JACK HIRSCHMAN

Remarks at the Jack Hirschman Memorial, Washington Sq. Park, San Francisco, October 2, 2021

Remarks by former SF Supervisor Matt Gonzalez at the Jack Hirschman Memorial, Washington Square Park, San Francisco, October 2, 2021

TRANSCRIPT — I met Jack [Hirschman] thirty years ago, over at Vesuvio [Cafe]. I was 26 years old; I’m 56 years old now. He was 56, about to turn 57, to give you an idea. We talked about the Spanish poet Miguel Hernandez, a contemporary of [Federico] Garcia Lorca, that I had done some translations of, and I was sharing with Jack some of the difficulties I was having. We had a conversation. I had never met him before, he hadn’t met me, we didn’t know each other really, and yet Jack was so focused on the conversation, he was so present. It was something I saw him do, in all the decades that I was fortunate to know him. 

The thing about Jack over the years is that he was unapologetic about his politics. He was relentless in the advancement of his views. When I reflect on everybody getting together [today], you know, we remember Jack because in the last decade, or so, we’ve seen him be celebrated. But there was, and Neeli [Cherkovski] knows this, there were decades, I don’t know what you want to call it, it was like a desert — when he came from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and struggled and lived a life of poverty, in many ways. He stayed with it. I think if you had said to Jack, “The context is not right, something needs to happen before this is going to take off,” he would say “Then let’s make it happen.”

The artist Tom Schultz left me a message the other day; he was a good friend of Jack’s. He just kind of summed it up. He said “You know, Jack understood the situation.” That was it, “Jack understood the situation.” By that he meant: he understood imperialism, he understood racism, he understood capitalism, he understood the carceral state; he understood the situation. 

I’m going to bring it back to Jack [‘s own words] for a moment. This is from the Poet Laureate acceptance speech in 2006. I’m sure many of you have heard it. Charles Versaggi brought it to my attention. I had heard it before but I went back to look at it. It’s so poignant, I want to read it. I want to say one thing to preface it, which is, it was a great honor in my life that in 2003, when I was running for Mayor, that Jack Hirschman walked the streets handing out leaflets in support of my candidacy. I knew then, and still know, that I should have been handing out his leaflet, but that’s how it goes. 

I did tell Jack at the Caffe Trieste once, after he had been named Poet Laureate, by our now-Governor Newsom, who had won the contest I was in. I said “You know Jack, if I had won that contest, I would not have made you the Poet Laureate.” He looked at me. I said “No, I wouldn’t have done that. You would have been my Chief of Police.”

So this is from his statement in 2006; he says: “I said that I believe that everyone is a poet and that one of the central reasons that I fought as a revolutionary is to change not only the material conditions of mankind, (but in so doing, to liberate that idea, that everyone here’s a poet,) and to human consciousness. Why? Because language is indeed the house of being, and its most concentrated expression is poetry, and poetry is the truth of being, and that truth which I call the most powerful thing in human expression is precisely so, because it defies and deconstructs power. Because its own power resides in its expression of the end of power through the verbal and rhythmic adventure of listening, not only to what calls from within, but to the inwardness of material things and beings outwardly in motion, which not only live anew in their being named, but in their newness, in their being re-begun, for the truth of beginning is all that being is as well, also reveal to the poet their innermost secrets, so that he might show the way to the light of the heart, in the dark times of chaos and extreme psychic estrangement.”

Thank you. 

4 comments

  1. Man, this is a very good remembrance, and Jack’s 2006 ‘Everyone is a poet’ and ‘Poetry’ as the seat of our power for change in ‘the house of being’ that language may build for us, is a great way of bringing more light in conclusion. Way to go, again, Matt.

  2. Thank you Matt for posting your kind-hearted eulogy of Jack Hirschman’s life and work.

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