Jack Hirschman

I would like to note and pay tribute to the late Jack Hirschman, the bard and balladier who died August 22, 2021. He was eighty-seven. Now generally recognized as a poet-teacher, his manifestation as a gifted spirit occurred as he taught English classes at UCLA in the early 1960's.

Poets do not have many ways by which both to make a living and fulfill their commitment to the poetics vocation. His instructor role allowed for them together. A distinctive persona became apparent when contrary to academic practice he used his informal nickname in the halls of knowledge, symbolically abandoning the trappings of secular priesthood to openly proclaim humility, just Jack.

His for-credit classes compared in their intensity and the rapt audience attention to meetings for religious figures. But as it had to be, Jack transcended the academic atmosphere and became pure Speaker, carrying him world-wide, making his permanent home San Francisco. He also had a following in Europe.

When he came to Willits for a long-ago free for all poetry jamboree and book-signing, invited by his friends Robin Rule and Daniel Essman, I had the honor to read at the event. As the night was done and we walked across the street to a vacant lot where the cars were parked, Jack said to me, "I admire your work." I said, "Likewise." That was all.

But this slight exchange provided a kind of inner nutrition I have felt since in my solitary travel in poetic experience through this hopeful and beastly life. Beyond all other poets I have met, Hirschman gave thanks to others, poets and listeners equally, as though mindful of what Benjamino Bufano once had said, “We are all one seed and one flower.” This poet always said, "Thank you," after the applause that followed any poem he read. In sum and substance, that is my purpose here, thanks, to the great Jack Hirschman.

WJ Ray
August 27, 2021

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