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Monday, May 24, 2002


An Auto/Biographical Sketch of Jack Hirschman

By Jack Hirschman & Matt Gonzalez

Born in the Bronx, New York City, December 13, 1933. Son of Stephen Dannemark Hirschman and Nellie (Keller) Hirschman. Stephen Hirschman is an insurance agent and Nellie Hirschman works as a secretary. The couple has a second child, Cynthia, born February 4, 1936.

Attends James Monroe and DeWitt Clinton High Schools, in the Bronx. Graduates from Clinton H.S., 1951.

Works as a reporter, at age 15, for two weekly newspapers: The Bronx Times and The Bronx Press-Review. While Hirschman is there, The Bronx Times is shut down by the Kefauver Crime Committee because of its bookmaking operation.

Works as a copy boy for the Associated Press, New York City, 1951-1955.

Attends Long Island University, for one year, where he studies journalism, 1952. Later, he transfers to City College in Harlem.

First published poetry appears: Fragments (New York: privately printed, 1953). It is printed at a small press near where Hirschman works for the Associated Press. It is a four-page book containing three poems. The themes contained in this first book are a microcosm of the work Hirschman will produce in the years to come. The first poem is a verbal/visual experiment consisting of a rectangular poem, centered on the page, with letters that run down the page in an unorthodox typographical design. The second poem is a two-page love poem. The third poem is a political poem written for the "guerrillas in the mountains," concerning the Filipino Huk and Cuban revolutionary movements. The political poem is inspired by Hemingway's novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Around the time Fragments is published, Hirschman sends some stories he has written to Ernest Hemingway, who is living at Finca Villa, Cuba. Hemingway responds by encouraging Hirschman to continue writing and suggests that he read Stephen Crane, Guy de Maupassant, Ambrose Bierce, Gustave Flaubert, and the early Thomas Mann. Years later, following Hemingway's death, the Associated Press sends out Hemingway's letter to Hirschman on the "A" wire and it is published in newspapers around the country, including the New York Times, as "Letter to a Young Writer," July 3, 1961.

Marries Ruth Epstein, a classmate at City College, 1954. Two children are born, David in 1956, Celia in 1958.

Two early poems, "Paschal Song" and "Look Up and Let Me Dwell in Your Grim Eyes," appear in the Riverside Anthology of student poetry, 1955. Fellow City College schoolmates Herbert Marder, Morton Paley, and Robert Kelly are also included in the volume.

Receives a B.A. in English Literature from City College of New York, 1955.

Begins work on an M.A. and Ph.D. at Indiana University, Bloomington, 1955. Student Teaching Assistant: Indiana University, 1955-59, in English. At the university he meets student Clayton Eshleman and visiting artists Leon Golub and Nancy Spero. Eshleman will later publish Hirschman in his journal Caterpillar. Hirschman writes an early review of Spero's work "Classics in Modern Art Theme of Two-Man Show," which is published in the Indiana University newspaper, March 1958.

Receives an M.A. in English Literature from Indiana University, 1957. Master's thesis on the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer. Hirschman is attracted to the work while learning Old English.

In 1957, Hirschman translates Vladimir Mayakovsky from the Russian with Victor Erlich, a visiting teacher at the School of Letters and the author of Russian Formalism. Although he does not yet know Russian, Hirschman asks Erlich to provide him with literal translations that he then puts into the American idiom. The translations are not published until 1971.

Brings translations of Mayakovsky to Allen Ginsberg in New York City, 1957. The two have been corresponding since the publication of Ginsberg's Howl.

The poem "A Correspondence of Americans" is published in the multi-lingual magazine Botteghe Oscure, in Rome, 1958. Hirschman's work appears in the English-language section along with work by W.S. Merwin.

Receives a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University, 1959. Doctoral thesis entitled “The Orchestrated Novel: A study of poetic devices in the novels of Djuna Barnes and Hermann Broch, and the influence of the works of James Joyce.”

Instructor: Dartmouth College, 1959-1961, in English. Students include Michael Moriarty, Stephen Geller, and David Birney. He also befriends recent graduates David Rattray and Alden Van Buskirk. While teaching at Dartmouth College, he meets poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Stan Brakhage, all of whom visit the campus on reading/lecture tours. Ferlinghetti will later publish his work.

While at Dartmouth, Hirschman publishes the first major review of John Wieners' The Hotel Wentley Poems, which appears in The Village Voice, 1960.

