Death is Unavoidable, But Poets Will Live Forever
—A Tribute to Jack Hirschman at the “Resisting Barriers, Embracing World Poets” Poetry Reading
By Jidi Majia
Translated by Jami Proctor Xu
For a long time, I’ve had an ineffable worry, because Jack Hirschman looked as if he had aged a bit more. Each time I saw him, there were some obvious changes. First it was a slightly unsteady gait, then it was needing a walking stick when going out, and later it was needing a wheelchair when going up or down stairs. I remember the last time he came to China was when he was invited to participate in the Third Chengdu International Poetry Week. When we went to Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, Kuanzhai Alley, and the Jinsha Museum, we made special arrangements ahead of time to prepare a wheelchair and to have one of our male volunteers be in charge of taking care of him. Perhaps due to the powerful charisma he had as a poet, each time he got on stage to read or give a speech, or when he gave group media interviews, his eyes would immediately emit vibrant rays of light that radiated in all directions. In this way, he was similar to the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Especially when listening to his deep, resonant voice reading poetry in English, that ineffable worry would completely disappear from my consciousness.
Oddly enough, or maybe precisely because I had a special fate connection to this poet who was born the same year as my father, from the day I met him, I worried one day I would lose him. Actually, everyone is going to die; perhaps it was that he was already elderly in the real sense when I met him, the time heaven gave him was already limited. I believe if you truly love someone, you’ll be worried the impermanence of life will suddenly snatch away the person you love. In this way, I believe Jack Hirschman’s and my spirits were completely connected. Just like he told me, while translating Albanian poetry thirty years before, he had discovered a favorite word. The pronunciation of that word sounded like my name. He also said that in terms of their sense and music, both words implied a mysterious, inexpressible fate; we were destined to meet in this lifetime.
There are many phenomena in life it seems you can merely perceive; most of the time they just float in the human subconscious. Recently the worry about Jack would often float into my mind. To be precise, Jack passed away five minutes before we were to gather online to hold the World Poetry Movement coordinator’s meeting. He was the convener of this meeting. In the first moments, when those of us attending the meeting from different parts of the world heard the news of his passing, in addition to extreme shock, we sank into a profound grief. As a result, we ended the important online meeting early. To my knowledge, world poets from various places are using different means to remember this outstanding poet, internationalist, and poetry activist, because his passing is, without a doubt, a great loss to contemporary international poetry circles and to the World Poetry Movement. Even in such a short period of time since he left us, we already feel that immense vacuum, and I’m afraid it will be a long time before it can be filled.
I once wrote in a forward to Jack Hirschman’s Chinese poetry collection, “Everyone who’s familiar with Jack knows he became famous in the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s, in the movements fighting for the rights of the poor and of workers, and due to the socialist ideals he’d held since he was young. As a result of his involvement in the student movements, he was fired by the school authorities, becoming, not only in name but in reality, a socialist poet who opposed all violence and sought the equality of all peoples… In his writing career that spans over sixty years, the image he’s left on the outside world is more that of a wanderer in society and a street poet. He’s also the poet among these who’s produced the most works. He’s already published over one hundred poetry collections. Perhaps because he made poetry his life pursuit all along, there’s no doubt that poetry truly became one of the most important parts of his life. I think this commitment to and love for poetry will remain throughout his life, and it’s because of his important contributions to poetry that he was named “Poet Laureate” of San Francisco… As a poet always in resistance, who, at the same time, warmly embraces the world with all his heart, even now, Jack is still sharing the voice of his poetry in many parts of the world. In San Francisco, he participated in the establishment of the Revolutionary Poets’ Brigade, and with many renowned world poets, launched the World Poetry Movement. At the same time, ignoring much of the inconvenience brought about by old age, he personally traveled to many countries and regions, using poetry to promote dialogues and exchanges between people of different nationalities, different beliefs, and different cultural backgrounds. As a poet, he saw things philosophically, with wisdom and humor. What moved me even more was he seemed more like a sage whose child’s innocence hadn’t vanished. Whenever he was excited, he would loudly sing ‘The Internationale.’ That deep, resonant voice will never be forgotten by those who heard it.”
Friends, Jack Hirschman the poet has left us forever, but his poems will never die, the same way his dream of fighting for a beautiful tomorrow for humankind will inevitably journey on with us. I believe that his soul will hear our reading today, titled, “Resisting Barriers, Embracing World Poets,” which is being held to remember and pay homage to him. I also believe his poetic spirit of resisting all barriers and embracing humanity will be carried forward by even more poets and lovers of poetry.