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Come home to New Orleans, Bob Kaufman August 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Jazz, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I just finished Beat poet Bob Kaufman’s Ancient Rain and Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness, two books of his I picked up at City Light’s bookstore when I was in San Francisco. I have had his anthology Cranial Guitar for a while but haven’t owned any of his full books. (His first, Golden Sardine, is out of print and new copies go for $150). Kaufman was a leading light of the San Francisco poetry Renaissance of the 1950s and coined the term “beatnik”, and is considered America’s true Surrealist master.

A son of New Orleans the son of a German-Jewish father who was a railroad porter on the Chicago train and a Roman Catholic Black mother from Martinique who filled the home with books from estate sales), he lived elsewhere all of his grown life: on the ocean as a merchant seaman, in the port cities of the east coast where he was a merchant marine union rep and political organizer, and ultimately in and around San Francisco where he was a central figure of the emerging Beat generation

Kaufman wrote frequently about race, and his poem THE NIGHT LORCA COMES is one that has stuck with me since I first encountered it. In it he offers a vision of all Blacks leaving the south, liberated from its he geography of that dark history at last.

I understand the poem as the vision of an African-American political activist and poet living through the 1950s, but hope that in spite of the racial insanity that still prevails in the south today that many of us here in New Orleans are moving past that, that we have at least a core of people who want to build a city Kaufman would not recognize, one he would embrace as he did San Francisco. If he were alive today I would hope he would find life in the Bywater or 7th Ward as much to his liking as he once did life in North Beach.

I had meant to write something about my visit to San Francisco (and may yet get to that before I get swept away by the current) but for now, this is what something inside that would not let me drag my tired self to bed last night insisted I write this first.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
And hear Leah Chase
Sing Mahalia Jackson
In the synagogue of the oaks
As magnolias brown and fall.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
And see the old white south
Gathered at preservation hall
Where old Negro Bodhisattvas
Blow their Creole love songs.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
See the White Citizens Councils
Huddle in their Potemkin Americas
At the swampy back of town
In terror of their children’s radios.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
To see pale northern tourists
Hungry for that Black jazz
Wolf down bad okra gumbo
At Maspero’s slave exchange.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
To see Lorca’s sons openly
Embracing in the red carnations
Mirrored in the dark windows
Of the sad, historic cathedral.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
And the ghosts of Congo Square
Will second line behind
Your broken poet’s bones
With an African brass band

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
And Indians from all wards
Will carry you on their shoulders
The length of Basin Street
And sing that Indian Red.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
And we will bury you in honor
bring flowers and pound cake
your hallow tomb with Marie Laveau
Homer Plessy and Eluard Burke.

Come home to New Orleans
Bob Kaufman
And enter here, eternally
Into that crackling blueness
Of towering Gulf storms
Pouring out the ancient rain.

Comments»

1. Adrastos - August 12, 2009

Tarzan beat poet now. Odd development.

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2. Mark - August 13, 2009

Well, something like this usually ends up on poemsbeforebreakfast.wordpress.com but I’ve got not time or energy for a post here, and it seems to be on topic for New Orleans.

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3. Marguerite - May 13, 2016

Thank you for this Poem. It gave me chills and really moved me.
I’m reading “Solitudes…” now & just goodled Bob Kaufman in New Orleans & this popped up.

Things come when you need them.

Best wishes,

Marguerite

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