Jack Hirschman was born in 1933 in New York City and grew up in the Bronx. A copyeditor with the Associated Press in New York as a young man, his earliest brush with fame came from a letter Ernest Hemingway wrote to him, published after Hemingway’s death as “A Letter to a Young Writer.” Hirschman earned degrees from City College of New York and Indiana University, where he studied comparative literature. He was a popular and innovative professor at UCLA in the 1970s, before he was fired for his anti-war activities. Hirschman has lived in California ever since, making an artistic and political home in the North Beach district of San Francisco. He is known for his radical engagement with both poetry and politics: he is a member of the Union of Street Poets, a group that distributes leaflets of poems to people on the streets. He has also been instrumental in the formation of the Union of Left Writers of San Francisco. The former poet laureate of San Francisco, Hirschman’s style has been compared to poets ranging from Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas, and Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg. His poems’ commitment to leftist politics draws comparisons to Vachel Lindsay and Pablo Neruda. A communist since 1980, Hirschman told Contemporary Authors: “It is vitally important at this time that all poets and artists collectivize and form strong socialist cadres in relation to working-class cultural internationalism.”
In keeping with his political values, Hirschman’s books are published with small, independent presses, often in small runs. According to the poet David Meltzer, Hirschman is “a great teacher who refuses to work in the university, a scholar of great merit who refuses to publish in the mainstream presses; most everything is published by himself, 150 copies.” Though Hirschman has rejected mainstream success, he has published prolifically. His 50-plus volumes of poetry include A Correspondence of Americans (1960), Lyripol (1976), Front Lines: Selected Poems (2002), and All That’s Left (2008). His 1,000-page masterpiece, The Arcanes, was published in 2006. The work, written over decades, was heralded by Alan Kaufman in the San Francisco Gate as “unlikely and historically significant a literary production as, say, the appearance of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass or James Joyce’s Ulysses… like Whitman’s and Joyce’s masterpieces, it traces the progress of an individual consciousness through landscapes teeming with the horrible glory of modern life.”
Hirschman has been hailed as “one of the left’s most prolific and consistent poetic voices,” by Contemporary Poets. But while he is known throughout San Francisco, his real literary fame has blossomed in Europe, where he frequently publishes both his original work and volumes of translation. Meltzer noted that in France “they consider him a major Communist poet.” Part of Hirschman’s dedication to politics and poetry can be traced to his numerous translations of radical poets from around the world. The many languages he has translated include Russian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Albanian, Yiddish, Vietnamese, and Creole. In interviews, Hirschman has acknowledged his political involvement began by reading Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, as well as through his contact and friendship with the Beats. As he told Marco Nieli in Left Curve, “Mayakovsky, the first street poet of the century, caught my attention, also because of his relation to the Bolshevik Revolution and because Ginsberg’s Howl had evoked something of Mayakovsky’s journalistic notation. So, before I had learned Russian (which was to come 18 years later) I had Victor Erlich, a friend at the time in Indiana, give me the translations of the texts and I wrote Mayakovsky into American in free verse form. And it was that translation (though I’d written a short praise poem to Allen after Howl’s publication) that actually began my friendship with Ginsberg, when I brought the text to New York in the late ‘50s.” Since then, Hirschman has continued to translate unabated. He both co-edited and co-translated the collection Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2002). Kai Maristed remarked in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that “With Open Gate in hand, one is tempted to say that news of the death of responsible American publishing may be premature.”
Hirschman continues to explore the political nature of poetry. In 2003 he edited Art on the Line: Essays by Artists about the Point Where Their Art and Activism Intersect, which includes writings from Amiri Baraka, Roque Dalton, Martín Espada, George Grosz, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Margaret Randall, James Scully, and César Vallejo, among others. While coming from different points of view, the essays consider how art is naturally ideological. Whether as editor, translator, or poet-performer, Hirschman remains dedicated to the power of poetry. As Contemporary Poetry concluded, “He is a tireless presence at rallies, demonstrations, and benefits, and he remains one of the most galvanizing readers of poetry performing today… his work resonates with an insistent reminder of the American and international radical continuum.”
