Kaufman on the radio

American poet Bob Kaufman was born on this day in 1925. That he remains one of the least known writers associated with the Beats is partly due to his reluctance to condemn his work to paper. His poetry was an ongoing product of his life, a one-man oral tradition. With a phenomenal memory for the work of other poets, he would recite it at length and fold his own verse into the mix.

If Kaufman can barely summon a second glance from posterity he was highly visible in his daily life, “appearing as a mendicant, madman or panhandler” in San Francisco. Being black, outspoken and married to a white woman in the 1950s and 60s, he was the subject of continual police harassment; in one year alone he was arrested 36 times. He either coined the term “Beatnik” or was the first to wear it, depending on who you believe. Certainly the hyperactive twitching and caffeinated bebop patter that was the residue of the Beatniks once they had gelatinated into media cliché had their origin, in part, in Kaufman’s very real neural agitation.

While there’s no book-length study of Kaufman, the wide-ranging radio biography of him produced in 1991 is more than just a consolation prize, it’s a highly appropriate vehicle for the story of one of the greatest modern troubadours. There’s a total of two hours’ worth of recollections from friends, family members, fellow writers; if you don’t have time to listen now, it’s worth coming back to later.

Part 1 and part 2.

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4 comments

  1. This is more than amazing
    I am utterly beyond impressed by your ability to ferret out such obscure yet golden bounty

    ps…I hope that sodden creature is back in her padded cell

  2. butterscotchclouds

    What a beautiful face. Weekend listening, for sure.

    • butterscotchclouds

      …Uh, by weekend I meant today. Impressions:

      — “Bob’s main concern was the revolution.” I wonder how these stoned, inspired men of the ’60s felt once they realized an actual revolution wasn’t going to happen. Or did they ever realize it? Many of them seemed to keep waiting…

      — Am I wrong to think a Leopold and Loeb cha-cha-cha sounds like fun?

      — I’d like to site “cosmic apprehension” as an excuse the next time I want to get out of something.

      — Where did Kaufman find the lucidity he had when he wrote “Bagel Shop Jazz”? It’s so fine-pointed, like it was written in hindsight.

      — I get the impression that, given more options, living in poverty all the time would not a poet’s choice be, however noble it makes them feel. I wonder how he would have turned out if he had been given grant money at an earlier stage in his life.

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