Like many a fine North American poet, Jack Hirschman is a literary celebrity in Europe, and virtually unknown in the United States.
Friends of the Coalition On Homelessness will of course remember him from dozens of rallies, actions and fundraisers over the years. His words while uncompromisingly political transcend narrow dogma, and if even momentarily make one believe that the great step forward is, indeed, just around the corner.
Frontlines traces Hirschman’s poetic career from 1952 until 2001. His evolution from bohemian to revolutionary is never without the human beings at the bottom of the ladder. This is significant since he was politicized in a time when extremely poor people were dismissed as the “Lumpen Proletariat” — an un-organizable, corrupt body of poor people — by the mainstream Left. It is not only to Jack’s credit that he never upheld that kind of bigotry, but his celebration of the human at the bottom of the well is the driving force behind much of this impassioned work.
Jack Hirschman starts with images of degradation
as in the 1987 poem Home:
Winter has come,
In doorways, in alleys, at the top
under cardboard, under rag blankets
or, if lucky, in plastic sacks,
sfter another day of humiliation,
isolated, divided, penniless…
And he’ll always leave the door open for the
We want the empty offices collecting dust!
We want the movie houses from midnight till dawn!
We want the churches opened 24 gods a day!
We built them. They’re ours. We want them!
It is always amazing at how Jack Hirschman can
combine images of a Utopia with demands for some
of the most basic of human needs. He goes on in the
same stanza to demand housing and
No more doorways, garbage pail alleys,
no more automobile graveyards
underground sewer slums.
Jack Hirschman’s life-long commitment to the word as revolution stands in direct contrast with the commercialized role of the artist, the de-polticized role of the poet played out in arts and letters today.
Frontlines is two hundred and four all too short poems, it would take a volume the size of an encyclopedia to do justice to the breadth of his work.
Nevertheless, this book serves as a good introduction to one of San Francisco’s finest and most inspirational poets.