Poet, 1952—; Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, instructor, 1959-61; University of California, Los Angeles, assistant professor of English, 1961-66. Painter and collagist, with exhibitions in Los Angeles and Venice, CA, 1972.
- Fragments, privately printed, 1952.
- A Correspondence of Americans, introduction by Karl Shapiro, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1960.
- Two, lithographs by Arnold Belkin, Zora Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), 1963.
- Interchange, Zora Gallery (Los Angeles, CA), 1964.
- Kline Sky, J. Brandi, 1965.
- Yod, Trigram Press (London, England), 1966.
- London Seen Directly, Cape Golliard (London, England), 1967.
- Wasn’t It Like This in the Woodcut, Cape Golliard (London, England), 1967.
- Ltd. Interchangeable in Eternity: Poems of Jackruthdavidcelia Hirschman, privately printed, 1967.
- William Blake, Love Press, 1967.
- (With Asa Benveniste) A Word in Your Season, Trigram Press (London, England), 1967.
- Jerusalem: A Three-Part Poem, Love Press, 1968.
- Aleph, Benoni and Zaddik, Tenfingers Press, 1968.
- Jerusalem, Ltd., Trigram Press (London, England), 1968.
- Shekinah, Maya, 1969.
- Broadside Golem, Box Zero, 1969.
- Black Alephs: Poems, 1960-1968, Phoenix Book Shop (New York, NY), 1969.
- NHR, Christopher’s Books (Goleta, CA), 1970.
- Scintilla, Tree Books (Bolinas, CA), 1970.
- Soledeth, Q Press (Venice, CA), 1971.
- DT, Yes Press, 1971.
- The Burning of Los Angeles, J’Ose Press, 1971.
- HNYC, Skyline Press, 1971.
- Les Vidanges, Beyond Baroque, 1972.
- The R of the Ari’s Raziel, Press of the Pegacycle Lady, 1972.
- Adamnan, Christopher’s Books (Santa Barbara, CA), 1972.
- Aur Sea, Tree Books (Berkeley, CA), 1973.
- Cantillations, Capra, 1973.
- K’wai sing: The Origin of the Dragon, a Surrealist Text, Beyond Baroque, 1973.
- Djackson, Rainbow Resin, 1974.
- Cockroach Street, Street, 1975.
- The Cool Boyetz Cycle, Golden Mountain (San Francisco, CA), 1975.
- Kashtaninyah Segodnyah, Beatitude (San Francisco, CA), 1976.
- Lyripol, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1976.
- The Arcanes of Le Compte de St. Germain, Amerus (San Francisco, CA), 1977.
- The Proletarian Arcane, Amerus (San Francisco, CA), 1978.
- The Jonestown Arcane, Poetry for the People, 1979.
- The Cagliostro Arcane, Michael Hargraves, 1981.
- The David Arcane, Amerus (San Francisco, CA), 1982.
- Class Questions, Retribution Press, 1982.
- The Necessary Is, Fishy Afoot, 1984.
- Kallatumba, Ruddy Duck, 1984.
- The Bottom Line, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1988.
- The Triana Arcane, Deep Forest (San Francisco, CA), 1991.
- The Satin Arcane, Zeitgeist Press (Oakland, CA), 1991.
- Endless Threshold, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1992.
- The Xibalba Arcane, Azul Editions (Washington, DC), 1994.
- The Arcane on a Stick, Roadkill Press (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
- The Graffiti Arcane, Deliriodendron Press (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
- The Green Chakra Arcane, Deliriodendron Press (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
- The Grit Arcane, Spout (West Yorkshire, England), 1997.
- The Open Gate, Express Press (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
- The Archaic Now Arcane, Deliriodendron Press (San Francisco, CA), 2000.
- Front Lines: Selected Poems, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 2002.
