Arcani by Jack HirschmanJack Hirschman
Multimedia Edizioni

by Sarah Fox

Jack Hirschman's Arcani catalogs, like a Book of Shadows, the various significant mysteries and losses collected in a life. Published in Italy, and translated into Italian by Anna Lombardo, Mariella Setzu and Rafaella Marzano, it's a lovely book to hold—as most books produced in Italy tend to be—absent of blurbs or any text whatever on its covers other than the title of the book and the author's name. It's not surprising that Hirschman would have such an edition published originally in Italy. He has translated many Italian poets into English, including Ferruccio Brugnaro—whose Fist of Sun, published in 1998, seems especially well-suited to Hirschman's own political and social leanings. Since 1973, Hirschman has lived in San Francisco's North Beach, where he's created The Union of Left Writers, and founded the revolutionary poetry journal Compages. Noted in the author's bio on the book's back flap is also the fact that Hirschman is a member of the Communist Labor Party. However, Arcani is not merely a platform for Hirschman's political urgencies. Among the books finest poems are rambling and intimate elegies, beginning with "The David Arcane" for the author's son who died of leukemia at the age of 25. Peppered with Greek epigraphs apparently the author's own, and vaguely translated in the text of the poem, Hirschman reckons with the terrible fact of his son's non-existence by imagining a finer "life after death"—"light / of this afterlife; / this riff whose bones are tears / and whose spirit still soars." The poem speaks to both author and son, as well as reader, when it says "Please, don't be afraid / if you are / a blade of grass / or a wave / or a tree. / I will sit beside you. / It is the way it is, / the way we be."

Influenced by jazz (his son was a jazz musician) and the spontaneous prosody of the Beats, a typical poem goes several pages, its foundation the apparent intimacy between author and reader as well as author and subject. Other tribute poems include "The Bob Kaufman Arcane," "The Shupsl Arcane" (an elegy for Hirschman's father, "Shabtai Shupsl Stephen Dannemark Yitzhak Hirschman Katzenelson," who spends his last days at "Dr. Drug Hospital, / Concentration Camp, / Guinea-Pig World / Mengele Himmler Hitler. . . two million men six million men women / and children / is One."); "The Pasolini Arcane" and "The Allen Arcane" for the poet Allen Ginsberg ("I stutter against your going, / a masterpiece of what was / necessary for our time. . . ")

Throughout, the book is haunted by the hound of death which it battles with jazz riffs of language, tough memory, and a liberating vernacular. And if nothing else, it's a novel experience to read an American poet's verse published first as an Italian volume, with the English on the left side—an effect that Hirschman surely couldn't help but appreciate.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2000 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000