In the early 1960s, African American poet Bob Kaufman began what would turn into a decade-long period of silence, withdrawing from poetry and the world at large. While much has been written about Kaufman’s relationship to the Beats, jazz, and the Black Arts Movement, very little theorizing has been done on Kaufman’s period of silence, with many critics simply viewing it as a biographical aberration. This article suggests that such misreadings of Kaufman’s silence fail to acknowledge the agency and radical aesthetics behind it. When viewed in the context of avant-garde practices, Kaufman’s silence makes sense as a performative gesture that collapses the divide between life, art, and politics. Furthermore, silence becomes an ethical act, in part because it declares the autonomy of the poem in opposition to the reactionary politics that govern the world. This article ends by suggesting that being cognizant and sensitive to such a poetics of silence can allow us to reconsider the meaning of the lyric poem.


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pp. 147-163
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