Siva in Rags

01Like a poetic love child of Gregory Corso and Patti Smith, a child who was left to grow up in Western Poland and is only now checking out the larger world looking to reconnect with his parents, Polish beat-poet A. J. KAUFMANN has broken onto the international poetry scene in the last year, appearing in many of the best online literary journals and also starting his own kick-ass online journal, EVISCERATOR HEAVEN. An experimentalist in the best sense of that word (someone who experiments with form, looking for a new form for each work, not someone who is incoherent for incoherence’s sake), Kaufmann has taken the inspiration of Burroughs, Corso, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Richard Hell, etc. and used these authors as a springboard to blast him into his own poetic stratosphere, one that’s fresh and original and alive on the page. What a refreshing change of pace to find someone who is pursuing new paths in the visionary tradition of the Beats.

After reading some of A.J.’s work online and friending him on myspace, I invited him to submit some material he thought was in keeping with the KSE aesthetic yet 100% Kaufmann, and he delivered in spades. So from the 30+ pages of mind-frying poems he sent me, we’ve cherry-picked 10 pages for his debut Kendra Steiner Editions chapbook, SIVA IN RAGS. Between the shimmering, multi-colored ripples on the Ganges River depicted on the front cover, and icon of cool Nico applying lipstick on the back cover, this is a chapbook that starts where MEXICO CITY BLUES and WICHITA VORTEX SUTRA leave off.

SIVA IN RAGS is set in cramped, “busy” type (Reprise Stamp for the cover, Cambria for the text) to reinforce the edginess and jittery caffeine-fueled flow of this verse. As I said a while back when announcing Kaufmann’s joining the KSE lineup,  “Reading his work reminds me of the excitement I felt when I first read Gregory Corso, Lewis MacAdams, or Ted Berrigan 30+ years ago, the blunt-edged kaleidoscopic slash of the lines and the images, the flow like cheap malt liquor, the visionary of the urban wasteland.”

(Bill Shute, Kendra Steiner Editions, 2008)

Siva in Rags
A.J. Kaufmann
Book review by Gail Gray
Kendra Steiner Editions #102
originally published at Counterexample Poetics, 2009.

Relentless imagery hurled at you at a harrowing pace. You read Siva in Rags either holding your breath or huffing and puffing in the exertion just to keep up with the pace of a mind constantly on fire. I don’t know how A.J. doesn’t go supernova. The man, the mind, crescendos and climaxes in a meticulous meltdown of our complex multi-layered staggering cultures. He attacks the pages as if they were holding back the answers. He delineates the loves, the failures, the endless pursuit for meaning, the windows, closed, soaped, broken, or shuttered, offering glimpses into a brain who observes, embraces the all and the most infinitesimal detail at once. That’s one of this man’s gifts, this streetwise philosopher, this distiller of every nuance from many many corners of the world, this chronicler of the disenfranchised, the seeking, the stumbling, who crawl on their knees in a quest for answers.

In this collection of seven poems we have the reflections of a poet and the doubts of immortality through words. In fact, this whole volume reflects on doubt, even as the words themselves negate this very concept in the mind of the reader, if not the author.

I tried to write an objective review, as an editor, as a reader, but I can’t. I can’t be objective; these poems touch each and everyone personally in a different way. Kaufmann is a conjurer of the most dangerous kind. He summons our own inner needs and demons, the shadows dragging their fears and angers through the gutters like stained cloaks, and then just as rapidly summons our most deep-seated longings. They reach long-armed into prismatic dimensions hoping for succor…. for comfort… for love…what was that? I forget. I need a cigarette.

Vivid commentaries surge forth from his lines, they dance and jive and jig to his rhythms and cadence. You know this man’s a musician even if you don’t read his bio, but as you read pieces like, “Siva in Rags” and “The Street Always Follows the Streetlight” you discover he’s an avatar as well, so deliriously awake he sees all and is compelled to write it down to wake us up too. Before its too late.

Perhaps that’s why he always seems in such a hurry.
Here is just a hint…

“The Street Always Follows the Streetlight”

The darkening lights of St. Antoin’s cemetery swirl
line up
& crack
as the street always follows
the streetlight
& the needle always follows
the vein: the vein
that wasn’t there

I ate lunch at the padre’s grave
lit up
the cemetery lamp
lit up
the Havana
followed the lover’s

threw the bastard
a sonnet
on his tombstone
the letters were gold
as his soul
was just crow’s clipped wing’s

I don’t know Poznan or Vesuvius. But I know how words can take you places and sit you beside people you might never see in person… better than any video, better than any virtual tour. Because that’s what he does. He brings you the soul as well as the streets. Kaufmann does that.

Kaufmann doesn’t need to bully words to do his bidding….they’re waiting in line, crushing the crowd-control barriers, throwing rocks at anyone holding them back… waiting, waiting for Kaufmann to invite them to the party, without a doubt.

Siva in Rags
Author: A.J. Kaufmann
Kendra Steiner Editions
chapbook review by David McLean

This is the debut collection by polish poet A.J. Kaufmann, it is short, almost too short, for he deserves a much longer book, and those will be coming very shortly I imagine. But this collection is appropriately short, just seven poems over ten pages, for the language is electrifyingly complex and perverse. It’s a successfully attempted recollection and a collection of the dusty beauty of dried blood and a cold nose of crystals that don’t reflect any stars except the stars in your own heart.

There are several Leonard Cohen references and the poems are imbued with a beat spirit though Kaufmann is better than the original specimens of that ilk. He is compared for example with Corso, but is so much better that it would be doing Kaufmann a real disservice to align him with the worst in that tradition.

The ending of “Accidentally Last” summarizes the spirit

a poem to summarize
my anonymous
the disenchanted
the 2 A.M. coughing
Cohen’s old songs
& your reddening

a poem scratched on asylum’s
w/ petrified
a poem a lifetime long
the poem the straight jacket hides…

the poem w/ one word only:
“holy, holy, holy…”

Though there are so few poems here, there is more content, more “poetry,” than in other books ten times the length- It should cost a lot but it doesn’t and can be ordered from this url.