Kaufman, Bob. Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman

City Lights. Oct. 2019. 325p. ed. by ed. by Neeli Cherkovski & others. ISBN 9780872867741. pap. $40. POETRY
One of few African American poets in the Beat Generation, Kaufman (1925–86) lived a full, if fragmented, creative life despite enduring poverty, racism, police brutality, and mental instability. This new compilation includes the three collections he published, plus 30 never-seen works. Adventurous improvisation, surrealism, political resistance, and erudition characterize Kaufman’s restless reimaginings of reality. Despite suicidal thoughts (“Before completely objective mirrors/ I have shot myself with my eyes”) he found solace in jazz, art, and poetry. Even when the world felt unbearable (“I sit here writing, not daring to stop,/ for fear of seeing what’s outside my head”) he spun beauty out of “Pale morning light, dying in shadows./ Loving the earth, in midday rays.”
VERDICT Acutely aware of the contradictions between American ideals and its practices, Kaufman’s imaginative and jaggedly passionate poetry seems ripe for rediscovery. “When I die,” he wrote, “I won’t stay/ Dead.” This volume persuasively argues for his resurrection.
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