“when i die, i won’t stay dead.”Bob Kaufman
Jail Poems (An Excerpt)
by Bob Kaufman
I am sitting in a cell with a view of evil parallels,
Waiting thunder to splinter me into a thousand me’s.
It is not enough to be in one cage with one self;
I want to sit opposite every prisoner in every hole.
Doors roll and bang, every slam a finality, bang!
The junkie disappeared into a red noise, stoning out his hell.
The odored wino congratulates himself on not smoking,
Fingerprints left lying on black inky gravestones,
Noises of pain seeping through steel walls crashing
Reach my own hurt. I become part of someone forever.
Wild accents of criminals are sweeter to me than hum of cops,
Busy battening down hatches of human souls; cargo
Destined for ports of accusations, harbors of guilt.
What do policemen eat, Socrates, still prisoner, old one?
Bob Kaufman has a unique bio, even for a beat poet. The 10th of 13 children, he left home and joined the Merchant Marines when he was 13, a profession he would continue late into his 20’s. In the 1940’s he moved to New York and went to the New York School, studying literature. He became active in the beat poet’s movement, mostly performing his poems live. It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that several books of his poetry were published by City Lights in San Francisco, where he would eventually move, with the aid of friends, like Allen Ginsburg. His wife helped compile Kaufman compile and record his poetry, assisting with its publication.
Kaufman spent several stints in prison on Riker’s Island while still in New York, for mostly minor charges. He was unfairly committed to a mental institution for unruly behavior and given electro-shock therapy against his will. During this time he found Buddhism. When John F. Kennedy was killed he took an oath of silence that lasted 10 years, a profound sacrifice for a man who was best known artistically as an oral poet. Though he would end his silence for a time, he would return to it at the end of his life.
If you want to hear more of Kaufman’s work, check out the video below:
By Bob Kaufman (1925 – 1986)
Believe in this. Young apple seeds,
In blue skies, radiating young breast,
Not in blue-suited insects,
Infesting society’s garments.
Believe in the swinging sounds of jazz,
Tearing the night into intricate shreds,
Putting it back together again,
In cool logical patterns,
Not in the sick controllers,
Who created only the Bomb.
Let the voices of dead poets
Ring louder in your ears
Than the screechings mouthed
In mildewed editorials.
Listen to the music of centuries,
Rising above the mushroom time.