Tuesday, December 16, 2008



ALL THAT'S LEFT by Jack Hirschman
(City Lights Foundation, San Francisco, 2008)


ONE OF A KIND by Jack Micheline
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2008)


I believe in both Jack Micheline and Jack Hirschman. Each is admirably a poet through and through. Myself and untold countless others would be so lucky to live without compromising basic principles anywhere near to the extent these two have. The difference, because it is decidedly a difference rather than differences, then, between them, rests fervently upon the politics each stakes his life and thereby his art on. Ultimately it remains a question of what you believe it is possible to achieve in this world and how to go about doing so.

Hirschman has the faith and drive to be in continuous struggle to further define and discover a political means with which to challenge the control of those in power. His life’s work remains committed to the ongoing fight to attain justice for those who live at the lowest economic and social levels of society.
With the voluntary—that is, collectively agreed-upon—dissolution of the Communist Labor Party for the simple reason that technology was forcing the creation of a new class of poor people, the old communist forms of structure could not be sustained. To get into the trenches with the poorest, and those threatened with homelessness though they worked, we needed to work toward the creation of a party of those 37 million folks who live in the direst kind of need in this country, and the 40 more million who live below the poverty level, just holding on. Four years after the CLP dissolution, the League of Revolutionaries for a New America—a non-party grouping of guerrillas of education about the New Class and its formation through intense robotization, job loss, and runamok capitalist consolidation—came into existence. Naturally, as the oldest consistent newsboy in San Francisco, I joined on.
(“Inauguration Address” pg. 21-22)

Micheline, on the other hand, knows it is impossible. That there is nothing worth achieving outside of living and acting in the present moment with all you’ve got because the powers that be are intent upon destruction and not, therefore, open to being changed, for they will seek to change you and your work.

                  It was attributed to Van Gogh that he said before he shot
himself that there was “No Order in Life”. His mind burn-
ing colours, deep red and yellows opening modern art to
the Twentieth century. Damn the critics, the academies of
organized art, or of abortion. They are on earth to ratify the
status quo. Killers of experiment and imagination. Poor suf-
fering unloved man; the Middle has entered this Art Scene
because there is money in it. A taste of Honey Fame.
Hatches open
Torpedoes away
Zonk another hit
A destroyer amid ships
Blown away to the depths of the sea
It is pleasing like a young virgin sweat and honeycombed
desiring, ready for the plunge. The entrance of birdcalls
and stars.
The weak fall by the side and die. A poet of promise
shattered. A Metropolis rises, falls to the decay and rot
of man and time. Rooms, rats roaches, ribald dances,
Alcohol, siringes, needles, pills, perversions, paranoia.
Dark cities on the hill
wheat on the plain
journals of existence
diaries of moments
recorded in an assertion of will
from that will springs all wisdom
knowledge, poetry, revolution, rebirth
in the end accepted institution…
or madhouse, prison jail, of Baudelaire’s
cities of Europe.
If it does not sink, the ship comes home.
To port—Hamburg, Lehavre, Marseille,
Stockholm, Brest, Naples, Paris, Constantinople.
I dreamt I saw a hundred Allen Ginsbergs, naked, reading
Howl in a window at Macy’s It is a sad affair what Mod-
ern America does to its poets. Or what happens to poets
in twentieth century America. When Man’s God is false
he breaks and dies, the followers die but an original mind
survives. Sherwood Anderson, he had a human face; wan-
dered around the night cities of his youth—the vast Ohio and
broadflat Illinois. The machine age had just come and he pre-
dicted the human blockade in Poor White, his fifth novel that
sorts the pieces and glimpses of a wandering youth. And the
Fiery young angry Erskine Caldwell in his epic piece “Sac-
rilege of Allen Kent” published by a small Maine Print Shop
in 1933. Man alienated from society. America got fat and rich
from resources and war. The true element, the communica-
tion from and with man to man became a hardening process.
The stickball games are gone, the crap games in school-
yard, the bonfire in the lot. Mickey parties, lost orgies, even
the baseball players lost their fire. O’fat primitive America.
I blow fire up your asshole. Selby’s Tra-la-la done shook ‘em
up, done blew a wig off a cat in London too. Bukowski in the
dregs of L.A. blowing sounds for all of us. Let his voice be
heard across the sands and deserts of this nation. Too much
commercial bullshit. Too many Ego’s deadwoods posing as
artists. Too many face jobs and nose jobs and clowns. A fire-
bug dark German sleeps on a couch in the next room, writes
all over the world turning people on. The doing and the deed
is the revolution. Like the lazy sun breaking through clouds;
Red are the buildings; Black are the walls. But the Fuck-
ing sun lives on, comes after the night and blows our minds,
Yellow! Praise the original mind that breathes Fresh Air.
Piss on Despair, do ya hear. Adios Baudelaire, Firebug of my
mind, Longshots come home after a long ride!

