Jack Hirschman: Poetry of Love and Revolution

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A RED RIVER

this so-called Rio Tinto corporation definitely AIN’T!

Which has locked out 600 mine-workers,

many the children of those Okie grapes of wrath

who blew into Boron, California to work

the borax mines two generations ago

and whose worker grand-kids

now are cut, backstabbed, locked out and hurting,

sucker-punched by profit-greed,

out not merely of work but replaced

by no-skill, any-skill, numbskulls, scab-ballocks,

dignity down the drain fried like rotten eggs

in the Mojave desert sun.

Soon the car’ll have to go, and it’ll be a walkin’

George destiny of homeless families

sleepin’ under newspapers, no way back

unless and until:

even MORE UNION, as uniting’s so essential,

even MORE UNION, as the bosses’ bullshit

is piled so high you can land helicopters

on the roofs of their lies,

even MORE UNION, because the UNION’S

our thunderful strength, the reason why

Londoners like we here in San Francisco today

are demonstrating at Rio Tinto headquarters

in the U.K., for Californians locked out of their jobs.

Because any workers dumped or robotically replaced

points the accusing fingers at the number one disgrace,

which is to have to eat the shit that comes from capitalism’s             

                                                                       filthy face,

when what we’re gonna do is flush it down  and restore

the human race.

*

ADVICE TO THE PRESIDENT

You know how much

death has visited

people since that Texas

slimeball slapped its

evil coalition across

the mouth of the world?

Mister President, do you

seriously believe that

by killing human beings

in other countries you

protect us here? Mister

President, think.

Think and immediately

get on the phone

to all our enemies and

invite them to our, or

accept the invitation to

meet them in their lands,

and sit down and agree

on how all mass weapons

of war, all atomic and nuclear

bomb materials are to be

disengaged and once and

for all buried under the sea.

Give us up, Mister President,

and the world will have peace.

That is the only way now.

Surrender our weapons and the

world will recognize that that is

what you meant by “Yes, we can!”

*

BLUE

   About a decade ago, upon returning to North Beach in San Francisco after some months

of readings in Europe, I learned to my surprise and dismay that my old friend, the poet

Blue by name (her birth name is Janice Duff, though she was always known as Blue to those of us who knew her on the San Francisco streets), was in the downtown jail at 850

Bryant St.: she had apparently killed a local longshoreman, the boyfriend of a girlfriend

of hers, with whom she had been staying, in a domestic spat that developed into a drunken argument and then exploded into lethal violence.

   The next day I went to the jail and we spoke together through the separation glass. Blue

was understandably shaky,—she was facing murder charges—and fearful that what had

happened would lead to her losing the house she owned in Northern California (she

had left North Beach some years earlier, and had only returned to appear in a reading

marking the publication of Brenda Knight’s new book, Women of the Beat). At the same

time, she was still Blue, with that tremulous, almost adolescent shyness combined with

the vivacious strength of a woman who’s been around the block more than a few times.

   For the crime she did eight years/nine months time, and that’s no easy rhyme.

   We stayed in touch, with letters and books sent to the prison, and when she was released in 2005, I happened to be giving a reading in Southern California, and I had a chance to meet her and her sister and fellow poet and her faithful friend, Wayne Miller,

briefly but definitely: she looked…,well, Blue—-lovely, if a bit older, obviously happy

to be free of prison.

   Then, when Soheyl Dahi of Sore Dove Press, for whom the story of the Beats and their

legacy in the 70’s and 80’s mean a great deal, told me he planned to publish Blue’s poems and asked me to introduce them, I naturally assented.

   Blue is one of the first poets I met on the North Beach streets in the early 70’s. She was

running the readings at the old Coffee Gallery. There was a little stage and the poets would be called up to sound their wares, and Blue would read as well, and it was there I first heard—and was impressed by—her language.

   Since the 60’s poetry has poured forth from microphones all over the cafes and parks and schools of this land. Most poems, when you see them on the page, are rather staid;

that is, they’re literary writing that the poet has publicly voiced. With Blue’s, something else is happening. The reader will not go far into this book before he or she finds the self wanting to say the words out loud. And it won’t be a performance trick. Recepted voice

is so close to the act of writing in Blue’s compositional dynamic that at times they are

almost indistinguishable.

   The key here lies in the word as a dramatic modality.

