The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978 is San Francisco poet Bob Kaufman’s third collection and his first to be published since the late 1960s. One of the original Beat poets (the coinage "beatnik" is his), Kaufman’s work has always been essentially improvisational, often done to jazz accompaniment. And he became something of a legendary figure at the poetry readings in the early days of the San Francisco renaissance of the 1950s. With his extemporaneous technique, akin in many ways to Surrealist automatic writing, he has produced a body of work ranging from a visionary lyricism infused with satirical, almost Dadaistic elements to a prophetic poetry of political and social protest.
Born in New Orleans of mixed Black and Jewish parentage, Kaufman was one of fourteen children. During twenty years in the Merchant Marine, he cultivated an intense taste for literature on his long sea voyages. Settling in California, in the ’50s, he became active in the burgeoning West Coast literary scene. Disappointment, drugs, and imprisonment led him to take a ten-year vow of complete silence that lasted until 1973. The present volume includes previously uncollected poems written prior to his pledge and newer work composed in the years 1973-1978, before the poet once again lapsed into silence.