Sunday, September 20, 2015

Herschel Silverman: A spiritual man

September 20, 2015

Hersch Silverman is dead.
For me, he’s the last of the Beat poets, and the one I knew best.
I saw him last at a reading in the Hoboken Museum. He seemed frail, even a bit lost, although still capable – his reading as vibrant as ever.
I met him for the first time in the mid-1980s when we published him in Scrap Paper Review. This was after I had met Ginsberg, although Hersch seemed warmer to me, and less remote.
I often saw him at poetry readings, and he was always sending me chap books of his work.
When I got to Bayonne finally as a reporter, I managed to do several stories on him, but often also saw him on the street.
He treated the Hudson Bergen Light Rail as if it had been built for him personally, allowing him to walk down two blocks from his house to the station and reach New York City in a way that was much more of a struggle in the past.
Sometimes, he would pass the newspaper office when we were still located on 21st Street. He commented on my stories in the newspaper as if he thought I was superman for writing so many.
He was as big a fan of me as I was of him.
I loved the idea that I had become connected with The Beats personally, and loved the fact that he was a survivor.
He had a candy store across from the Bayonne High School years earlier, but never stopped caring about those who went to school there, especially the poets. He set up a scholarship fund for poets, and would go to the school each May to meet with the kids, to listen to their poetry and read some of his.
I remember going to his house to do a story on him. His wife had passed away, and though he had kids, he seemed very isolated. His home was a time warp, a flash back to the Beat era, post world war, when so many veterans had built their hopes on the GI Bill.
I vaguely recall he was a veteran.
He said he once brought Ginsberg to Bayonne, taking a tour of the industrial city. Ginsberg was very impressed with St. Henry’s Church, as if it reminded him of the great churches of Europe. For a time, Gregory Corso stayed with Hersch, but often wandered off, apparently in search of drink.
I remember how grateful Hersch was when I did a full issue of Scrap Paper Review dedicated just to him in the late 1980s, something that bonded us.
I remember how happy he looked at the Poetry Club in New York when they paid tribute to him back in 2010, and how he performed some of his poetry upstairs in the private apartment with a guitarist.
This was a man of peace, someone who thought the best of people, and who lived beyond the realm of politics. He shared a lot of this with Ginsberg, although there was something deeper in his soul that I could feel at each meeting, as if he was seeing me for the first time, and yet saw me also as a dear friend.
Hersch left a mark on this world that will never fade, partly because he invested his time and energy into people, who carry his memory with us, and who treasured each moment as if this was the most important moment in our lives.
I no longer cover Bayonne, so I did not have a chance to see him on the street as I often did when I still worked there. But I am glad for those chance encounters, knowing that his spirit will continue to walk those streets and ride the light rail, and when I do walk there, I will encounter it, just as I encounter him in my grateful memories.