Alan Kaufman has gone through a lot of cocoons. A beat poet who went big with his hugely-successful anthology The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, which has sold over 100,000 copies, he also performs spoken-word poetry and is the author of the memoir Jew Boy.
Most recently, however, Kaufman has courted controversy with his newest medium of visual art — not for obscenity or incitefulness, but for being “too Zionist.” He recently declared a beginning to the Creative Zionist art movement, and, with his new book Kaufman’s Visionary Expressionism, puts out a call to arms. Below, he tells MJL about his art, his political platform, and why artists are so amenable to anti-Zionism.
Is it strange to leap, as far as your output goes, from spoken word to Jew Boy to this — does your crowd come along with you, or do you have to win over a new audience every time?
It is strange and difficult, but it’s also exciting to switch creative disciplines and each time I find, in fact, that I must reinvent myself and also win over a new audience. My audiences tend to be even more schizophrenically fractured and factionalized then just between spoken word to memoir to painting.
My last book was a novel, Matches, based on my experiences in the IDF, and fiction readers and memoir readers are entirely different constituents. Even my friends are divided about which book they prefer. In each book they encounter a very different version of me, a different style of writer, a different sensibility. And then there are the anthologies I’ve done–that’s an entirely other audience, and not necessarily one that even knows I’m Jewish/Israeli or thinks of me in those terms. To them, I am “The Outlaw Poet guy.”
In your introductory essay, you say that anti-Zionism “has become…a fashionable stance that one must adopt and adhere to in order to gain credibility and acceptance in the advancement of one’s career.” What’s behind the outbreak of anti-Zionism? And why do you think artists are so often the most guilty of this?