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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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3 comments

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.

Creole Beat June 27, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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4 comments

I finally gave up on ever getting to see the library’s copy of Cranial Guitar, Selected Poems by Bob Kaughman. It has been “in cataloging” for so long I have decided that “in cataloging” is a euphamism like “passed on”. “Cranial Guitar, preceded in cataloging by…”. His earlier books, like all those of another famous New Orleans-linked poet Everette Maddox, arevlocked away safely in the library’s Louisiana Collection where I don’t think I am welcome to bring my lunch in while I read.

I couldn’t find a copy to buy in town, either, and was forced to go to Amazon. While Kaufman is associated with San Francisco and the Beats, he is still a New Orleans-born boy and you would think someone might carry a copy. (Same for Maddox, a man who is forever linked with New Orleans). The poetry shelf of Maple Leaf Bookstore, one of my favorite haunts long ago, sits half empty and neglected the last few times I went by. I think I need to go bookstore shopping.

While the New Orleans-born Kaufman is associated with San Francisco and the Beats, here is a poem about Louisiana from that collection.

Early Loves
By Bob Kaufman

Slippery driftwood, icebreaking mudpacks.
Garfish, mothers of cajun whores,
Laughing blood noises, at comic shrimps.
Gliding on leaves of sunken trees.

Dying love, hidden in misty Bayous
Red love, turning black, brown,
Dead in the belly, brittle womb
Of some laughing crab.

A father. Whose, mine?
Floating on seaweed rugs.
To that pearl tomb, shining
Beneath my bayou’s floor.

Dead, and dead,
And you dead too.

No more arm twisting,
Heart twisting laughter.
Dead moss, colors of sorrow.

Later in hot arms, hers,
Between sweaty lovemakings.
Crying will wet moss swamps,
Hidden beneath her arms.

Tears will wash her dirty murdered soul.
God will be called to atone for his sins.

Considered America’s foremost surrealist poet and considered America’s Rimbaud by the French (who have all of his papers in a library), much of what he writes takes more than a few readings, and some bits might take a lifetime to decode, so I best sign off and get started. I think I may have to post up Reel Three of Golden Sardine, an incredible bit of writing about “the Deathbed of the last Buffalo in Nebraska” and the bloody conquest of the West.