“Cellos et Ghosts” by A.J. Kaufmann, reviewed by Paul Corman-Roberts.
Front cover: a reproduction of Franz von Stuck. Susanna and the Elders (fragment, black and white)
A.J. Kaufmann has demonstrated more than a passing familiarity with Surrealistic and experimental techniques as a sharpshooting member of Bill Shute’s KSE posse. Small, mimeo-style publications such as Siva in Rags; AntiqueWhite Rain; and Symbolisme Psychedelique are wonderful, loopy head trips of sound and thought-play; a savvy addition to Shute’s varied and informed gallery of word-wrights.
So it may come as a bit of a surprise to realize that Kaufmann, while accomplished in these “modern classic” 20th Century forms, is as much an aspiring rock lyricist as he is a poet. His recent releases (Cellos et ghosts; Little White Book) through his own press, New Polish Beat (http://newpolishbeat.wordpress.com/) show a knack for seventies style, roots rock sentiment using a clever mix of hard and soft rhyme within ever so slightly varied choruses. Particularly in the ten pages of Cellos et Ghosts, the poems are really more like songs that sound as if they could have been penned by a more world weary and heartbroken Robert Hunter:
“Forget to forget all the strives of the past
Cool it down, easy come to be with you again
Ramble on easy rose, you sweet rose of dawn
And let all the love you’ve got fall on me as morning rain
As morning rain…”
From “Lay Down”
Kaufmann has shown flashes of this style in some of his Kendra Steiner work as well (Satori In Berlin) which fits nicely with that publishers rock & roll aesthetic, but very little of Kaufmann’s KSE catalogue has pointed to such sheer songwriting as Cellos et Ghosts. With the exception of “Every Thursday” and “Stunt Man’s Arms,” most of these works, despite containing lyrics, come up short of poetic lyricism as they are more given to rhythm and rhyme. These are lines meant to be crooned in front of a wailing guitar and a country rock back beat.
“From the towers of the bridge
I’ve seen the city grow
It’s stretching almost everywhere I look
Sick smoke and all that neon glow
And in front of a gas light illusion
I’ve seen your face through the smoke
I see your lips talkin’ so sweet
But what they day I do not know”
From “Beyond The Pale”
No pieces are more blatantly songs than “Felina,” whose title alone hearkens to the Marty Robbins tune “El Paso” (a tune that just happened to be extensively covered by Hunter’s running buddies, The Grateful Dead) and “Julie,” which perhaps represents the best synthesis in the collection between poetry and songwriting:
“After many years of searchin’
For her traces in the snow
In the midst of silver forests
I have found my only love
Yes, I’ve found a wondrous lady
With the world at her command
When she laughed, the flowers blossomed
When she cried, the sun went red
May the sun shine so warmly
May your eyes cry no more
May the shelter of your mountains
Be forever your sweet home.”
Kaufmann is clearly an all around writer, someone who can troubleshoot the song or the poem with the confidence of a craftsman, and the practices of issuing short but numerous chaps promoted by both Kendra Steiner Editions and New Polish Beat will probably continue to give him a forum in which to keep from becoming specialized or pigeonholed for years to come.
(Full of Crow, November 2009)
In 2014 I have recorded “Lay Down” for my “A Little Beat Uneasy (The Shapes of Folk to Come Vol.2)” album. I am working on the title piece as of Spring 2015.