The quiet, vatic voice, cognizant of the subtleties of the natural world and the gentle passages of time, ala Merwin (Kauffman’s totem poet) or Stafford say, is generally not in vogue in our hip, brittle, noisy with allusiveness and overall urbanized literary world of today. Not that Kauffman isn’t city-fied. He is. But his attentiveness is mostly directed to the crows, the dusk, the dirt, his inner meditations, old childhood memories, shadows and light and, essentially, to what Robinson Jeffers would have called the “eternal things.” Kauffman, in the poem “a cafe in time” is overt regarding his literary (really, human) intentions, stating his journey is “to no longer feel the need/to create/but to instead simply/transcribe….[he’ll] leave creation to the well-educated/the clever.” While that’s possibly under-estimating his own capacities, or perhaps seeking to shield himself against criticism, I still admire his straightforward self-knowledge. He comprehends where to position himself and that he doesn’t, currently, fit per se and that it can’t and will never matter.
Bruce is a treasure for the Kingston literary community and other Canadian poets too. I personally have never had a tour stop in that city without not only having a reading set up by him but also by him lending me his couch and feeding me all the coffee & Cheerios my heart desires. This generosity doesn’t mean I won’t be honest about the fact that (as indeed Kauffman himself admits, noting “in the end/I will have been/writing a single poem/for over seventy-five years) these individual lyrics often feel like segments in one lengthy piece of similar motifs, begging the question – should Kauffman attempt this form, or any other form actually than the 60s-70s mode of free verse, the ‘tiny i’ lyric and see what happens? (though there is always something to be said about a consistent and recognizable style). Also, a bit more consideration might be given to the over-adjectivizing in lines like “a white pale emptiness” or such clicheed personifications as the sun “painting the horizon.”
Despite these tendencies, Kauffman is utterly adept at creating a mood, the gently haunted perspective of an “observer/passive….an idea of a fly on a wall” (“what i mostly am”), who senses winter, aging, is steeped in empathy, a real person anchored mostly to temporal yet forever states of being, human shapes unnamed but for the poet-teachers Kauffman holds close and commemorates and who will be, for him, what remains. I love how this stark yet warm book closes on the fierce assertion that when the poet “runs out of paper” he will “sketch poems in the soil,” then in the air, and when he runs “out of air.” And there, “an evening absence still waiting for moon” leaves us, dandled over the precipice of understanding that we do and don’t and won’t ever.