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Journal, Day Four

By Robert Hershon

So I started meeting poets. Now, you didn’t walk into a bar and always find Ginsberg, Snyder, Whalen, McClure, and Corso all sitting there like a matched set, any more than you would have found Picasso, Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and McAlmon nailed into place for constant viewing. But there were some poets who were around. There was Bob Stock, who made sandwiches at the Bagel Shop and occasionally played bad trumpet. John Ryan tended bar at The Place and went off by himself into the mountain wilderness for weeks at a time. He’d been one of the six proprietors of the Six Gallery, site of the famous “Howl” reading. David Meltzer sold used books at the Discovery Bookstore. I saw Helen Adam standing on a wooden crate, talking to a street-corner crowd at a Grant Avenue Street Fair. From time to time, I found myself talking with Lawrence Ferlinghetti in Vesuvio, across the alley from City Lights.

There was one common denominator: I never ever thought of reading a poem by any of them.

I got to know Jack Spicer strictly as another guy who was always there, wearing his ratty suede jacket as he sat hunched at the bar. He was a serious and knowledgeable baseball fan and we watched quite a few Giant games together.

The San Francisco papers were always declaring some moron or other to be “King of the Beatniks.” If anyone could have lived up to that title, it was Bob Kaufman.


I never called the police when I heard Bob Kaufman
getting beaten up in the alley behind the house in North Beach
since it always the police who were beating him.
They loved the way he bit and kicked and
scratched and never gave up.

We were neighbors in 1959—
until I came home one night and saw his place had
no door anymore. The cops had paid a call. The floor
was an inch thick with trash and needles, and taped
to the wall was a delivery bag that said: For All Your
Drug Needs, See Your Neighborhood Pharmacist

This was the Kaufman who circulated a petition
to get Henry Wallace’s name on the ballot in
West Virginia in 1948 and was arrested for jay-
walking or some such by a friendly deputy who,
as he threw him into the drunk tank, said
Hey boys—
I got a New York commie nigger kike for you.

Now the city of San Francisco has named a street
for him—an alley, indeed! —O this shameless old
whore of a city!

On the day after he died I read
a NY audience an old poem of mine in which he appeared
standing on a curb, afraid to step off.
A man came up to me afterward
to bemoan Bob’s untimely death. Untimely?
It’s the bloody miracle of the century that
Bob Kaufman lived till sixty. So many people
seemed to be against the idea.

(The German Lunatic, Hanging Loose Press, 2001)

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, February 22nd, 2007 by Robert Hershon.