I Became a Communist in Venice

By Mark Lipman

While attending the opening of the 2nd Biannual San Francisco International Poetry Festival (July 23-26), I had the opportunity to speak with its organizer, San Francisco’s poet laureate, Jack Hirschman.

Sitting in his white linoleum kitchen, around a bottle of Russian vodka – all he’ll drink – we started reading poems to each other, swapping stories and debating just who Lenin’s true heir really was. Jack said Stalin. I said Trotsky.

“I grew up in New York during the Second World War,” Jack continued. “I remember my mother telling me back then that if Russia fell to the Nazis, England would be next and then the rest of the world. She was terrified that fascism would come to America.”

“But fascism has come to America,” I answered. “Hitler may have been defeated, but what about his backers? It was the same Rockefellers and Bushes back then that financed and supported Hitler that have brought fascism to America today.”

“Well, that we all know,” Jack replied. “Vietnam was my war,” he continued after a pause.

“You’re anti-war,” I offered.

Looking up, he shook his head. “Yes, that’s right. I was teaching poetry at the time at UCLA. 250 kids in one class, 400 in another and I found out that if you got A’s in school, you wouldn’t get drafted.”

“So everyone got an A?”

“That’s right,” he smiled. “Only I couldn’t give everyone an A, or the school would know what was going on, so they all thought I was sexist. You see, girls weren’t being drafted for Vietnam, so I gave them B’s.”

“How did you get involved in communism?” I asked. “Oh well, that was in Venice. I was translating this book, Rainbow for the Christian West, by Rene de Pestre and it just opened my eyes.

I became a communist in Venice, California.”

In Venice? Could that be true? Does Venice have that much of an impact on people? Well, knowing Venice, I guess it does.

“Then you must know about the Beachhead?” I asked.

“The Beachhead!” Jack’s eyes lit up. “Of course I know about the Beachhead. I love that paper. My son used to write for the Beachhead.”

What a small world and Venice keeps winding up at the center of it. Just then I remembered that I had some copies of the Beachhead with me. We started going through them and sure enough, on page 12 of the November 2008 issue, we had printed a list of all the collective members from present and past and about half way down the first column was his name, David Hirschman.

A smile grew on Jack’s face as the memories came back. Venice touches all of us in its own way.

David Hirschman, former Beachhead collective member, died of leukemia a few years back. He is remembered and missed by all his friends at the paper.

Categories: Interviews, Poetry

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