Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman

(Author) (Editor)
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Product Details

$19.95  $18.35
City Lights Books
Publish Date
6.0 X 8.3 X 1.0 inches | 0.85 pounds

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About the Author

Bob Kaufman was born in New Orleans in 1925 and spent the 1940s in the Merchant Marine. After a brief period as a labor organizer, he lived a peripatetic existence before settling in San Francisco in the late '50s, where he published three broadsides with City Lights Books. In 1959, he co-founded Beatitude magazine and maintained a decade-long vow of silence after the assassination of President Kennedy. He published two books during the 1960s, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness and Golden Sardine, and a third book, The Ancient Rain, in 1981. He died in San Francisco in 1986. He is considered by many to be the finest jazz poet of his generation.

Neeli Cherkovski was born in Los Angeles. He is the author of many books of poetry, including Animal (1996), From the Canyon Outward (2009), The Crow and I (2015), and Elegy for My Beat Generation (2018). He is the coeditor of Anthology of L.A. Poets (with Charles Bukowski) and Cross-Strokes: Poetry Between Los Angeles and San Francisco (with Bill Mohr). He has also published editions of his poems in Austria, Mexico, Italy, Germany, and Turkey.

Raymond Foye is a writer, curator, and editor based in New York City. He is the executor for the poets John Wieners, James Schuyler, and Rene Ricard, and has edited numerous editions of their works. Currently he is preparing an edition of the final unpublished poems of Gregory Corso from the years 1980-2000. He is also the publisher of Raymond Foye Books.

Tate Swindell is the founder of Unrequited Records, which specializes in poetry records released in vinyl format. His collections of writing include Palpitations, Tearing Down Walls of Cellars and Basements, and The Creation of Deadlines. Tate, and his brother Todd, worked extensively on the Harold Norse archives, which were donated to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. He is currently working on an album of rare Gregory Corso readings from the late 1970s and early 80s that includes previously unpublished poems.

devorah major served as San Francisco's Third Poet Laureate (2002-2006). She has published two novels, four poetry books, and four poetry chapbooks, along with two young adult titles, and a host of short stories, essays, and individual poems published in anthologies and periodicals. Among her awards is a First Novelist award from the Black Caucus of the ALA and a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award. She is a Senior Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts.


"The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman is the most comprehensive selection of his verse to date, a volume that contains a lot of previously uncollected work. ... this book makes a case for him as a perceptive and eccentric American original, a man who seems to have fallen out of the sky like a meteor."--The New York Times

"The body of work is small but voluminous in intensity, spirit and soul, with a lineage that runs from Charles Baudelaire to Charles Mingus. Kaufman--with his commitment to the art, his surreal eye on the urban experience and beyond it, and his jazz timing--brings San Francisco to life."--San Francisco Chronicle

"Twentieth-century American poetry cannot be fully comprehended without Bob Kaufman. City Lights and the editors do a grand service to literature by publishing Kaufman's poetry in one collection. ... This is a necessary gift for poets and poetry readers."--Booklist

"The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman makes the case that Kaufman was more than the sum of various discrete identities. Beyond his Beat and jazz affiliations, beyond his connections to surrealism, and beyond his love for poetry as performance, he embodies the quest of one individual in relentless pursuit of an authentic self through uninhibited creative acts. ... Ultimately, what each section of The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman demonstrates over and over is how present each poem is in the moment of its creation, as if the creative impulse asserts itself as naturally as breath. Instead of chiseling perfectly sculpted poems of Parnassian splendor, the poet's arch, apt, and often wild work is an unmediated extension of the man who, by 1955, had already sailed the world as a member of the National Maritime Union and later, in San Francisco, climbed on top of stopped cars to recite spontaneous verse. Complicated, observant, yet uniquely uncorrupted and vulnerable, Kaufman earns the much overused and oft-misunderstood adjective 'original.' His poems are suffused with humility, authority, and something approaching 'Laughter on exotic beds.'"--Tony Leuzzi, The Brooklyn Rail

"The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman finally gathers, between two covers, the torrential majesty of a poet who should be better known."--Jeremy Lybarger, Poetry Foundation

"The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman is a necessary volume long in need of compilation. Expertly edited by Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye, and Tate Swindell, with an informative foreword by devorah major ... This is a voice-dominated verse in which the taut snap of lines in some poems jostles productively against the incantatory, oratorical mode of others. ... Kaufman's high-velocity verse is a mental accelerant of the first order."--Albert Mobilio, Hyperallergic

"This book will be invaluable to students and scholars of post-WWII American poetry. ... This lovingly prepared volume also features photographs, a biographical timeline, remembrances by editors Neeli Cherkovski and Raymond Foye, and uncollected works, several of which appeared in Beatitude, the literary magazine Kaufman started with William J. Margolis in 1959. ... Take some time to immerse yourself in the gorgeous beatitude of this underappreciated American poet-philosopher. This long overdue collection ought to have a lasting impact on all those who believe in the ability of poetry to transform our lives."--Rain Taxi

"Bob Kaufman was one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. As the only Black American poet to be recognized by France's Surrealist International, Kaufman is among the inaugurators of what today is characterized as the Afro-Surreal and has been criminally overlooked for nearly forty years. As icons of that literary movement went on to wealth and international reverence, Kaufman died in obscurity, even after having produced three books, and being the founding editor of the poetry journal Beatitudes, where many believe the term 'beat' is actually rooted. Collected Poems brings together all of Kaufman's known surviving poems, including an extensive section of previously uncollected work."--East Bay Express

"Bob Kaufman is probably the most important and unheralded of all the Beat generation literary luminaries. He was the true original. In the streets. On target. Under the radar. Yet at the forefront, breaking all the barriers. ... Now, over 30 years since his death in 1986, with his poetry having been translated in several languages and with this publication of the Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman we now have something that will surely put him in the pantheon of the 'Beat Gods' with regards to the general public, as well as with archivists and special collections libraries around the globe."--Smoky Mountain News

"The surrealism of Bob Kaufman is a true American surrealism, because Kaufman brings the blues, jazz and being a black man in the United States to his subconscious visions. He still remains, in my estimation, America's unequaled surrealist. Just as Beat's other most famous black poet, Amiri Baraka, spawned the Last Poets and the eventual rise of rap, Kaufman's influence is not only present today in Will Alexander and transmale Blackfoot poet Max Wolf Valerio, but also in Bob Dylan. ... At last we have the collected poems, thanks to Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye and Tate Swindell. It is a great accomplishment and a major literary event."--Sensitive Skin

"Bob Kaufman's life is written on mirrors in smoke."--Jack Kerouac

"So much did he embody a French tradition of the poet as outsider, madman, and outcast, that in France, Kaufman was called the Black Rimbaud."--David Henderson

"With this magnetic new unveiling Bob Kaufman trenchantly sunders endemic retrocausal error and neglect that his 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 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, author of Compression & Purity

"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, author of Trickster Feminism

"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 DaƔood, author of The Language of Saxophones

"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, author of Buck Studies

"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, author of As iZ