Bob Kaufman Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Bob Kaufman is known primarily for his poetry, but he was a contributing editor for Beatitude, a mimeographed literary magazine first published in San Francisco in 1959. Kaufman’s poetry, which began as a form of oral literature, crosses over into theater because he was a San Francisco poet known for his spontaneous performances on the streets of the city and at the Co-existence Bagel Shop.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Bob Kaufman’s “Bagel Shop Jazz” was nominated for the Guinness Prize for Poetry in 1961 and appeared in Volume 4 of The Guinness Book of Poetry, 1959-1960 (1961). In 1979, Kaufman received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His Cranial Guitar won a PEN Center USA West Poetry Award in 1997.

Because Kaufman applied the improvisational jazz style of saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker to poetry, Kaufman became known as the Original Bebop Man. In addition, because Kaufman followed the examples of Surrealism and Dadaism, creating extraordinarily imagistic combinations of words that eluded explication, some critics refer to Kaufman as the Black American Rimbaud. Although Kaufman made little effort to collect his writings, his poems still appear in major anthologies of African American and Beat generation writing. Both National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service have produced programs on Kaufman.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Anderson, T. J. Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2004. Examines the jazz poetry of Bob Kaufman, as well as of Nathaniel Mackey, Stephen Jonas, and Jayne Cortez. Anderson provides overviews on jazz poetry as well as chapters on each of the poets. He studies Kaufman’s appropriation of the rhythms and tones of jazz.

Christian, Barbara. “Whatever Happened to Bob Kaufman?” In The Beats: Essays in Criticism, edited by Lee Bartlett. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1981. Christian calls attention to social protest and jazz in Kaufman’s work.

Damon, Maria. “’Unmeaning Jargon’/Uncanonized Beatitude: Bob Kaufman, Poet.” In The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Examines the poetic works of Kaufman and the language he used.

_______, ed. “Bob Kaufman: Poet A Special Section.” Callaloo: A Journal of African American and African Arts and Letters 25, no. 1 (Winter, 2002): 105-231. This special section in Callaloo presents articles on Kaufman by Aldon Lynn Nielsen, James Smethurst, Amor Kohli, Jeffrey Falla, Rod Hernandez, and Horace Coleman.

Henderson, David. Introduction to Cranial Guitar, by Bob Kaufman. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1996. Henderson explains Kaufman’s career and quotes extensively from a radio documentary on Kaufman.

Kohli, Amor. “Black Skins, Beat Masks: Bob Kaufman and the Blackness of Jazz.” In Reconstructing the Beats. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Kohli sees jazz performance as a means of protest.

Lawlor, William T. “Cranial Guitar.” In Masterplots II: African American Literature, edited by Tyrone Williams. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2009. Provides in-depth analysis of Cranial Guitar, paying attention to themes and meanings. Also contains brief biography of Kaufman.

Thomas, Lorenzo. “’Communicating by Horns’: Jazz and Redemption in the Poetry of the Beats and the Black Arts Movement.” African American Review 26, no. 2 (1992): 291-299. Thomas draws a connection between jazz artists and rebellion against conformity.

Winans, A. D. “Bob Kaufman.” American Poetry Review 29, no. 3 (May-June, 2000): 19-20. Winans offers a compact review of Kaufman’s life.