Jack Hirschman

From City Lights Bookstore

Jack Hirschman

1933 – 2021

Our friend, poet Jack Hirschman, passed away on August 22nd at age 87. His presence in North Beach will be missed, especially here at City Lights, where he was a frequent visitor. Jack touched the lives of so many, especially young poets. He was a fixture in the poetry scene right up until his passing, reading at virtual events, relentlessly writing and translating. We are the proud publisher of his poetry books Lyripol (1976, now out of print), Front Lines (2002), and All That’s Left (2008), his translations of Antonin Artaud, Artaud Anthology, (1965) and In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology (2010), which he edited, as well.

Intuitively I realize that most of my teachers and professors are now dead. Some were dangerously close even when I sat in their class. But I honestly believe this is the first educator I have been exposed to in death, and it curiously was the one college professor I had who was notoriously unforgettable. Hirschman was always late to class, often arriving after half the class escaped the boredom of waiting. He also gave mini-lectures from an isolated bench in the wings of the Humanities stage or in a lotus position on a small table top or student desk. He was perpetually pinching the diminished end of a Camel and sucking the last dregs of smoke deep into his lungs.

The clearest memory I have of Hirschman was when he came late into class, sat up on the front desk, took off his shirt, flipped open his well-worn Zippo, and torched the gnarly hair on his chest. Myth? You don’t know Jack.

Many years later, when Hirschman was doing time as Poet Laureate of San Francisco, I learned that the university had bounced him right after that year. I forget if I learned the real reason but I’ll bet it was a combination of the complaints he received for grading students and his open opposition to the Vietnam conflict. Hirscman led a silly little one credit lecture class that was designed to read and compare three books: The Odyssey, The Brothers Karamozov, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. I had just read Ulysses, struggled through the Dostoevsky, and flipped through the Homer to remind me of the familiar stories. The final exam was two hours of reading a newspaper. I suppose the unstated idea was to wrap fiction in what purported to be fact, but Hirschman came in two hours late, waxed poetic about the Yin and the Yang, suggested men and women were equals but the woman must walk one step behind, and then announced that every male student would receive an “A” grade to keep them out of the war and that every female student would therefore be happy with a “B.”

The last time I saw Jack Hirschman was on that stage surround by at least 30 furious female students ready to rip his balls off.

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