                  New York City
                  April 1968

Regardless, each poet lives out every day: writing poems, painting, singing in the energized city air; alive without regrets, celebration pouring forth from within. Memory and place making marked appearances in the work of each.

This central public place of my life for 34 years,
give or take journeys to Europe and Venezuela,
is where I’ve written hundreds of poems,
translated hundreds more from many languages,
where I wrote my first poems in Russian.

More than a café making terrific double espressos
it’s a cultural center in the heart of old town San
Francisco that still shows a neon and glitzy world
what deep old brew really means. How so many
continue to meet here, fall in love, be the daily
chronicle and times to each other and where,
for 26 years, this just about oldest newsboy in town
has been selling the People’s Tribune and Rally Comrades,
table after table, and don’t forget, in the 80’s, in the same
manner, Compages, that revolutionary international
magazine of translations of poetry from all over the world.

I don’t forget Anna Magnani la seconda, beloved Yolanda
now in Monfalcone, Italy but ever remembered as muse and
momma to a whole generation here. And Yolanda’s Francesco,
and Leopoldo Fiorenzato, sensitive and tragic, and Taura and
Walker—workers through the years, gone elsewhere, to heaven
or Mexico, and yet here’s Paul and Rabba and Hakim with his
newborn Adam, and roast-master Paul and Nathan and Sean
and Ernie and Ida—she who makes sure the people get there dose
of Italian poetry bilingually, along with other languages
flying around, i.e., French, Algerian and Arabic—workers
close to the heart and the joys and the sorrows of this corner.

And let’s not forget drop-ins like Allen Ginsberg a couple times
a year. And the local radiances like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bobby
Kaufman, Neeli Cherkovski, the poems flying amid the jukebox
music, the olding Beats and the Baby Beats and the commies,
the surrealists, the anarchists, the socialists, the jazzmen, the ultra
screwballs, the walk-in weirdos, the beautiful women begun and
developed here, and the tots, those fooblezeegs, always so welcome
and alive at this street-level (not the United States of a dead mall but
the other America), of embodied old wood and deep flavor, with an
extended Italian family whose hands come out of their mouths
as well as arias and popular songs, and who know how, even with
the remembered loss of their and our prince of the human voice,
continuare, continuare, above all, singing because, with this room—
in its every corner, and along the outside tables as well—there’s song.
Rilke was correct: Gesang ist Dasein—Song is Existence. That’s
the real logos of this place; for wherever you travel, whether
to other states or foreign places, whether on the Vino Express
or the Shmoogadoo Limited, with Caffé Trieste you’ll always
have a direction home.

                  - Jack Hirschman


A highway crosses the playground of my childhood
the shoemaker is still on Archer Street
the druggist
the same faces inhabit the wilderness of the Bronx
its superstitions
its narrow minds
its synagogue
of old hebrews
the church of black cloth Catholics
its Irish sons with yellow ties
the football field is still there
night descends over the houses
Willy the mad Russian where are you
Tullo carrying ten men over the goal line
lost junky after the cheers died away
wild Murray where are you
Joey Cohen pimples on your face where are you
Little Abie do you laugh that loud anymore I wonder
voices of the children playing in the park
the boat house is deserted
the grass is still green in October
night is descending over the Bronx
the wilderness is but a memory
The Ritz movie is long gone
the whores have all moved away
It is time to go on
time moves so quickly
My mother still prays nightly
I used to play hooky and go to Bronx Park
and look at the lovers in the grass
the leaves are red and brown and green now
water flows down the falls of the Bronx River

                  Spring 1959

                  - Jack Micheline

The American Poem (I place it in caps for “tradition”) is the equivalent of Coleridge’s albatross for America’s poets. Micheline denies the guilt. Spits onto the asphalt and gets on with whatever’s at hand. Hirschman wishes to work it out into being a benefit: utilize it; harnessing it as a tool for change.