   Even in what amounts to a meditation on Loneliness, where there is much “is-ness” in

the business of revealing the component parts of that very American pie, i.e, Loneliness

is this, or Loneliness is that, Blue transforms the philo-meditative dimension of her poetic

“essay” into a dramatic monologue that one is almost forced to utter to him-or-herself.

And she does it by concentration and convolution of language wherein one perception 

leads to the next, as in the manner of Olson’s projectivism.

   She does the same, and perhaps as or even more effectively, in the final work of this book, her battle-hymn against Hope, which affirms Hope’s center. Beauty, through a series of brilliant negations of sappy and superficial and hypocritical Hopes.

    And she can be contrary in her contradictoriness to a provocatively unsettling degree.

For example, in her poem called “Uncle Sam” she denounces the U.S. with the same

bitter fervor that one finds these days in the best anti-war poems aimed against the

ignorant surfeit of patriotism that’s come with the latest pack of bush-shitters. But

Blue’s bitterness is that of a southern cracker, one who identifies with a notion of

“pure south”, of Cherokees uprooted and sent on the Trail of Tears because of the discovery of gold, and when she identifies with the Confederacy, she’ll say: “Oh, you

think the Civil War was fought over slavery,” in such a way that you know she is refer-

ring to the motion of money again, the greed of the North (though no cracker can deny

that the slave trade helped create the South from the get-go as well, and that even Cherokees kept slaves, though they called them “belongings,” like pieces of furniture).

   Yes, there’s that “Up the Rebel!” like “Up the Irish!” which this throwback to the

days of the Barbary Coast would shout from one corner of Specs Cafe or The Saloon to

the other, and that too is a contradiction because some of her closest friends were African-Americans, like Bob Kaufman, with whom she published a memorable poetic dialogue, Closing Time Till Dawn; and her insistence on Blue as her name, and the Blue dress she always wore—considering that was the color and name of the Union in the Civil War—nourishes the contradictory nature of this widely friendly and wildly

enthusiastic poet.

    Here’s a book that shows herself in poetic action, receiving the blows of memory at

the level of street that are both herself and some of the heaviest burdens the soul can

carry. And enduring them into self-surpassing. With poetry’s surpassion.

    Here’s Blue.

                                           2006     

*

JACK KEROUAC:

A MEDITATION

When I was

student young

one day the

Kerouac way

suddenly was

felt far and near

like an eruption

of the American

moment I’d only

been hanging around

or talking about

or studying about

but not living

in the sense of

being inside its

being inside me,

and from that time

forward I was

the word for my

self within:

My ear-drums

could sound,

the tympany

of my tongue

could mystify

with holy galores,

and the motion

of my breath

upon the waters

of the streets

where I’d wept

and hallelujahed

would become

the adventure of

the life I’d give

my life for:

Poetry! That’s

Jack Kerouac’s path

in verse and jazz

prosody: Poetry! 

                     

*

MANTRA FOR MAHMOUD DARWISH

Mah

Mahmoud

Mahmouddar

Mahmouddarwish

Mahmouddarwishgrande

Mahmouddarwishgrandepo

Mahmouddarwishgrandepoet

Mahmouddarwishgrandepoetla

Mahmouddarwishgrandepoetlanou

Mahmouddarwishgrandepoetlanouveau

Palestine chantera tes mots comme des cris

Incendiaires et pleins de compassion dans les oreilles

                    du lendemain glorieux

                                    

*

PAKISTAN

No, it wasn’t a punishment for harboring Talibani

on your eastern slopes or even in your capital city.

No, it wasn’t a punishment for allowing the American

government to dictate the terms of anti-terrorism.

It was the reign of the rains, pure and simple water

because the clouds are sick of all the rot in the world,

all the abuse of women, the trafficking of them and kids,

the eyes of porn, the sperm-oil spurts of dead men

enslaved to perpetual indifference, the hunger that looks

out of the eyes of children for food, understand?

Food is what we’re yelling for in your ears, we’re starving

and a volcano’s going to erupt, a tsunami’s rearing up,

the earth’s quaking under us, fires spreading over our land,

monsoon, typhoon in the last years of this katun: we’re starving

and only water can save us, and it’s killing us! It’s flooding

and drowning us, soaking down to our soul, O undersea,

O underseasons,

O undersea sons

Where is the whale that can drink this whole flood, this

oil of the blood and the flames of this war-sick world,

in the immense cave of whose belly, we will have to live

until we re-learn the alphabet of the future from scratch?