- Fists on Fire, Sore Dove Press (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
- Rivers of Quicksilver: Haikrostics, Sore Dove Press (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
- The Arcanes, MultiMedia Edizioni (Salerno, Italy), 2006.
- All That’s Left, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 2008.
- (With Victor Erlich) Vladimir Mayakovsky, Electric Iron, Maya, 1970.
- Antonin Artaud, Love Is a Tree, Red Hill (Fairfax, CA), 1972.
- Rene Depestre, A Rainbow for the Christian West, Red Hill (Fairfax, CA), 1972.
- Luisa Pasamanik, The Exiled Angel, Red Hill (Fairfax, CA), 1973.
- Stephane Mallarme, Igitur, Press of the Pegacycle Lady, 1973.
- Ait Djafer, Wail for the Arab Beggars of the Casbah, Papa Bach Bookstore, 1973.
- Jean Cocteau, The Crucifixion, Quarter Press (Bethlehem, PA), 1975.
- Johann Maier, The Book of Noah, Tree Books (Berkeley, CA), 1975.
- (With Alexander Altmann) Eleazer of Worms, Three Tracts, Beatitude, 1976.
- Alexander Kohav, Orange Voice, Beatitude, 1976.
- Kohav, Four Angels in Profile, Four Bears in Fullface, Beatitude, 1976.
- Robert Rodzhdestvensky, Requiem, Beatitude, 1977.
- Natasha Belyaeva, Hunger, D’Aurora Press, 1977.
- Kohav, Emigroarium, Amerus (San Francisco, CA), 1977.
- Eliphas Levi, Dove Rose, Viscerally Press, 1979.
- Depestre, Vegetations of Splendor, Vanguard Press, 1980.
- Santo Cali, Yossiph Shyryn, Antigruppo (Sicily, Italy), 1981.
- Cali, Jabixshak, Amerus (San Francisco, CA), 1982.
- Katerina Gogon, Three Clucks Left, Night Horn, 1983.
- Pablo Neruda, Elegy, David Books, 1983.
- Sarah Kirsch, Poems, Alcatraz Editions, 1983.
- Agim Gjarkora, Communist, Fishy Afoot, 1984.
- Roque Dalton, Clandestine Poems, Solidarity (San Francisco, CA), 1984.
- Paul Laraque, Slingshot, Seaworthy Press, 1987.
- Ambar Past, The Sea on Its Side: Poetry, Post-Apollo Press (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
- Ferruccio Brugnaro, Fist of Sun, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1997.
- (With Boadiba, and editor, with Paul Laraque) Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 2001.
- Martin Heidegger, Fling of Flame, Ezioni Gutenberg (Salerno, Italy), 2002.
- Alberto Masala, In the Executioner’s House, CC. Marimbo (Berkeley, CA), 2003.
- Pierre Molinier, The Magic Glee Clubs, CC. Marimbo (Berkeley, CA), 2003.
- Edvino Ugolini, Incandenscences, CC. Marimbo (Berkeley, CA), 2004.
- Ismael Ait Djafer, The Wail of the Arab Beggars of the Casbah, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 2004.
- Antonin Artaud, Artaud Anthology, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1965.
- Efrain Huerta, Five Hundred Thousand Azaleas: The Selected Poems of Efrain Huerta, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 2000.
- Art on the Line: Essays by Artists about the Point Where Their Art and Activism Intersect, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 2002.
Editor, Compages: International Translations, 1982-89; editor, Poetry USA, 1996. Also associated with Tree magazine, Bolinas, CA.
- Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
- Library Journal, June 1, 1992, Daniel L. Guillory, review of Endless Threshold, p. 132; January, 2003, Scott Hightower, review of Art on the Line: Essays by Artists about the Point Where Their Art and Activism Intersect, p. 108.
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 25, 2002, Kai Maristed, "Poetry's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose," p. 4.
- Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1992, review of Endless Threshold, p. 65.
- World Literature Today, spring, 2002, Chris Waters, review of Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry, p. 129.