First major book of poetry published: A Correspondence of Americans (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1960), with an introduction by Karl Shapiro and with cover artwork by Leon Golub. Shapiro writes about Hirschman: "He takes the ‘forms’ as they come, whether the meters or the meanings. He takes them or leaves them. He uses American as it strikes him – as it probably is – with rich baroque gutteral, learned or New Yorkese, bombastic or tender, with the full gamut of the comedy of our unbelievable, impossible heritage.… He is neither ashamed of what he knows nor carried away by it; he is natural. What a relief to find a poet who is not afraid of the ‘vulgar’ or the ‘sentimental,’ who can burst out laughing or cry his head off in poetry, who can make love to language or kick it in the pants."

Hirschman is encouraged to visit poet Charles Olson in Gloucester, Massachusetts by John Finch, the head of the English Department at Dartmouth, who was a roommate of Olson's at Harvard University. Hirschman makes the trip in the spring of 1961. He and Olson speak primarily about Djuna Barnes, whom Olson met in Paris in the early 1930s. He and Hirschman meet one more time in England a few years later.

During the 1960s, Hirschman's writing is increasingly influenced by the poetry being written by Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson. Assistant Professor of English at UCLA, 1961-1966. His students at UCLA include Gary Gach, Steven Kessler, Max Schwartz, Jim Morrison, among others.

In 1962, Hirschman's wife Ruth becomes program director of drama and literature for KPFK (Pacifica) radio. She holds the post until 1967. Hirschman is often invited to read with other poets on the radio. One of the radio shows produced is a week-long program devoted to Antonin Artaud, whose work Hirschman begins preparing for publication in 1963.

Hirschman receives a UCLA writing grant, 1964-1965. He makes his first visit to Europe, where he visits Paris, Greece, and England. While in London, he completes the first volume of a spoken-word novel entitled JAH, which remains unpublished although selections appear in Miscellaneous Man and Caterpillar.

In 1965, while in Greece, Artaud Anthology, which Hirschman edits, is published by City Lights Books in San Francisco. Hirschman's work on the volume includes selecting material and organizing translations from the French, including some of his own translations. He is assisted by others, including David Rattray. The most affirming review of the book is by Charles Bukowski in the Los Angeles Free Press.

Travels to England for 6 months. Asa Benveniste's Trigram Press publishes YOD (London: Trigram Press, 1966). It is the beginning of the Kabbalistic tendency in Hirschman's work that will reappear in the ensuing decades.

Vietnam War begins in 1965 while Hirschman is in Europe.

Hirschman returns to the United States in 1965 and resumes teaching at UCLA. He begins writing against the Vietnam War in the Los Angeles Free Press and speaking out against the war on local radio stations.

Hirschman meets and collaborates with various avant-garde artists living in Los Angeles including Rico Lebrun, Lee Mullican, Galya Tarmu-Pillen, Wallace Berman, Dean Stockwell, George Herms, James Gill, Bob Alexander, and Russel Tamblyn. He meets and associates with poets Anais Nin, Stuart Perkoff, William Margolis, William Pillin, Bert Myers, Gene Frumpkin, Malka Heifetz-Tussman, Alvaro Cardona-Hine, and Charles Bukowski.

The Zora Gallery publishes three works by Hirschman: Two (Los Angeles: The Zora Gallery, 1964); Interchange (Los Angeles: The Zora Gallery, 1964) and Kline Sky (Los Angeles: The Zora Gallery, 1965). Two is a large art book with ten love poems by Hirschman and lithographs by Mexican muralist Arnold Belkin.

While teaching at UCLA, Hirschman protests the war in Vietnam. Among other things, Hirschman participates in public demonstrations, he gives "A" grades to all draft-eligible students to assist them in avoiding the war, and he gives unorthodox final exams on the Vietnam War.

Hirschman is fired by UCLA for his alleged "activities against the state," 1966.

Remains in California, living in Venice, 1967-1971. Decides not to return to academia because of the increasing corporate-like nature of the university.

While living in a small house near the beach in Venice, he becomes increasingly isolated. Corresponds with David Meltzer, poet and editor of Tree magazine, who encourages Hirschman to continue writing and translating. Kabbalistic translations by Hirschman appear in Tree, including his translation of the Sepher Yetsira by Carlo Suares (from the French of the original Hebrew).