All our gods have failed.

Peace is the only one left.

*

RAUL SALINAS PRESENTE !

He was a pitch and a blend of soul

and pinto wisdom, was Raul Salinas,

a mix of mestizo riffs and radium

idioms, slanging sounds from dungeons

he’d lived in. A heart that worked its way

up through sincerity, humility and compassion

to live permanently in the mouth of his poems,

and those ever-tender eyes. So that with Raul

you always knew you were in the company

of companero, not simply a companero but

the essence of what that word means.

And how all his activities in Austin and San

Francisco, the Latino and Black communities

he worked with, the centers he cultured,

the bookstores he grew, where revolutionary

energies always felt at home and free from

prison with the weapon of the poem,—O when,

O when the santos come marching, O when 

the santos come marching in, you can be sure

Raul will be in that number. The Raul who was,

the Raul who is. Raul Salinas, Presente!

             

*

SLICK SATIN

The satin of BP’s slick

has killed millions of fish

and still it’s taxed shit-all,

and 11 exploded corpses

are bloodcrusted on its hands.

And don’t give me please

the scolding of the President.

He needs that fucking oil

for his drones and copters

to keep killing innocents abroad.

Let’s hear it for… statistics:

How many animals are murdered

in the poor and battered Gulf?

How many soldiers suicided

and overdosing in Afghanistan,

Iraqistan, Newyorkistan, Iranistan,

Sanfranciscistan. How many are

raising their knives to have done

with their humiliated lives

worth less than barrels of oil.

Or putting gun-barrels to brains

instead of making the BP rats

meet the most gigantic cats in

human history, licking our chops,

dying for ratatoui between our teeth.

                          

*

OIL WATER

Oil-water, a spill of gold

that’s killed workers, animals.

Cross the border. Drill a hole.

Arizona, why you so cold?

Tears in Detroit people’s eyes:

the only water not privatized.

Motown lowdown Louis Joe:

All’s backwards, doncha know?

35 thousand without any, who

refuse to send their daughters

to ho for pennies, who shout:

Retaw, Retaw they backwards

cry: Water!Water one day will

sink this stinkingsystem of money-

stuffed lying mouths, our pliers

will get into their mugs, yank all

the rotten teeth out of their bite,

fit those mouths over the pipes

where the spill of such swill of

profits finally will be plugged,

and corporate thieves, downright

plunderers of what’s decent in life

will guzzle till they drown of death,

and all in Detroit, New Orleans and

Cleveland too will raise their glasses

full of simple aitch-two-oh, and toast

and sing, because no sink or tub will be

without it, The Water Song:

Agua! Acqua! Eau!Wasser! Voda!

Hallelujah, Nature’s natural again!

                         

*

THE CHILDREN

allover will remember

their legs their arms,

the amputated spaces

will be Nothing branded

into their little souls,

never to forget, Israel,

you shattered their vessels

with your gunfire, shit on

the word, said fuck you

to the fetus in the womb.

You not they pissed on

your own wholly unholy

tetragramaton, its letters

a fraud and a fake.

I wish I could feed you

hand grenades in your mug,

I want to stuff dead children

into your eyes, lovers of learning

lies.

May selah be broken

in your mouth, may amen

never find chapter and verse,

may your food turn into

the gangrenous limbs of the

children you’ve felled,

those little trees of sparks.

You’ve killed David over

and over, you star of death.

O aliyah, how low!

O victory of defeat!

O stones growing in

the clenches of fists

enraged,

against you,

you rattler of bones!

______________________________

Jack Hirschman (United States, December 13, 1933 – August 22, 2021) was an poet and social activist who wrote more than 100 volumes of poetry and essays.

His first volume of poetry was A Correspondence of Americans, published in 1960 by Indiana University Press. Other boos are Black Alephs (Trigram Press, 1969), Lyripol (City Lights, 1976), The Bottom Line (Curbstone, 1988), and Endless Threshold (Curbstone, 1992), The Arcanes. He was appointed Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 2006, co founded and directed the International Poetry Festival in San Francisco, in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library.

He translated many books from German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Albanian, and Greek.

A revolutionary poet has moved on

By Bengt Berg To use the boxing cliché, the poet has “thrown in the towel”. Jack Hirschman was a fighter who never

Poems of Love, Hope and Peace

Show of A Lifetime (nature) In spring, rhododendrons offer us alluring red and cream buds, display their splendor. Buds open, petals slowly