Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bob Kaufman - Part Two

It is hard to imagine two more different personalities: Jack Spicer, the intellectual, linguist, and self-outed yet skeptical gay person; and Bob Kaufman, the archetypal street-poet, jazz-fan, jailbird, surrealist/dadaist poet who jumped onto the tops of parked automobiles in North Beach with a wine-bottle in hand to shout his poems to the world whenever the furor poeticus came upon him.

One thing that united both writers was the common vision entertained of the poet as a crucified innocent, a visionary tormented by a hostile world bent on silencing him/her. In this state of social abandonment, both saw the poet as a victim, flawed and broken, wounded and alone, for and to whom they occasionally delivered exhortations of self-encouragment. This mission-statement became a topos among North Beach poets of the 60's, a practice inspired no doubt by Allen Ginsberg.

Jack Spicer, for example, famously calls upon the poet to transcend the societal disaster by recalling the visionary wellspring—Poet, be like God. But Kaufman, in the poem below, uncharacteristically pleads moderation.

Perhaps you could see forget to not as an admonishment to curb ecstatic flights of the muse in favor of the concentration upon Mahayana emptiness—Kaufman described himself a Buddhist in later years, whatever that term might have meant to him. But however we understand this poem, it is one of his best, and among the finest ever written in San Francisco, this city of poets and arena of contending visions.

forget to not

Remember, poet, while gallivanting across the sky,
Skylarking, shouting, calling names … Walk softly.

Your footprint on rain clouds is visible to naked eyes,
Lamps barnacled to your feet refract the mirrored air.

Exotic scents of your hidden vision fly in the face of time.

Remember not to forget the dying colors of yesterday
As you inhale tomorrow's hot dream, blown from frozen lips.

Remember, you naked agent of every nothing.


Bob Kaufman did not live to see his poems appear in a collected edition, and his biography remains to be written. The photo and poem are taken from Beatitude Poetry Broadside. David Henderson's intro to a selection of Kaufman's poems entitled Cranial Guitar is extremely useful, as is A. D. Winans Remembers Bob Kaufman found online.


  1. THANK YOU for this post on Bob Kauffman.

  2. Thank you for this post on Bob Kauffman. I miss seeing him around town even though I didn't know him. There was nobody else like him.