Saturday, September 20, 1986

VOICE OF THE DEAD POET AT CITY HALL: FIRST SAN FRANCISCO ARTS COMMISSION FAIRE POETRY DAY IN HONOR OF BOB KAUFMAN

VOICE OF THE DEAD POET AT CITY HALL
FIRST SAN FRANCISCO ARTS COMMISSION FAIRE POETRY DAY IN HONOR OF BOB KAUFMAN  (no tear sheet)

The small but steady crowd scattered amid the trees and sculpture gardens attended a day-long poetry event held in honor of the late poet Bob Kaufman in front of San Francisco City Hall, on Sept. 20. The event was designated as the first official Poetry Day at the San Francisco Arts Commission Festival "as an important step forward in recognition of the importance of poetry in our society," stated S.F.A.C. Festival Director Michael Bell, he continued, it's "…a milestone event." According to Poetry Day organizers Allen Cohen and Neeli Cherkovski, this was the first literary event ever sponsored by the Arts Commission in its 40 year history. A milestone event indeed.

Tributes to the acclaimed "American Rimbaud" and avant garde jazz poet Bob Kaufman who died January 12th, 1986 at the age of 60, included music, plays, and poetry. Saxophonist Richie Flores and playwright-biographer Mel Clay, who wrote Would You Wear My Eyes? a biography of Bob Kaufman, joined numerous luminous Bay Area poets including Janice Mirikitani, James Broughton, Jack Hirschman, John Oliver Simon, Kush, Julia Vinograd, Maureen Hurley, Jack Michelene, and Q.R. Hand—to name a few.

Kaufman's former wife of 26 years, Eileen Kaufman; and friend/companion Lynn Wildey both reminisced about Kaufman, and also read selections from his poetry.

Of the 16 poets who read at the Poetry Day Tribute, eight poets were winners from a juried poetry contest (I was one of those poets), and eight were chosen to represent a cross-section of San Francisco Bay Area ethnic communities for this first literary event, Michael Bell stated.

"The original BeBop Man," Kaufman, a legendary figure of San Francisco's "Beat Generation", was supposed to have coined the word "Beatnik." (Columnist Herb Caen made it a household word.) Kaufman was the first jazz-rap poet who brought the oral art of poetry to attention. His social political poetry "Second April," "Ancient Rain," and "The "Abomunist Manifesto" are considered to be among his finest writings.  Many of Kaufman's poems have jazzlike rhythms, riffs and synchopation he learned from the jazz greats—including Charlie "Bird" Parker.

Acclaimed in France as "THE  American Black Poet", Kaufman never received the poetic recognition he deserved in America. In France, his books are as avidly read as Rimbaud's, Kerouac's, Bukowski, or  Ginsberg's  poetry.  Because of the international recognition he has received, Bob was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1960 to continue his work, but failing physical and mental health had already taken its toll.

Always an outspoken critic,  Kaufman experienced many brutal confrontations with the police which he documented in "Jail Poems" and "Would You wear My Eyes?" Kaufman's explosive and elegant outpourings ignited the San Francisco "Beat" poetry scene.

Kaufman was one of the founders of Beatitude Magazine, now in its 33rd year.  Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, and Kerouac were deeply influenced by his work. Kaufman published numerous broadsides and his three books, Golden Sardines, Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness, and Ancient Rain are still available through City Lights Books.

In 1963, after the assassination of J.F. Kennedy, Kaufman took a Buddhist vow of silence neither speaking nor writing for ten years until the Vietnam war ended.

...
Let the voices of the dead poets
Ring louder in your- ears
Than the screechings mouthed
In mildewed editorials.
Listen to the music of centuries
Rising above the mushroom time.

—Bob Kaufman
    from "Believe, Believe."

On Sept. 20th, the stage in front of City Hall rang out with the words of "THE American Black Poet." The S.F.A.C. has made a first step forward in recognition of the importance of poetry in our society." Poetry Day should be an annual event. Will the S.F.A.C. continue to support literary events or will poets have to wait another 40 years to be heard?

SIDEBAR/PHOTO: A giant bar of Ivory soap carved into the likeness of the "Venus de Milo" by sculptor Art Grant and a roped-off section of grass sown with thousands of bullets representing our nuclear warheads, were some of the conceptual art pieces on display—suitingly surrealistic—for the event. Kaufman should have been there. It's too bad he had to die first in order to gain recognition as San Francisco's Poet. "Let the voices of the dead poets/ ring louder in your ears."

9/86?