Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

Bob Kaufman’s Collected Works Spotlights the Raw Beauty of the Beats

San Francisco poet Bob Kaufman was completely unique in that he rarely wrote his poems down, instead striving to return poetry to its ancient bardic traditions.


Cover courtesy of City Lights Books.

San Francisco poet Bob Kaufman, who died in 1986 at the age of 61, was a one-of-a-kind writer whose work has largely remained unknown and under-appreciated. Probably one of the main reasons for this is that Kaufman wrote very few pieces down, instead choosing to put Jack Kerouac’s Essentials Of Spontaneous Prose into immediate action, ‘writing on the tongue’ as Ginsberg often said. As such, Kaufman was able to meld the warm rhythms of jazz with words to create a vibrant and melodic line structure that was like no one else in tone or intensity. And now, after all these years, City Lights has released the collected works of one its hometown’s greats. Readers new to the “Black Rimbaud” will immediately see that Kaufman’s work is a microcosm of the beauty that was the Beat Generation – words knotted with the holy essence of music now hurling themselves into crystal fists across the sky to create an eternal collection of voices. Ultimately, Bob Kaufman’s voice shined a unique chain of stars across the horizon, uniting moon and sun in a universe all his own. Read the first two stanzas of “Believe, Believe” from The Collected Poems (at page 102) and bear witness to this miracle in real time:

“Believe in this. Young apple seeds,

In blue skies, radiating young breast,

Not in blue-suited insects,

Infesting society’s garments.

Believe in the swinging sounds of jazz,

Tearing the night into intricate shreds,

Putting it back together again,

In cool logical patterns,

Not in the sick controllers,

Who created only the Bomb…”

Of Related Interest

SOUTH AMERICAN JOURNALS. Allen Ginsberg. Edited by Michael Schumacher. University of Minnesota Press.

“Welcome Death

Welcome this two sided mystery

Welcome the King on his squared couch, leaning on his elbow, misery again

Welcome my soul’s indifference, for I am dying…”

(Allen Ginsberg, from “Welcome” at page 127)

This new volume from the Ginsberg canon just released by the University of Minnesota presents the poet’s journals in raw and compelling form, recorded on a trek through South America between January and July of 1960. This collection has been expertly edited by Michael Schumacher, whose uncanny ability to formulate a coherent text from random journal entries without interfering with the rhythm of Ginsberg’s breath and line structure adds to the over-all power of Journals. As noted, the book brings us Ginsberg’s uncensored mind as he experiences the countrysides of South America, with snippets of poems interspersed with journal jottings offering a sweet and intimate glimpse of a major literary force in his formative years. The best moments of  Journal are found in his travel chronicle of time spent  in  Chile and Peru, in addition to his writing on the search to find ayahuasca (yagé), a drug of illumination that writer-confidant William S. Burroughs had first called to his attention in the 1950s.

by John Aiello


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This entry was posted on December 2, 2019 by in 2019, December 2019, In the Spotlight, Poetry, Rat On Fiction & Nonfiction and tagged , , , .
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