For Alan Kaufman, the late San Francisco vagabond wordsmith Jack Micheline represented the true spirit of poetry.
``He would beg destiny for a break,'' recalls Kaufman, shaking his head, ``and when he got one he'd chase it around the desk, yelling, calling it a whore, a profiteer.''
Kaufman, himself a poet of some renown, took Micheline's death in 1998 as his cue to find a publisher for the book idea he'd been entertaining for 10 years: an anthology of ``outlaw'' poets -- beatniks, rockers, poetry slammers -- that would establish an unruly new canon of the emotional, anti-academic American verse of the past 50 years.
That book, ``The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry'' (Thunder's Mouth Press; $24.95), has made Kaufman an unexpected and bemused profiteer. Published in November, the anthology has already sold out its first printing of 10,000. A thousand hardcover copies are gone, too; some are already being traded by used booksellers as rare books. The ``Bible'' has even been picked up as a selection of the Quality Paperback Book Club.
Poetry, Kaufman says, has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years because our headlong prosperity is in desperate need of some well-placed skepticism.
``People are feeling like they're being effaced by computers, by all the economic changes, by the rise of corporations. It's 16 years now after `1984,' and there's a screen in every house.''
The poets, he says, ``suspect that something really weird is afoot. There's a lot of defensive energy there. . . . Where do you go to find your truth, or the truth, or something resembling the truth?''