Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bob Kaufman's "On" punctures America's conceits

Allen Ginsberg worked at branding himself. I don't know if "branding" was an everyday word at the time but you don't need nomenclature to do it. Some contemporary poets work hard at getting their names in lights and turning same over to ironworkers. 

It doesn't help the poetry.  History is an assemblage, prism, chosen set of facts. Some know how to choose facts (and "facts") about themselves. They don't set the record straight, they straighten the record. Tidy it.  Okay, I'm ranting and since I'm not naming names of the self-branding still alive I will name an overlooked poet who was more influential than Ginsberg, who out-howled Howl. And didn't howl enough having kept a vow of silence through much of the Vietnam War. Kaufman lived the theology behind being a poet. Ginsberg lived the life style (yes, Ginsberg wrote two terrific poems, Howl and Kaddish, but was not the end all be all claimed by so many, at least here in New York).

For information I offer (at least part of) Maria Damon's introduction to a Callalo feature on Kaufman who was black and white, Catholic and Jew and Voodooist and Beat. Maybe the original Beat. And click his name after the poem. And note EACH LINE in this poems punctures America's conceits.


On yardbird corners of embryonic hopes, drowned in a heroin tear.
On yardbird corners of parkerflights to sound filled pockets in space.
On neuro-corners of striped brains & desperate electro-surgeons.
On alcohol corners of pointless discussion & historical hangovers.
On television corners of cornflakes & rockwells impotent America.
On university corners of tailored intellect & greek letter openers.
On military corners of megathon deaths & universal anesthesia.
On religious corners of theological limericks and
On radio corners of century-long records & static events.
On advertising corners of filter-tipped ice-cream & instant instants
On teen-age corners of comic book seduction and corrupted guitars,
On political corners of wamted candidates & ritual lies.
On motion picture corners of lassie & other symbols.
On intellectual corners of conversational therapy & analyzed fear.
On newspaper corners of sexy headlines & scholarly comics.
On love divided corners of die now pay later mortuaries.
On philosophical corners of semantic desperadoes & idea-mongers.
On middle class corners of private school puberty & anatomical revolts
On ultra-real corners of love on abandoned roller-coasters
On lonely poet corners of low lying leaves & moist prophet eyes.
Bob Kaufman, from the Modern American Poetry site

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