Publishes Black Alephs (New York/London: Phoenix Bokshop/Trigram Press, 1969) with artwork by Wallace Berman.

Begins a collaboration with Paul Vangelisti and John McBride of Invisible City/Red Hill Press on various translation/writing projects, 1970.

Hirschman's and Erlich's Mayakovsky translations published under title Electric Iron (Berkeley: Maya, 1971).

Publication of Hirschman's translation of Rene Depestre, A Rainbow for the Christian West (Los Angeles/Fairfax: The Red Hill Press, 1972) from the French. Depestre's work turns Hirschman to Marxism. Hirschman begins to study Haitian poetry and Voodoo. He later learns Haitian Creole.

Marriage ends in 1972. Divorce, 1974.

Hirschman arrives in San Francisco, 1973. He lives in various residential hotels in North Beach and Russian Hill. Meets poets Jack Micheline and Bob Kaufman, and James Willems, editor of Isthmus magazine, all of whom introduce Hirschman to San Francisco's literary scene. Begins working on Beatitude magazine with Luke Breit, Tom Dawson (aka Thomas Rain Crowe), and Neeli Cherkovski.

Capra Press publishes Hirschman's Cantillations (Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1974).

Begins publishing ephemeral street pamphlets and translating the work of Andrei Voznesensky, Alexander Kohav, Robert Rodzhdestvensky, and Natasha Belyaeva from the Russian, 1975.

In 1975, the journal Stump, in Athens, Ohio, devotes an entire issue to Hirschman's poetry and translations.

Golden Mountain Press publishes Hirschman's The Cool Boyetz Cycle/And (San Francisco: Golden Mountain Press, 1975).

Beatitude publishes Hirschman's Kashtaninyah Segodnya (San Francisco: Beatitude Press, 1975).

Lives with artist Kristen Wetterhahn, 1975-1983.

City Lights Books publishes Hirschman's Lyripol (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1976). By this time, Hirschman is in a circle of poets in North Beach that includes Gene Ruggles, Neeli Cherkovski, Janice Blue, Gregory Corso, Kaye McDonough, David Moe, Tom Dawson, Harold Norse, Ken Wainio, Kirby Doyle, Tisa Walden, Bob Kaufman, Jack Micheline, Alexander Kohav, Kristen Wetterhahn, Wayne Miller, A.D. Winans, Kush, Paul Landry, and Jack Mueller, among others.

Between 1976 and 1989 Hirschman disseminates roughly 125,000 handmade works of cultural propaganda, in the tradition of agit-prop activism. Hirschman calls these "talking leaves" in the American Indian Sequoia tradition. They are written in Russian and English, and are primarily political in nature, written in support of the workers' movement.

In 1979 Hirschman makes contact with the Marvin and Ruth Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry in Miami Beach, Florida. The Sackners begin buying Hirschman's verbal/visual work of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s the Sackners often pay Hirschman's rent at the Tevere (now Columbus) Hotel in North Beach in exchange for unique books made by Hirschman.

Travels to Sicily and Greece, where he works with poets and painters, 1980.

Joins the Communist Labor Party, 1980. He works, among other activities, as a cultural activist with poets Luis Rodriguez, Michael Warr, Kimiko Hahn, Sarah Menefee, Bruno Gulli, Carol Tarlen, David Josef, among others.

Begins publishing longer poems under the title of Arcanes. Many begin to appear in the journal Left Curve, edited by Csaba Polony, in the early 1980s. Hirschman describes the Arcanes as the dialectical materialist transformation of (often) alchemical or mystical materials. They strive to bring the spiritual meaning of dialectical thought and feeling forward in a personal/political sense.

Member of the Union of Left Writers collective, which edits and publishes Compages: International Translations, 1982-1989. The journal publishes revolutionary poems from as many as 45 languages, translates American poets into other languages, and sends copies to activist groups and writers' unions in 50 different countries. Members of the collective change through the years. The most consistent are R. V. Cottam, Carol Tarlen, and David Joseph.

Death of Hirschman's son David from leukemia, 1982.

Lives and works with poet Sarah Menefee, 1983-1998.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Hirschman organizes and participates in political activities surrounding issues of homelessness, immigration, and police brutality.

