The Poet sent me his "Miracle Book"

I opened my mailbox today to find out that Jack had mailed me his latest poetry book: The Viet Arcane. I sat down holding it in my hands and started crying copious tears of joy. Those of you who know me--or have known me for a while--are aware that I am writing Jack Hirschman's biography. I guess we could say that fate played a great part in our meeting one morning in Caffe Trieste in North Beach, SF, in August 2010.

Holding this book in my hands, I feel how much the efforts of the writing and the intense research that I have been doing and that I am still doing have made a miracle happen. Had Jack and I not met that morning, I would have probably never have known who he was and I would have never started researching extensively about him. And, I would have never heard the story of Anh, the manuscript he lost track of several years ago. I would have never googled that word with a few others one day that pointed me to a "manuscript" that was housed at La Salle University in Philadelphia, PA. I am grateful to the helpful librarians and to my stubborness for having found this lost typewritten work of Jack dating back to the Seventies.

I would not be able to express properly the overwhelming reaction of joy that this manuscript has brought to Jack, who received it via mail on the day before his 79th birthday in 2012. Jack has worked on it for several months in 2013. So, seeing the book published now is one of the things that makes me think that miracles indeed happen, sometimes. I encourage you to read what Jack writes about this miracle in the introduction to his book that follows below. It is indeed inspiring!

Only now I fully realize the importance of perseverance.

Jack wrote in my copy:

For Sasha, 
with especial gratitude 
for making this book possible.
Jack Hirschman, 06.30.2014       


