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Beginning in the 1950s and onward, Bob Kaufman was a shining light in what’s known as the San Francisco poetry renaissance.
A documentary film, “And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead" about the late poet, will be shown at the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival this weekend.
San Francisco-based poet Jack Hirschman will lead discussions about the film. Hirschman and Kaufman were friends.
“We had great respect for each other’s work," Hirschman told KNPR's State of Nevada, "He was a fantastic poet. He was truly an embodied jazz poet.”
Hirschman said Kaufman embodied the conjunction between jazz and the Beat Poets.
“If he were alive today, he would want the affirmation… of the relation to the Beat movement and jazz itself,” he said.
Clark County poet laureate Bruce Isaacson said Kaufman's influence rippled on for years.
“His poetry and the vision that the beat poets presented to the nation in all different forms of art, in novel, in poems, in music is a vision that… the country followed that vision," he said, "It did not stay with the narrow… stereotypical Eisenhower version of our culture at that time.”
A nickname associated with the Beat Generation was actually coined to describe Kaufman.
“He’s just a big, complex poet who really did have a big impact because amongst other things they coined the word ‘beatnik’ talking about Bob Kaufman’s street antics,” Isaacson said.
“He was always cooking up a storm in North Beach in those days,” Hirschman said. Hirschman said Kaufman was thrown in jail several times in the late 50s.
The term beatnik, which was coined by San Francisco-based journalist Herb Caen, is a play on Sputnik, the Russian satellite launched in 1957.
Isaacson said Kaufman wrote poems about his challenges dealing with a mental illness and the so-called treatments he endured. He also exuded a joy for life.
“It isn’t just that he loved language he just filled it with life and beauty and he was a surrealist and so the imagery is so inventive and the range," Isaacson said, "There is a sense of play and joyfulness but there’s also a number of very serious poems.”
On Friday night, Hirschman will give a reading at the Winchester Cultural Center of his own poetry.
Jack Hirschman, San Francisco-based poet; Bruce Isaacson, Clark County (NV) Poet Laureate
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