All that’s Left
                  in the world
—whether in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia
as well as China, Japan, the United States,
Europe, the Middle East, Africa—
all of them cannot,
                  despite the resistance,
                  despite the refusal,
stop this march on death
because they,
as well as all that’s Right
in the world,
                  despite their refusal,
                  despite their resistance,
already are counted among those
                  in this last parade.
Communists and progressives,
nazis, fascists and reactionaries,
Zionists and anarchists of every stripe—
None are excluded, none can evade the march.

This one’s not coming
with hammer and sickles or swastikas
or flags of any land.

This one’s the march
all wars surrender to.

But when?! Comes the unanimous cry.
When will it really happen?
If death is peace,
when can I truly die?

You will never know, and yet you do,
because you may already have,
and this life is your way
of paying homage to the power
that loves you enough
to have taken your life away
and left you with the taste
of immortality on your lips.

Nothing mystical: no Christ,
Allah, Jahweh or Buddha in the wings.
Even lying on your back you’re marching.

This is not a cynical or pessimist
or nihilist poem. Join death
to your life and you will live
as if there were no drum to march to.

There is no march at all.

You’re there. All will be well for all.

It isn’t that either of them is wrong or right. It’s simply that one is held by principles the other rejects and that being so held the poems are by a matter of necessity held as well. You can see where Hirschman’s going all the while whereas Micheline is taking you on an out-of- control joy ride. If there are any signs of where you may be at or headed to, they appear as a blurry flash or else are quickly torn down before you’re able to get your full bearings.
Poem Written the Morning After Philip Lamantia’s Poetry Reading

Have the time an elegance
to aspire studious learning
scholars interpret facts to fit their hat
wanderer sinner rascal such as I
cannot be protected by the wealthy
mind blazing beat of heart shattered by immediacies and circumstance
If man be noble he admits his frailities
and does not assume false status
over lowly creatures of this habitation
If it be protocol to bend to Hearst, Hitler, and Stalin
These dirigibles of evil covered by cold Symmetry and Symbology
Then the dollar bill replaces the swastika
The hammer and sickle over the slave camps of Siberia
truths tainted by lies
and half truths pile up copies in death camps
The Jews of Amsterdam led to the railroad cars by Rabbis
Anarchists of Barcelona rising from the ashes
Mars strength is but a shadow warrior once the blade has fallen and the wound is too
then the songs of the martyr will be sung in the churches
Your adversaries the inventors of hype
with Rasputin eyes and Merlin’s hat
They will love you for your weakness
Your eyes already formed by robots
and body scared by
alcohol, roaches, TV screens, race tracks, tenements,
                  flophouses, sunrise, sunsets, Friday night speakeasies
The ships of traders laden by treasure
stolen from Incas and Indians by nations of mercenaries
conjured by scholars and priests of manipulation and cunning
Buzzards, Sparrow, Hawk
nightingales, blue birds, Cajuns
By predators who walk the streets rifling trashcans of the
                  talented and fallen
and archives stolen and hidden in libraries
If man kills each other
The birds will survive
If the heart of a bird is bigger than man
Then man should salute the bird
one can only love the wild for its magnificence of moments
A heart is a gypsy given freely and
a panther waiting to strike from the mountains
A toke
a bloke of time
my tortured eyes
puppets, marionettes, juxtapositions, telescopes, binoculars,
                  constellations, colored glass bright as diamonds
A sliver of tinsel
sparkling in the winds
‘O Eye of elegance and brilliance do not forsake me
Here in the concrete of cities
It is eight in the morning and the engines are racing across town
And children are going to school
And the Nut is nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong
And each one has his or her own truth
Here in the stone citadels of my Mongolian America
And the hospitals and prisons and groans
The bird does not compromise with the air
I have walked the streets of my land out of my head
And the cemeteries are full of good people
And it’s just the living that’s fucked up
And those who have not walked with me will never understand
I see love lights across the universe

                  San Francisco
                  October 15, 1977

You can’t help but wonder at the kind of San Francisco Poet Laureate Micheline would have made had he not passed away in 1998 riding a Bart train to the end of the line.

Marking the occasion of Hirschman’s own Poet Laureateship, All That’s Left is a landmark book for him and the text of his inaugural address—which he uses as an opportunity to take an autobiographical assessment of his life in poetry—provides a fabulous opening to this collection, most of which was written while serving his term of office. There’s irony in that Gavin Newsom is the mayor bestowing the honor as Matt Gonzalez (recent Independent candidate for Vice-President of the U.S. who nearly defeated Newsom in his first mayoral race) and Hirschman are good friends—Gonzalez was also a friend and patron of Micheline. Hirschman, however, is happily not the type to fall in line or otherwise back down from saying what’s on his mind.

