Herschel Silverman R.I.P April 17, 1926 - September 19, 2015

Our friend Steve Dalachinsky reports that Long Shot publisher Danny Shot says poetry scene icon Herschel Silverman passed away quietly today. Silverman, the least bohemian of the Beat poets, served in the Navy in World War II and the Korean war, then worked for thirty-four years at his candy store in Bayonne, New Jersey and raised a family, but also wrote and published poetry on the side after being inspired by Allen Ginsberg's 1955 poem "Howl." The candy store was named Hersch's Beehive, and Beehive Press was his self-publishing outlet, though he was also published in many magazines. A children's book about him, The Candystore Man, was written by Jonathan London.

The not-always-complimentary Ginsberg said of him, "There is inventive energy New Jersey beauty and charm in his compositions. This writing is marked by soulful perception of life around him and language as it falls from his mouth, it includes the complete comedy of his particular obsessions."

Long a friendly, benevolent presence at Manhattan poetry readings, whether reading or spectating, Silverman came to be seen as more than just an excellent poet; he was a direct link to the most hallowed style and era of American poetry, and he referred to the  movement's figures -- not just Ginsberg, but Gregory Corso, Charles Olson, Marguerite Harris, etc. He also frequently touched on other Beat obsessions, such as jazz, and Eastern culture/thought; for instance, section VI of his poem "Jazz & the Changes," dedicated to his wife, Laura, and addressed to her:

i told her
there's no Jazz
Real Jazz
without Gut
without Love
or Zen statement
no ear
without Jazz
no Jazz without Ear,
that Jazz is the daily statement
an unincorporated
release
      of the condition of
an individual's soul
                              in relation
      to God

But, as Ginsberg's comment notes, Silverman was also adept at writing of everyday life, elevating it from mundanity by examining it and setting it up as noteworthy, and often in the same tone as he discussed poets and jazz musicians, as in this excerpt from "Nite Train Poems":

i run away in mind
                         in nite train
again and again
                         and again
something bugging me
                         money maybe
a need to scream   to cry out
                         and curse with verbs
     to release the utter   Frustration
                        of a rent due
     and electric gas bill --
     the lack of tears so inhibiting
            the train carrying me
     filling with a nervous gas
                 the hang-ups
          coming to a halt
                 for a while
          in a bottle of Fleischman's
               and some ginger ale

Silverman's combination of incantatory rhythm with everyday language perhaps cannot be fully appreciated without having heard him read, but I do think these passages give a good idea of it. There is unfortunately very little documentation of his reading on YouTube, but a few things can be found.

Both quoted poems can be found in Liftoff: New and Selected Poems 1961-2001 (Water Row/Long Shot, 2002), both the most easily found Silverman book and the most comprehensive. For more biographical detail and a sense of his personality, a fine interview feature from the year of his 85th birthday can be found here. - Steve Holtje

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor. His soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days was recently heard at the film's debut screening at Anthology Film ArchivesThe CD of the soundtrack, on MechaBenzaiten Records (distributed by Forced Exposure), was released August 7.

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