Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jazzpoets at Blue O'Clock

late in the game photo of poets Howard Hart and Bob Kaufman in the basement of City Lights Bookstore circa 1980

Howard Hart and Bob Kaufman were the among last unsung poets influenced by jazz idiom and cadence. They were contemporary with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Ted Joans back in the 50's and migrated from New York to longtime residency on the "Left Coast", North Beach, San Francisco.

Bob Kaufman, in particular, was steeped beyond the others in the sound of jazz. "Crootey Songo" featured "meaningless" words created as one would blow a jazz solo over a rhythm section; not the "oobie-doobie la wah doo-bah" of scat singers but more along the lines of;


However most of his poems were accessible and spoke immediately to the listener/reader;


I climb a red thread
To an unseen existence
Broken free, somewhere,
Beyond the belts.

Ticks have abandoned
My astonished time.
The air littered
with demolished hours.

Presence abolished
I become a ray
From the sun
Anonymous finger
Deflected into hungry windows
Boomerang of curved light
Ricocheted off dark walls
The ceiling remembers my face
The floor is a palate of surprise
Watching me eat the calendar

(from a Kaufman compilation called "Golden Sardine" supposedly found on brown wrapping paper rolled up and found in his room)

Kaufman was born in New Orleans of mixed heritage. Touring the world as a merchant seaman he ended up in NYC and then San Francisco where he became a mainstay on the North Beach poetry scene. Styling himself a Buddhist and incapable of self-promotion, he
performed his poetry from memory and only reluctantly, on his wife's insistence, wrote anything down. His most famous haunt was the Co-Existence Bagel Shop on Grant Street where devotees would flock in the hopes he would show for an extemporaneous "reading".
He became more reclusive as the 60's ended; taking a vow of silence during the War - although friends would point out, with some levity, that he would break it occasionally to ask "Got any speed?"
Worn down and ailing from years of drug addiction, police confrontation, and shock therapy, Bob passed away in San Francisco Jan 12, 1986.

Though he was published by New Directions and City Lights, respected and held in awe by his peers, "the hidden master of the beats" never quite fit in to the beat movement or any any movement - an individual to the last;

'...i know of a place in between between, behind behind, in front of front, below below, above above, inside inside, outside outside, close to close, far from far, much farther than far, much closer than close, another side of an other lies out on the far side of music...that darkling plane of light on the other side of begins at the bitter ends..."

Bob Kaufman in younger days

* thanks to dear pal Sarah of Waterville for sending me some Kaufman just when the soul needed it most!

check out Bob Kaufman's poetry books:
Golden Sardine
Ancient Rain
Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness
Cranial guitar

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