swindell with Jessica Loos, Niko Van Dyke, and Michael Young (reading “Second April”); Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, A.D. Winans


  • “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


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The Poetry Center
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The Poetry Center and The Green Arcade


April 18, 2020
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm PDT
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SFSU The Poetry Center


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1687 Market Street
San Francisco, 94103
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