'Black American Rimbaud'


Legendary Beat poet Bob Kaufman Dies



Bob Kaufman, one of the most prominent Beat poets, died in San Francisco yesterday from emphysema at age 60.

A legend both in America and abroad, Mr. Kaufman was called 'the Black American Rimbaud" and "The Original Be-Bop Man."

An integral part of the San Francisco poetry scene of the 1950s and '6Os, he was close1y associated with a constellation of writers inc1uding Allen Ginsberg; Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and Gregory Corso.


When Herb Caen first coined the word 'beatnik' back in the late '50s, Bob Kaufman was the poet he was writing about." wrote The Chronicle's late art critic, Thomas Albright.


In France, Mr. Kaufman's "sometimes explosive, sometimes elegiac poetry is read almost as widely as Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac," Albright said in 1981.


In that same year the late Chronicle columnist Charles McCabe acknowledged that Mr. Kaufman in his later years came to be regarded as a North Beach "bum" and a "burnt-out case" from alcohol and drugs. McCabe disputed such labels, saying, "There's still lava in him."

Mr. Kaufman showed up in stained pants and a smile that was missing several teeth at a North Beach tribute to him four years ago but recalled great regal phrases from Hart Crane "in a clear, ringing voice," Albright reported.

One of Mr. Kaufman's poems published in 1965 offered this mirror:


My body is a torn mattress,

Disheveled throbbing place

For the comings and goings

Of loveless transients ..

Before completely objective mirrors

I have shot myself with my eyes,

But death refused my advances


An outspoken critic of society, the eccentric poet experienced several confrontations with the police. One infamous example in August 1959 ended with police ripping down a Kaufman poem from the window of , the Coexistence Bagel Shop on upper Grant Avenue. The poem said Hitler one day "moved to San Francisco, became an ordinary Policeman/devoted himself to stamping out Beatniks."


Two decades later, Albright said, he had become a "solitary, self-enclosed figure who wanders the streets of North Beach, or along Market near cheap, third-run movie houses his ravaged, cleanly chiseled African sculpture's face a PBX of tics and twitches, his mouth shaping bare audible syllables, his slight, wasted but wiry fighter's frame. somehow exuding a hard, steely intensity."


Born in New Orleans of a German Jewish father and black Roman Catholic mother from Louisiana, Mr. Kaufman joined the merchant marine at age 18. His first mentor was a first mate who urged him to read great books.

In 1959, he joined with Ginsberg, and poets John Kelly and William Margolis in San Francisco to found Beatitude magazine.


In 1963. according, to, ,North , Beach legend, he stopped speaking, having taken a vow of silence because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He began speaking again after the Vietnam War ended.


His, books include "Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness, 1965; "Golden Sardine," 1967 and "The Ancient Rain," 1981. In 1981, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a $12,500 "creative writing grant" which was described by Caen as more money than he has ever seen at one time."

Lynne Wildey, a poet who lived with him for the past five years, said Mr. Kaufman continued his work and readings through last summer , when he participated in a benefit at Golden Gate Park.

He died yesterday, morning at is the Lady of Perpetual Help Residential Care on Florida Street.


He is survived by a son, Parker Kaufman of San Francisco; a daughter, Antoinette Kaufman, of Sonoma County; two former wives; and eight brothers and sisters, including George Kaufman of Oakland and Olivla Peete of San Francisco. Funeral and memorial services are pending.


Obituary San Francisco Examiner * * * Monday January 13, 1986