Bob Kaufman (1925–1986) was one of the most important—and original—poets of the twentieth century. He is among the inaugurators of what today is characterized as the Afro-Surreal, uniting the surrealist practice of automatic writing with the jazz concept of spontaneous composition. Collected Poems brings together all of Kaufman’s known surviving poems, including an extensive section of previously uncollected work.
... the most comprehensive selection of his verse to date, a volume that contains a lot of previously uncollected work. It reminds us that Kaufman had his weaknesses; his poems could tip over into splintered whimsy. Yet 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 ... What sticks with you about Kaufman’s work is its celestial wit.
... 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 ... Kaufman observes, records, and reflects upon the degrading conditions of his environment without self-pity, often tracking others’ sufferings and his own inner disturbance with impressive restraint ... 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.'
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 ... Kaufman’s unique contribution is his surrealist’s eye on the street and beyond it, demonstrated in verses that earned him the nickname The Black Rimbaud, as he was dubbed in France, where he has long found an appreciative readership.