Biography of Bob Kaufman
Bob Kaufman (April 18, 1925 – January 12, 1986), born Robert Garnell Kaufman, was an American Beat poet and surrealist inspired by jazz music. In France, where his poetry had a large following, he was known as the "black American Rimbaud."
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Kaufman was one of fourteen children. He claimed to be the son of a German-Jewish father and a Roman Catholic Black mother from Martinique, and that his grandmother practiced voodoo. At age eighteen, Kaufman joined the United States Merchant Marine, which he left in the early 1940s to briefly study literature at New York's The New School. There, he met William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. In 1944 Bob Kaufman married Ida Berrocal. They had one daughter, Antoinette Victoria Marie (Nagle), born in New York City in 1945 (died 2008). Kaufman moved to San Francisco's North Beach in 1958 and remained there for most of the rest of his life. He married Eileen Singe (1922–2015). in 1958; they had one child, Parker, named for Charlie Parker.
Kaufman, a poet in the oral tradition, usually didn't write down his poems, and much of his published work survives by way of his wife Eileen, who wrote his poems down as he conceived them. Like many beat writers, Kaufman became a Buddhist. In 1959, along with poets Allen Ginsberg, John Kelly, A. D. Winans, and William Margolis, he was one of the founders of Beatitude magazine.
According to the writer Raymond Foye, Kaufman is the person who coined the term "beatnik", and his life was filled with a great deal of suffering: In San Francisco, he was the target of beatings and harassment by the city police, and his years living in New York were filled with poverty, addiction and imprisonment.
In 1959, Kaufman had a small role in a movie called The Flower Thief, which was shot in North Beach by Ron Rice. In 1961, Kaufman was nominated for England's Guinness Poetry Award, but lost to T. S. Eliot. He appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson four times in 1970–1971.
His poetry made use of jazz syncopation and meter. The critic Raymond Foye wrote about him, "Adapting the harmonic complexities and spontaneous invention of bebop to poetic euphony and meter, he became the quintessential jazz poet."
Poet Jack Micheline said about Kaufman, "I found his work to be essentially improvisational, and was at its best when accompanied by a jazz musician. His technique resembled that of the surreal school of poets, ranging from a powerful, visionary lyricism of satirical, near dadaistic leanings, to the more prophetic tone that can be found in his political poems."
Kaufman said of his own work, "My head is a bony guitar, strung with tongues, plucked by fingers & nails."
After learning of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Kaufman took a Buddhist vow of silence that lasted until the end of the Vietnam War in 1973. He broke his silence by reciting his poem "All Those Ships that Never Sailed,"
Bob Kaufman Poems
Walking Parker Home
Sweet beats of jazz impaled on slivers of wind Kansas Black Morning/ First Horn Eyes/ Historical sound pictures on New Bird wings People shouts/ boy alto dreams/ Tomorrow's Gold belled pipe of stops and future Blues Times Lurking Hawkins/ shadows of Lester/ realization Bronze fingers—brain extensions seeking trapped sounds Ghetto thoughts/ bandstand courage/ solo flight Nerve-wracked suspicions of newer songs and doubts New York alter city/ black tears/ secret disciples Hammer horn pounding soul marks on unswinging gates Culture gods/ mob sounds/ visions of spikes Panic excursions to tribal Jazz wombs and transfusions Heroin nights of birth/ and soaring/ over boppy new ground. Smothered rage covering pyramids of notes spontaneously exploding Cool revelations/ shrill hopes/ beauty speared into greedy ears Birdland nights on bop mountains, windy saxophone revolutions. Dayrooms of junk/ and melting walls and circling vultures/ Money cancer/ remembered pain/ terror flights/ Death and indestructible existence In that Jazz corner of life Wrapped in a mist of sound His legacy, our Jazz-tinted dawn Wailing his triumphs of oddly begotten dreams Inviting the nerveless to feel once more That fierce dying of humans consumed In raging fires of Love.
O-Jazz-O War Memoir: Jazz, Don't Listen ...
In the beginning, in the wet Warm dark place, Straining to break out, clawing at strange cables Hearing her screams, laughing "Later we forgave ourselves, we didn't know" Some secret jazz Shouted, wait, don't go. Impatient, we came running, innocent Laughing blobs of blood & faith. To this mother, father world Where laughter seems out of place So we learned to cry, pleased They pronounce human. The secret Jazz blew a sigh Some familiar sound shouted wait Some are evil, some will hate. "Just Jazz, blowing its top again" So we rushed & laughed. As we pushed & grabbed While jazz blew in the night Suddenly they were too busy to hear a simple sound They were busy shoving mud in men's mouths, Who were busy dying on the living ground Busy earning medals, for killing children on deserted street corners Occupying their fathers, raping their mothers, busy humans we Busy burning Japanese in atomicolorcinemascope With stereophonic screams, What one hundred per cent red blooded savage, would waste precious time Listening to jazz, with so many important things going on But even the fittest murderers must rest So they sat down in our blood soaked garments, and listened to jazz lost, steeped in all our death dreams They were shocked at the sound of life, long gone from our own They were indignant at the whistling, thinking, singing, beating, swinging, They wept for it, hugged, kissed it, loved it, joined it, we drank it, Smoked it, ate with it, slept with it They made our girls wear it for lovemaking Instead of silly lace gowns, Now in those terrible moments, when the dark memories come The secret moments to which we admit no one When guiltily we crawl back in time, reaching away from ourselves They hear a familiar sound, Jazz, scratching, digging, blueing, swinging jazz, And listen, And feel, & die.
[THE NIGHT THAT LORCA COMES]
THE NIGHT THAT LORCA COMES SHALL BE A STRANGE NIGHT IN THE SOUTH, IT SHALL BE THE TIME WHEN NEGROES LEAVE THE SOUTH FOREVER, GREEN TRAINS SHALL ARRIVE FROM RED PLANET MARS CRACKLING BLUENESS SHALL SEND TOOTH-COVERED CARS FOR THEM TO LEAVE IN, TO GO INTO THE NORTH FOREVER, AND I SEE MY LITTLE GIRL MOTHER AGAIN WITH HER CROSS THAT IS NOT BURNING, HER SKIRTS OF BLACK, OF ALL COLORS, HER AURA OF FAMILIARITY. THE SOUTH SHALL WEEP BITTER TEARS TO NO AVAIL, THE NEGROES HAVE GONE INTO CRACKLING BLUENESS. CRISPUS ATTUCKS SHALL ARRIVE WITH THE BOSTON COMMONS, TO TAKE ELISSI LANDI NORTH, CRISPUS ATTUCKS SHALL BE LAYING ON BOSTON COMMONS, ELISSI LANDI SHALL FEEL ALIVE AGAIN. I SHALL CALL HER NAME AS SHE STEPS ON TO THE BOSTON COMMONS, AND FLIES NORTH FOREVER, LINCOLN SHALL BE THERE, TO SEE THEM LEAVE THE SOUTH FOREVER, ELISSI LANDI, SHE WILL BE GREEN. THE WHITE SOUTH SHALL GATHER AT PRESERVATION HALL.
On yardbird corners of embryonic hopes, drowned in a heroin tear. On yardbird corners of parkerflights to sound filled pockets in space. On neuro-corners of striped brains & desperate electro-surgeons.
Believe in this. Young apple seeds, In blue skies, radiating young breast, Not in blue-suited insects, Infesting society's garments.
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,