"It's more like an old marriage now than a romance," he says. "I know all her best stories and jokes and what she likes in bed. Which is fine; she's beautiful and charming, but the bloom is off the rose."
The late Allen Ginsberg, another of this city's angry bohemian artists, once called Kleinzahler "a loner, a genius" whose "verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent and rare."
Still, Kleinzahler has never felt embraced by his adopted city. At City Lights, the famed independent bookstore, he once challenged staff to explain why his books weren't displayed in the store's front window. One of his poems, "San Francisco/New York," describes a place much like City Lights, a used-book store with such "dowdy clientele haunting the aisles" as "the girl with bad skin, the man with a tic."
"They said I was upstairs with the other poets," he said. "It pissed me off."
At the bookstore recently, he cornered events coordinator Peter Maravelis, who joked: "Please, August, please don't hurt me!"
Maravelis said the poet would do well to promote himself more: "He's not about charm. He should have more readings, but he spends more time writing and being a poet than hiring publicists."
At a recent reading at a local community center, Kleinzahler began his riff on university writing programs, which he called "an ugly, typically American thing, like teaching someone to be kind or sexy."
He caught himself: "To say this incurs hard feelings."
But then he started again: "A poet having an agent is like an unattractive person like me having a pimp. I find it disgusting."
He admits he has to teach poetry sometimes -- taking semester-long jobs to pay the bills. But he says the only students he really enjoyed were the misfits he once taught in the city's Tenderloin district as part of a writing grant.
At first, the men struggled -- until Kleinzahler stressed that poetry was not necessarily about pretty experiences. That freed them.
"They really went to town, outdoing each other with regard to violence, crude sexual encounters, misogyny, loathing for family members, cops, authority figures," he said.
"It was rough stuff. But the poetry, however primitively put together, was at least alive and a fair step up from the slop they had been producing, presumably to give me what they thought a poem was, or what I wanted them to write."
These, he says, are the real artists. The rest can take a hike.
"I've offended people of importance," he said. "They irritate me. They're fakes, bullies. But I'm good enough to get away with it. It kind of makes me feel like Robin Hood."
He cocked his head.
"I'm really just a nice, middle-class Jewish boy from New Jersey. If you take a swing at me, I'll probably swing right back. I write poetry."