is what I call the work you are holding in your hands. I'm not referring to the form and/or content of The Viet Arcane, but to the existence of the book itself, which involves the telling of a story that goes back almost half a hundred years. The American war in Vietnam began in 1965. I was an assistant professor of English, American and Comparative Literature at the time, in Greece on a Creative Writing sabbatical from UCLA, where I taught. I was fiercely opposed to that war and, when I returned to teaching in the Fall of that year, I broke some State laws in attempting to prevent my students from being drafted (or so I was told ? I felt I never broke any laws but those that served the imperialist war in Vietnam), and I was terminated ? ironically enough in the same week that the students gave me the award for distinguished teaching. Realizing even then that UCLA was a cultural corporation, I turned my back on academic life and for the next 48 years I've lived as a poet, translator and painter “in the street”, as it were, first in Venice, California; then in Topanga Canyon, California, where I wrote The Viet Arcane in 1970-71; then in Echo Park, Los Angeles, where I began The Arcanes; and since 1972 in San Francisco, with many journeys to Italy, France, Sicily, Greece, Venezuela, Haiti, Austria, Iraq, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, China and Colombia -- either for readings or upon publications of translations of my poems into different languages. The only thing I carried out of UCLA, apart from the memories of some very fine students who would come to be fine activist poets and translators,  especially the late Max Schwartz, as well as Stephen Kessler and Gary Gach, was a library card to its excellent collections. One day four years after I was done with UCLA, I found in its library stacks the book that would change my life unalterably. I had been living at the very end of Venice, in southern California, writing and translating for David Meltzer's Tree magazine, a journal devoted to Jewish kabbalistic poetry and prose -- that is, the anti-zionist real poetry of the Jewish people. There was a group of hip artists and poets interested in kabbala: Wallace Berman in Topango Canyon; Meltzer in San Francisco; Asa Benveniste in London; Jerome Rothenberg in San Diego, as well as poets and painters who were not Jewish, like George Herms, Dean Stockwell and Russ Tamblyn, the latter two fine actors publicly and in their private lives excellent graphic artists. The book that I discovered was written in Havana, Cuba in 1964-65. Its title is A Rainbow for the Christian West and its author is a Haitian poet, novelist and intellectual, René Depestre.The book enacts in a series of poems an invasion by the Vodou Loas -- or Haitian gods and goddesses --  into the southern and most racist part of the United States. It was published in French in Paris by Présence Africaine in 1967. I discovered in 1970, translated it in Venice and Topanga Canyon from December 1971-March 1972. It would appear later that year by the Red Hill Press of Fairfax, California, whose publisher, John McBride, lived in the north of the State, but whose colleague, Paul Vangelisti, an Italo-American poet originally from North Beach in San Francisco, lived in Los Angeles and edited the very fine international poetry journal, Invisible City. I've clarified the details of the Depestre book for two reasons: (1) as I've said many times before, it was my translation of the ?...Rainbow...? book that turned me into a communist as a poet, so it was a momentous eventuation for me, and (2) it lead to what ultimately is The Viet Arcane. That is, a couple of month after I'd completed the translation, I saw a notice in a footnote to a book I was reading about Vietnam that one Maurice Durand had written a book ? The Technique and Pantheon of the Vietnamese Mediums (I translate the original French), which was based upon a Vodou sect in Vietnam! I sent off to Paris for the book and was amazed to discover when it arrived that it contained the 24 song/texts (in both Chinese and Vietnamese) of a sect of Mediums who follow the Dao Mau (the Worship of the Mother) religion, whose ritual, which the book describes not merely in words but with more than 50 pages of photographs of Mediums in action, is called Len Dong. Though the sect's activities were banned by the North Vietnamese government during the war as a grouping that might promote superstition, I was particularly moved by the account of the Mediums, especially in the light of its vodouisant dimension, after having translated Depestre's book only a short time before. I'd studied a good deal of the people and history and language of Vietnam since the American war had begun. Inspired both by the Durand book, and the anti-war work of the mediums of media at Pacifica Radio's KPFK station (my wife at that time Ruth was head of Drama and Literature for the station; we'd done many anti-war broadcasts, and so it wasn't difficult for me to include the cultural workers there by transferring them into the texts), I wrote The Viet Arcane over the next three months in 1972 in Topanga Canyon, California. That was not the title I gave the book in 1972. At first I called it Len Dong and then, after I'd left southern California for San Francisco in the autumn of that year, I changed the title twice in ensuing years to Anh, for one, and Nam for another -- when I sent it as a submission to a publisher. That's perhaps why the book was literally lost since 1996, the last year I recall sending it to a press in hopes of publication. The three copies of the manuscript all had either been lost, discarded or I didn't know what had happened to them, except that I no longer had a copy of the text, and my original handwritten copy had gotten, for the most part -- except for a few of the 36 sections --lost as well. And yet, during the '70's in San Francisco, when I had copies of the manuscript, after having met a young Chinese-Vietnamese filmmaker, Paul Kwan, and given him the manuscript to read, I was informed by him a couple of weeks later that he knew of a temple on Potrero Boulevard where the Len Dong ritual was performed! I was astonished. A week later, accompanied by Paul and his artist partner, Arnold Iger, I attended the ritual. In subsequent weeks I attended the temple once again, and the congregation even allowed Paul and Arnold to film the service. At that time I believe there was but one temple in the northern California area, (and that temple on Potrero Boulevard was destroyed by a suspicious fire and the congregation forced to move to St. Jose). Today in fact -- with the lifting in Vietnam of prohibitions after the war in 1975 and the subsequent loosening of laws against sects within and outside Vietnam -- temples are flourishing in that southeast Asian country and no less than 11 temples exist in Silicon Valley of northern California! So it was that the ?miracle? ? that is, the miraculous recovery of the manuscript ? occurred. On December 12, 2012, the day before my 79th birthday, Alessandra Bava, who's writing my biography in Rome, wrote to say she'd a birthday gift for me: she'd found the manuscript in the archive of La Salle College in the Philadelphia area. Apparently I'd sent the text to a group of Vietnamese activists in the Boston area, which, after the war ended, sold its archive to that college, and my text was among its documents. Alessandra had remembered one of the titles I had given the manuscript and, when surfing the internet for material on my life, discovered the texts, bravely convinced that college's library to release the texts to her for me. What a joy to receive that attachment to Alessandra Bava's email! After 16 years in oblivion! Of course much had happened to me in 40 years (most eminently the loss of my son David at 25 to leukemia/lymphoma in 1982, and my years with the Communist Labor Party 1980-1992), though I was surprised to discover, over the first two months of 2013, when I went through the texts, that the bedrock intuitions and political thrust were already embedded. What I've done here is bring a deeper sense of rage against the imperialism that still tyrannizes the world from its center in Washington, D.C. And I've changed the title, arcanized it as it were, since, historically speaking, my masterwork, The Arcanes, published in Italy by Multimedia Edizioni in the American language in 2006, was actually begun in Echo Park, Los Angeles, a month after I completed this work, when my marriage dissolved and I left Topanga Canyon and was staying at the home of Paul Vangelisti and his then wife, Margaret. This Arcane, reworked in 2013, will be included in the second “tower” of Arcanes (first contains 126 Arcanes; the second, a work in progress, numbers 108 and continuing). My heartfelt thanks to Alessandra Bava, for the recovery of the texts; to Ingrid Swanberg of Abacus Press, who diligently searched for the last copy of the text I sent, to no avail (probably because I'd changed the title of the manuscript); to Trang Cao, a Vietnamese-Canadian who helped me with transliterations into Vietnamese of the names of some of my friends. All three women are excellent poets and, in fact, I've included Trang in one of the sections because her help has been like a Medium's for this book. And to Maya Pi Docampo Pham who, in 2008, at the age of 4, painted the cover that I've chosen for this book. She is the daughter of a dear Vietnamese friend, Maria Pham of San Francisco. And to Mark Weiman of Regent Press, who understands that, even if my childhood was lived during the Second World War, and that that war is a destruction that effects everyone, even if one were born after it was over  the American war in Vietnam was the major catastrophe in my, and others' adult life of this generation, and must not ever be forgotten by this and future epochs.

 Jack Hirschman



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