In a poem I wrote earlier this year
I described capitalism as a pack
Of “rabid attack dogs destroying
each other over hunks of money.”
We see the truth of that image everyday
in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and Lebanon:
Dead children’s limbs in the jaws of
those mongrels of greed, wails of women
drowned in the barkness that’s biting
their sorrow to shreds. Cuba-wise,
we know there’s only one process to peace:
the palpable voyage of human discourse
along paths of the hoped-for socialism.
From the belly of the beast of beasts,
in a time of a contagion of ravines
and a pestilence of superfluous things,
I invoke you, necessary island, principled main
for all revolutionary fighters,
helmsman through this cybernetic sea aflame,
with your visionary eyes. Cuba wiser.

He’s never going to give up, or write poems that don’t express, the revolutionary conviction of his thinking. Poetry and political action go hand-in-hand. Hirschman states it bluntly in his Inaugural Address:
There’s a poet, as we know, behind every espresso cup here in San Francisco. Many write in anonymity, even clandestinely, yet everywhere the human poetic soul knows how to deconstruct Power. If I said the most important poet in the Americas for the past dozen years is a man named Rafael Guillén, most present here might not even know who I was talking about. But Guillén, a revolutionary poet and intellectual, at a certain point in his life found his cause among the indigenous poor, whom he has not only helped to organize but from whom he has received some of his most profound poetic inspiration. He has embodied, as a comrade has said of him, the idea of “the word as a weapon deployed in the shadow of the gun,” and led to major defiance against the evils of NAFTA and other corporate dislocations, using the poetic word as the finest example of manifest testament as well as political strategy. For that reason, I hold Subcomandante Marcos, his public name, lately permutated into Delegado Zero, in the highest regard and hope in the coming period that voices for the New Class of poor will emerge herein San Francisco with even greater fervor and hope, nourished by his example and that of the Mayan people of Chiapas. Let’s open ourselves within to the truth of the real needs of our people and let the winds of deep change blow through us, projected forward by the words and the voices of the poets who can make tomorrow die to become today.
(pg. 25-26)

Hirschman places himself in the midst of the city and its people and he’s ready to talk. Look him up at a reading, or Caffé Trieste, or on the street, or in Specs and he’ll give it to you straight.

One of a Kind is one of those rare books that will remain a gem forever. Editor Julien Poirier does everybody a favor and includes predominately works that are not readily available in other Micheline collections. Alongside poems, he also gives prose narratives, “Purple Submarine,” “Kid Dynamite,” “Bolo,” “Blue Nose Was 50-1,” “Smile at the Birdie,” along with drawings and hand lettered poems while the Appendix includes Micheline-on-Micheline styled commentaries.

The following is my best guess transcription of a photo-reproduced manuscript handwritten in cursive by Micheline on the inside of an unfolded White Owl Demi-tip pack of “5 cigars blended with imported tobaccos” with the image of a white owl and a plastic mouth-tipped cigar running vertical down its side adorning the front and back of the pack.
Nine hundred birds
flying in the trees
nine hundred flowers
blooming in the sun
                  Nine hundred
                  Nine thousand
                  Nine hundred million
                  Birds flying in the sky
                                    Jack Micheline

Poirier had the luck to visit Micheline’s son and go through cartons of material. His introduction written in the form of a letter to Micheline expands upon existing commentary and encourages there to be more. As he notes, there are entire other books readily available that this book could have been (notably Notes of the Lost Cities, selections of which are included), but there’s no need wishing it different. One of a Kind leaves you quite pleased just as it is. This is a marvelously generous scrapbook of Micheline’s over-all oeuvre. Micheline stands alone as a poet of the last quarter century consistently left out of anthologies, critical commentaries, and even the bookshelves of young poets in the cities he lived in (New York, San Francisco). This newest collection is readily available via the publisher’s website (http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/page-oneofakind.html) and should be snatched up. It’d be great to see a second printing in 2009.

In a different time and place poets wrote poetry just as chair-makers made chairs and song sailed forth from each endeavor with equal force. This ain’t sen-ti-men-tal (Chan Marshall, we love you). The fact is both of these poets offer a way ahead, an example of locating yourself in what is happening right now around you. Read these guys. Read and live your life, live out the poems you write, live, live out the natural course of your days and sing if that’s what comes. Bring the whole deal, “the ball game” Gregory Corso called it, entire, into your every day. May poetry brighten and sustain your life.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco, his poems recently appeared in Big Bell and are forthcoming in Vanitas.

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