In 1984, he founds the Jacques Roumain Cultural Brigade, a Haitian support group named after the poet and founder of the Haitian Communist Party. Among the members of the Cultural Brigade are Rosemary Manno and Paul Laraque. Hirschman begins a relationship with Haitian poet Paul Laraque, who lives in New York City, whose works Hirschman translates from French and Creole.

Member of the Roque Dalton Cultural Brigade, which translates poetry from Central America, 1983-1989. Among Brigade members are Alejandro Murguia, Francisco Alarcon, David Volpendesta, Barbara Paschke, Magaly Fernandez, and Juan Felipe Herrera. Hirschman translates from the Spanish, as part of the Brigade's work, Roque Dalton’s Poemas Clandestinos/Clandestine Poems (San Francisco: Solidarity Educational Publications, 1984).

After the death of Bob Kaufman in 1986, Hirschman edits a collection of more than 50 tributes entitled Would You Wear My Eyes? A Tribute to Bob Kaufman (San Francisco: Bob Kaufman Collective, 1989).

He is arrested numerous times while demonstrating and occupying vacant buildings in the early 1990s, as part of activities of the Communist Labor Party, in support of the fight against homelessness.

The Communist Labor Party dissolves voluntarily in 1992. After a period of transition, Hirschman becomes a member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America in 1994 and contributes to their newspaper, The People's Tribune.

Curbstone Press publishes two books by Hirschman: The Bottom Line (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1988) and Endless Threshold (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992).

Azul Editions publishes Hirschman's The Xibalba Arcane (Washington, D.C.: Azul Editions, 1994).

Begins publishing under the imprint Deliriodendrun Press in 1994. That same year, Hirschman begins giving reading tours in Italy and England, where he also conducts writing workshops at local schools and universities.

Sergio Iagulli and Raffaella Marzano begin publishing Hirschman's work in Italian, including: a translation of Endless Threshold, which is published under the title Soglia Infinita (Salerno: Multimedia Edizioni, 1994); L'Arcano di Pasolini (Salerno: Multimedia Edizioni, 1996); L'Arcano di Shupsl (Salerno: Multimedia Edizioni, 1996); and L'Arcano Xibalba (Salerno: Multimedia Edizioni, 1997).

In 1997, he is detained while entering England, then released. He travels briefly to Italy and returns to England, where he is again detained and subsequently deported. The official reason given is that Hirschman does not possess a work permit to give a poetry reading.

During a six-week tour of Italy and France in early 1999, Hirschman gives 28 readings promoting the publication of two books: J'ai su que j'avais un frč re (Pantin, France: Le Temps des Cerises, 1999) and Arcani (Salerno: Multimedia Edizioni, 1999).

In 1999, Hirschman's Deliriodendron Press publishes, in bilingual form, the first edition in any language of Martin Heidegger's poems for the French poet Rene Char, Imaginings (San Francisco: Deliriodendron Press, 1999). The poems are translated from the German.

Marries Anglo-Swedish poet-artist Agneta Falk, 1999. David Meltzer performs the marriage ceremony.

San Francisco Chronicle publishes lengthy profile on Hirschman by Mike Weiss entitled "Dean of S.F.'s Marxist Poetry, Jack Hirschman Is Lauded Abroad, Unkown at Home," March 20, 2000.

Hirschman and Falk begin living half the year in Yorkshire, England. They spend much of that time giving readings throughout Europe.

In 2002, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passes a Resolution commending Hirschman for his many accomplishments, specifically noting his work as a poet and translator. The commendation also acknowledges Hirschman's activity as a political and social activist through his work with the Jacques Roumain Cultural Brigade, Roque Dalton Cultural Brigade, and League of Revolutionaries for a New America.

The Before Columbus Foundation presents Hirschman with an American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2002. The citation, written by David Meltzer, reads in part: "Jack Hirschman is an immensely present yet hidden figure in the cultural politics and life of American poetry. Amazing prolific – on the highest levels of committed artistic and activist involvement – his work is generous, open, and penetratingly critical. His critique is not just sung or hectored in the easy one-d too much political poetry is neutered by; it is of immense depth and profundity. His magnum opus – The Arcanes – is on the same footing as modernist epics like Pound's The Cantos, William Carlos Williams's Paterson, Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems, H.D.'s Trilogy, and Thomas McGrath's Letters To An Imaginary Friend. – We are honored to give recognition to his work and life, as he honors and challenges our work and lives."

Revised: 6/11/02