Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation begins with the premise that critical attention to the work of Bob Kaufman is long overdue, and that Bob Kaufman is a significant American poet in the African American and Beat traditions. The purpose of this dissertation begins to rectify this need with a study of Bob Kaufman’s verse. My exploration of Kaufman necessitates some pointed attention to the cultural, social, and psychological influences that gave rise to his work, specifically his upbringing in the south, his travels, and the misrepresented times of his life in current biographical entries and some present scholarship. I will also address the notion of him as an oral poet within the context of the African American Oral tradition and the improvisational nature of Jazz music. I will also consider the surrealist impulse in Bob Kaufman’s work. Thus, this dissertation will treat Bob Kaufman’s use of the Surreal and the Jazz idiom as a social and political vehicle for his art. This practice locates him at the heart of modernism, and looks ahead to the postmodern in American Literature. In this regard, I will demonstrate how Bob Kaufman outdistances his Beat contemporaries and pre-figures the Black Arts and Cultural Movement of the 1960s not just in chronological order but in social and political content, and literary practice. My project seeks to understand Bob Kaufman’s overall aesthetic by close analysis of his major themes; linguistic prowess; his often overlooked southern surreal; the collision of music and poetry in his poems; his use of rhythm and typography as structural performance. To this end, I will examine the Solitudes collection with attention to his emphasis on poetic shape, structure and sound, and how to read the influence of Jazz in his printed work. I demonstrate why American literary scholarship should unearth the multi-layered mind field that is Bob Kaufman’s verse.



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Committee Chair

John Lowe