Cranial Guitar

Cranial Guitar
by Bob Kaufman
Coffee House Press
Minneapolis, MN

Bob Kaufman has been labeled: the "Black Rimbaud", but somehow that appellation seems a cop-out, far too easy a label for a poet of Bob Kauffman's magnitude, when we consider the influence this poet had upon two generations of poets, and jazz musicians; as if the public wanted to push Kaufman into a box, then neatly glue categorization labels to classify his personality, talent, work and life.

Bob Kaufman was active on San Francisco's North Beach, in New York's Lower East side, and the Village, from the 1950s through the 1980s. His street smarts, art-history savvy, singular wit and uncommon, good-sense-wisdom has earned him scorn from some, and scores of cult followers, from those who adhere to the "Beat" movement.

Kaufman composed orally, wrote on paper scraps, played with word spellings, and sound, but made little effort to save anything, invented unorthodox word coinage, tickled the bones of history, earned a celebrity reputation which boardered on infamous, delved deeply into the underbelly of society, and stirred the ire of political, as well as religious leaders. Kaufman wrote sly, often bold, references to murderers, popes, presidents,leaders of state, friends, and other poets. No subject, nor anyone, could escape his less than circumspect mind, or pen, once the thought processes opened those poetic flood gates! And as readers, we are the recipients of his talent.

Kaufman and his cronies loved jazz. It spoke wild language of be-bop; expressive word notes which tingled spines, tickled their minds, with sounds they could relate to, and understand. They numbered, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker (Bob's son was named Parker after Charlie), and scores of other musicians. His poems were spoken, ranted, shouted, and moaned to the accompaniment of jazz; blood stirring, finger snapping, bone thrilling sound.

His poetic friends included Jack Micheline, Jerry Stoll, Eileen Singe (whom he married), Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Margolis, John Kelly, Neeli Cherkovski, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Bob Murphy, Paul Landry, Ted Joans, Raymond Foye, Herbert Huncke, and Lynne Wildey.

Kaufman's magnetic power was dedicated to poetry, and sadly to suffering. He lived a bohemian, beatnik life as a creative word-spinner. Many believed him a madman. Others revered him as a devotional figure, a guru who had achieved a high level of perfection, and mastery of poetic phrases.

Bob caught the tossed rope, and followed it to the end of dope, alcohol, insanity, and almost to the end of his poetry.

Jack Micheline once said,
"He lived it fast. He was a real poet.
The man was a magician.
He had beautiful magic."


Carl Chessman knows, the Governor of California
knows, good Johnny the Pope knows, Salvatore Agron
knows & all the leaky eyed poets know, in their pores,
no one is guilty of anything at any time anywhere in anyplace.


Alien winds sweeping the highway
fling the dust of medicine men
long dead in the california afternoon.


I wish whoever it is inside of me,
would stop all the moving around,...


To live more deeply in Zen,
Zen of the real red bone,
like Coltrane...


I am not a form,
I am me, scared and holy.

Bob Kaufman talked, laughed, chanted, and screamed a different challenge while among us. He made us think and howl, hurl an "eyelid a the moon", read, then laughingly marvel at ourselves, at the "crackling blueness", while weeping for Federico Garcia Lorca's: Black man, Black man, Black man/ for the mole and water jet...

A poetic genius walked through cool shadows on hot sidewalks of dead cities. Many did not recognize Bob's genius, couldn't understand his new way of talking, moving and singing.

If you failed to meet Bob in those days, buy Cranial Guitar and allow his second coming to play upon the strings of your soul.

My hearty thanks and appreciation to Eileen Kaufman, who insisted her husband help her write down his unpublished poetry. Kaufman was the ultimate, quintessential "Beat" who cared nothing for publication publicity, but he did care deeply, for that child within, named spontaneity. Bob's words will play haunted notes upon the inner strings of cranial guitars, if we pause long enough to listen.

An exceptionally good read!

© - Joyce Metzger
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