In the 1980's, there was still a vital community of poets in North Beach; many who had participated in the "beatnik" poetry movement that began in the late 1950's when Bob Kaufman and William Margolis published "Beatitude Magazine". It was the beginning of a new way to write and experience poetry, and it would change poetry forever after; from silent reading to a wave of "groovy" spoken words to the beat of Jazz.
For nearly 3 decades, there remained a feeling on the streets of North Beach that revitalized each time Bob Kaufman appeared in one of his infrequent visits back to the neighborhood. He made magic. He was electric. He flew. The electric atmosphere was fragile, like trees of glass; so transparent that it felt like you were walking through rising limbs on a white morning and coming out the other side, invigorated by the elation. Bob Kaufman made elation like a drug. Everyone felt it, and was left in awe of this quiet man.
Bob Kaufman was the original Beatnik. He was the first poet to climb on top of a table and begin spouting wild, wonderful verse, with a jazz saxophone pounding out mellow accompaniment. This occurred in the Coexistence Bagel Shop, in 1958, on upper Grant Avenue, in North Beach.
Bob Kaufman's incredible mind energized a generation, many of whom didn't know he existed. But James Dean did, and Marlon Brando did, and the fact of their films, riding on the Beat Movement, grabbed the youth of America and turned them inside out. They Jived. Jack Kerouac, an old friend of Bob's was creating a kind of 'Beat' literature on the East Coast, while Bob Kaufman was creating 'Beat' poetry on the West Coast. Those are the facts, absolutely. Fellow poets rode the wave that the "American Rimbaud" created.
When he died, poets who had disappeared into the rooms of their low-income hotels, came out to the street, all on the same morning to the same street corner outside the Caffe Trieste. Poets, musicians, painters, neighborhood residents, family, friends and fans of the beat poetry movement lined up at Grant Avenue and Vallejo behind the band. All the poets carried Bomkauf (Kaufman - Abomonist Manifesto) poems, and as the band began the march, they stopped to read his poems in the doorways of the significant places where Bomkauf used to go. John "Jack" Mueller began, wearing Bob's face like a flag stuck into his hat. Next to him stood Marty Matz, another great North Beach poet.
I had been photographing North Beach since the early 1980's and on this day my project was to end with the scattering of Bomkauf's ashes into San Francisco bay. It was not an easy decision, to invade with the camera, or not. But I knew, absolutely, that the record was more important than my reservations. So, camera in hand, I cabbed over to the Trieste.
It was early morning, the light was soft and definitive, detailing the growing crowd in front of the Caffe. Inside, against the back wall, a select group of Bob's closest friends and poets sat together quietly, frowning at my camera, than looking me in the eye with resignation and a tacit acceptance of how important these moments were. Ron Kovic, Neeli Cherkovski, Jerry Kamstra, Robert Marion Edwards, Herman Berlandt and another friend whose name I've forgotten, other than the distinction of his having driven a taxi in Paris sometime back. Eventually, everyone migrated out front of the Caffe where a group of musicians had gathered together to head the parade that was to go up Grant Avenue. Directly behind the band, the primary poets, friends & family members gathered, graduating into a sizeable crowd. No permits for a group gathering had been applied for. In San Francisco that's probably grounds for a jail term.
When the parade started to move, I ran in front of it, trying to capture the light of this incredible morning, this farewell to one of the most illusive, loved poets in the history of our world.
I believe that if there is a 'poet counterpart' to Van Gough, and perhaps Jean Michel Basquiat, it is Bob Kaufman. He was monetarily poor, private, wild, filled with wisdom, original thought and was certainly the most misunderstood poet of the American scene. He is more well known now, more than two decades after his death, than during his lifetime.
The first week of November 1985, I received a call from Bob's lady, Lynne Wildey, to come out to their home on Potrero Hill to take Bob's portrait. On November 11, I made the journey. Bob put KJAZ on and we spent the next few hours intent on finding the perfect light.
The sun shone all day, making high contrast with my TRX film, until finally, a tired Bob said goodbye to me in the last of the light that filtered through the kitchen window, where he stood patiently for the final click of the shutter.
Bob Kaufman died January 12, 1986, two months after the final portraits were taken, in his sleep, wearing the same clothes he wore the day he stood in his back yard, facing me with the dark of his eyes. I know positively that he wanted to be remembered. He wanted to say goodbye. His way. His silence spoke like a volume of poetry that only he could write.

Michelle Maria Boleyn

An excellent biography by A.D. Winans can be found at

A.D.Winans remember Bob Kaufman

Copyright ©1985 Michelle Maria Boleyn. All rights reserved
No copying allowed. Watermark © protected

click to view larger
Hand written broadside in the window
of City Lights Books on the day of the Parade.

Most of the negatives from this series
have never been printed.

B O B  K A U F M A N
T H E   F I N A L   P O R T R A I T S

All Rights reserved. © Photographer: Michelle Maria Boleyn


Exhibited in the 'J. Paul Leonard Library',
San Francisco State University 1986.

© Michelle Maria Boleyn 85 - 86

Marty Matz & Jack Mueller
reading during Bob Kaufman's Funeral Parade, January 1986
© Michelle Maria Boleyn 85 - 86
Ron Kovic, Neeli Cherkovski, Jerry Kamstra, Robert Marion Edwards, Herman Berlandt and another friend

Bob Kaufman's Funeral Parade - January 1986
© Michelle Maria Boleyn 85 - 86

Bob Kaufman November 11, 1985
© Michelle Maria Boleyn 85 - 86
Bob Kaufman final portrait © all rights reserved
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