Straight Jacket Elegies

Straight Jacket Elegies

Alan Kaufman is the author of several books of poetry including American Cruiser (Zeitgeist Press) and Horseman of the Apocalypse (Cyborg Productions), as well as the memoirs Jew Boy (FSG) and Drunken Angel (Viva Editions). He is the editor of the acclaimed anthologies The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, and most recently The Outlaw Bible of American Art (Last Gasp), as well as Matches: A Novel. His essays and writings have been published in Evergreen Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post and The Los Angeles Times.

Straight Jacket Elegies evinces all of life’s beautiful, sordid banality in Kaufman’s blunt spoken word style. Influenced by Whitman and the Beats, New York’s slam poetry movement and the infamous, confrontational readings of Cafe Babar, Kaufman takes us on a trip through the dark, underbelly of modern America. Both an homage to David Lerner, and a testament of survival, Straight Jacket Elegies is a time capsule into the hopelessness of the Reagan era, when epidemics stood on every street corner declaiming the falsehoods of a shining city on the hill and the decaying of the American Dream. But it is also a call to arms for all the poets and lunatics and lovers in the world to speak up, to shout to the heavens, to survive by any means necessary.


What they are saying about Alan Kaufman:

" An abundance of suspense, curiosity, wonder and awe.... I want to congratulate and thank Alan Kaufman for enriching my life...  

Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn

"Frightening and deeply moving..."

–Publishers Weekly

"Raw in its passion and lacerating in its testimony.”

—Oscar Villalon, former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle

Alan Kaufman has been compared to Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, Hubert Selby Jr., and even Ernest Hemingway, another soldier turned writer. His books include the memoirs JEW BOY and DRUNKEN ANGEL, the novel MATCHES and the landmark anthologies The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, The Outlaw Bible of American Literature (co-edited with Barney Rosset) and The Outlaw Bible of American Essays.  His books and writings have been translated into German, Dutch, Swedish and Japanese.

Here is one of our favorite poems from Straight Jacket Elegies:

  An image or two stuck:
   the swimmer tossed into the sea and surfacing
   with damp curls, reborn, beside himself with joy,
   and further on you enjoin the student,
   me I guess,
   to destroy you, the teacher,
   and that will spread your breast
   You're dead
   I'm out here, Walt, rushing broke
   down Mission to beg Unemployment
   to cut me a check
   I'm out here in dry dock,
   spilling my guts like a dweeb to a bunch of drunks
   whose names I don't know,
   and I'm thinking I'll have these narratives
   from Hell tattooed on my skin,
   so I can step up to cops,
   rip off my shirt
   and shout: Read this!
   Because underfoot, Walt,
   is not grass but flames
   I'm living the private American inferno
   where anguish is something you do at home, 
   behind locked doors; terror
   expressed to strangers in rented rooms
   anonymously, and late at night
   over telephones to friends, who sob in turn
   of their own HIVs of incurable hepatitis
   enlarged livers secreting
   schizophrenic genes of utter emotional
   drear, shame success tumors,
   and harrowing despair at the ghosts
   of their walking fathers
   I am laughing by kitchen light, Walt,
   bent with rot-toothed 
   grin over your most famous poem, 
   watching my reflection
   in the night of ashtray eyes
   and lips shaped by the vowel of Oblivion,
   and tonight, Walt, I am James Dean
   on the day of his death,
   I am Marilyn Monroe's baby grown,
   the second one she lost,
   and all that I have been
   is falling down
   like a house of cards
   in this room by-the-week,
   with my iodine-dabbed
   gangrenous leg like a seated shriek
   I am shrieking, Walt, for a drink,
   for a fix, for a mother, for a God,
   for a kindness, for a child,
   for a prayer I can say
   without sneering in my guts
   I'm asking, Walt,
   have you got like me
   slant eyes, hook nose,
   black skin and Spanish lips,
   do they let my type with dick,
   one ball, big tits, mascara, wig,
   pumps, two wombs
   and cocktail dress into Heaven?
   I'm, sick of Wonder bread, Walt
   Have you got democratic steak for me?
   Have you got red-blooded boneless
   shoes for me, without holes, a lot 
   of ketchup, size twelve?
   Because I'm years in the alleys
   in the garbage cans in the rain
   laying for you with a poem like a gun
   I don't know what's got into me
   I'm trigger obsessed
   Must be the Bronx where I grew up
   Must be Bronx make me 
   hard as an aerial snapped
   off a car, as a packed
   Saturday night special,
   and I wanna rumble,
   Walt, I wanna mix it up
   I'm infected with the virus of the poor
   who never read the Norton Anthology of Modern Verse
   Who sing madrigals of bucked teeth,
   harelip and rickets, recite sonnets
   of executed eviction summonses
   for unpaid back rents, and job
   applications to Macdonalds,
   and critically deconstruct
   stab wounds painted with Mercurochrome
   I've got a vision, Walt, of savage
   love for the one-eyed drunk,
   the limping thief, the unshaven
   cabby in drag
   I've got a vision, Walt
   of the cosmic benefit
   of sound nutrition
   of medical attention
   of housing and of voice
   in a truly democratic society
   on the filthy piles of flesh
   dying on the pavement
   I've got a vision of extended hand
   of lifting arm
   of healing souls leafing and loafing
   in winter coats and resoled shoes
   and of their lonely power to destroy you,
   once and for all, old teacher,
   and spread your breast a billion-fold,
   to absurd bursting point, like gout,
   and not just your breast, old fella,
   but your neck and cheeks,
   guts and buttocks and knees
   will swell, inflamed with their angry joy
   And the poor will not drown in the sea
   Their deaths, for too long
   given over to God, will return to us
   with restored trust
   in the thriving intimacy of the earth
   and from love we will come
   and with love we will see
   even in the hour of our greatest blindness
   that to an even gentler love we go