At least that is what Jack Hirschman, San Francisco's North Beach beloved and celebrated poet said, although it apparently was all an act. I hope you enjoy the full article.
North Beach poetry night honors S.F.’s literary past
- San Francisco Chronicle
- 30 Jul 2017
- By Carl Nolte Carl Nolte is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. His column appears every Sunday. Email: cnolte@ sfchronicle.com Twitter: @carlnoltesf
Darryl Bush / The Chronicle 2007
Jack Hirschman, then S.F.’s poet laureate, reads to a crowd including Supervisor Aaron Peskin (center) and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the dedication of North Beach’s Jack Kerouac Alley in March 2007.
Is poetry night in North Beach, a place that could be a poem in itself.
North Beach is still the heart of San Francisco as it imagines itself to be — a district of big streets, small alleys, restaurants, bars, and a sense that something interesting is around the next corner.
North Beach is also full of memories from a time when the word on the street was always in Italian, and old families made red wine in the basement. Starving artists lived on Telegraph Hill, and you could eat a big dinner for a dollar. Stanton Delaplane remembered it best. “The days were full of sunshine,” he wrote.
The Beats came in the ’50s, and North Beach was packed with coffeehouses, ideas, art and words. It was the time of City Lights, Ginsberg and Kerouac. Even the waiters were poets.
It’s not news that San Francisco has changed, and North Beach with it. But the San Francisco Public Library still believes that North Beach is “the historic literary epicenter of San Francisco.” And so every Tuesday evening at 6:30, we have poetry night at the North Beach branch library. The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library sponsor it. In the best tradition of poetry, it’s free.
A celebrated poet is usually featured. Last week it was Bob Anbian, a man Dusty Dog Reviews calls “a genius ... or a Vesuvian.”
After the featured poet, anyone can read their own stuff. Fourteen poets read the other night.
They read of love, and death, the moon and dragonflies, of a lonely road, and a smile that has disappeared. The poets all seemed to know each other and applauded when they liked something, and laughed sometimes, or smiled, wistfully.
Afterward, most of them made their way down Columbus Avenue to Specs Bar at 12 Saroyan Place. It is another tradition going back 35 years or so. Poetry and red wine and conversation about poetry.
The evening comes with free pizza, supplied by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Everyone takes a slice. Kristina Brown offers a toast “to poetry.”
The leader in all this — the curator as he is offiTuesday cially called — is Jack Hirschman, a noted poet who served a term as the city’s poet laureate not long ago. Hirschman is a big man who wears his gray hair long, like a horse’s mane. He has a walrus mustache and a deep, growly voice.
He grew up in New York, and the city is still in his voice. When he was 19, he sent a story to Ernest Hemingway, who sent back a note: “I can’t help you kid. You write better than I did when I was 19. But the hell of it is you write like me. That’s no sin, but you won’t get anywhere with it.”
Hirschman is 83 now and walks with a limp. He is a celebrated poet — “a very American voice,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti calls him — and he is revered in Europe. He’s written more than 100 books of verse, small books by small publishers. He seems to like it that way.
He is an old Marxist in the true San Francisco lefty tradition. He came to North Beach in 1973 after being fired from the UCLA faculty because his antiwar views somehow violated academic policy.
Hirschman was a street poet in San Francisco, lived in a single room and wrote. Sometimes he gave his poems away. He is at Specs most every Tuesday after the reading, sitting at a big round wooden table, with other poets. It is a tradition and maybe one that’s vanishing. The Tuesday night poets are older now, and there are fewer places where poetry is read aloud.
Poets have been welcomed at Specs since the days of Richard Simmons, the late owner. Simmons, who wore such thick eyeglasses he was always called “Specs,” claimed to dislike poets and poetry. “I hate poets,” he used to say. “All they do is talk.” But that was all an act.
Agneta Falk wrote a poem in honor of Simmons “You just have to love a man / who says he hates poets / while running a bar full of poets / and other loose characters ... here you get the best, the worst / but never boring ... ”
One night a week or so ago, a man stood up at Specs and called for silence. He read a poem by Ferlinghetti called “Are There Not Still Fireflies.” One of the lines read, “Is not San Francisco still San Francisco? Are there not still poets?”
There are. Every Tuesday evening.