Hal Sirowitz: The People’s Poet — essay by Ron Kolm

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Hal Sirowitz:


The People’s Poet


by Ron Kolm


Author photo © Copyright 2010 Kim Soles

Author photo © Copyright 2010 Kim Soles

I met Hal in 1980 when he was emceeing the poetry readings at St. Clement’s Church on 46th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. Hal did a terrific job in mixing the knowns and the unknowns, and then making the unknowns feel like they could end up in the pantheon of New York City poets. At the conclusion of each event Sirowitz would read some of his own work. The first time I heard him I was instantly hooked. His poems were short and funny, and in them Hal was able to project himself through his mother’s eyes. To her everything was a potential threat — especially to her family’s belonging to the mostly assimilated Jewish middle-class.  Religion still played a part in his work, but almost more as a set of superstitions, than as a link to the ineffable — and it was more through the sensibility of the father than the mother. Hal’s poems were also incredibly concrete — they were filled with real things; real cats, real girlfriends, real condoms. And many of them began with the mantra, “Mother said…”
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Gibberish, Hallucinations, Paranoia, and the Long Way Out of Town by Jose Padua

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Gibberish, Hallucinations, Paranoia,

and the Long Way Out of Town


by Jose Padua


I can’t remember the quick way out of town anymore, and while we were stuck in traffic on North Capitol Street this morning, we saw this man standing at the entrance to this building, which is listed as the address of the Ida Mae Campbell Wellness & Resource Center. From behind the man looked like he was perhaps a businessman or even a doctor, but as we waited in traffic he remained at the door, and after a moment I could see that he was staring at a sign above the doorknob. When he turned around briefly, I could see he had a totally blank expression on his face, the look of someone who is far beyond just being lost. Then he turned back around to stare at the sign.
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Youth by Tim Beckett

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by Tim Beckett


She appeared on an old style woman’s bike with the heavy iron frame and the wide handlebars, her backpack so heavy she almost fell over as she came to a stop. I was drinking beer on Bill’s porch with Bill and a dozen other people and I watched her as she came up the stairs. She was striking, with high Indian cheekbones and olive skin and long brown hair she’d tied back in a ponytail with an Indian braid, and an athletic dancer’s figure which she’d wrapped in a ankle-length leather greatcoat. As she said hello in turn to everyone on the porch, I noticed that, unusually amongst Bill’s friends, she was French.

She’d noticed me as well, because she stopped right in front of me, taking me in with amazing diamond eyes. Up close, she looked familiar though that didn’t mean much: in the month I’d been back in Montreal, every street, face or overheard conversation – whether in French or English – contained some association with a set of vaguely remembered persons or memories. For this and other reasons, I didn’t like to go out much, but that afternoon was special: Bill and his wife Sarah were having a baby shower for their daughter Gisele, who had just turned one.

Sarah, just two years off heroin.
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Poem by Jose Padua

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by Jose Padua




Although I support
my sisters all over
the world in their
struggle for equality
and quest for empow-
erment, I must confess
that from time to time
when I say the word
“titties” it is not one
of my Tourette’s tics
but simply me, thinking
about breasts the way
a six year old thinks
about ice cream. Sorry.

-Jose Padua
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In Homage to My Ancestors and Their Dirt by Jose Padua

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In Homage to My Ancestors and Their Dirt


by Jose Padua



In Homage to My Ancestors and Their Dirt

Because everyone else writes like
the past was one long fucking fairy
tale let me say that my ancestors
passed a lot of gas. If we saw them
at our door today we would stand up
for their rights but we would not let
them in the front door. Sorry, but that
ever present fart smell precludes their
entry. I love them and I respect them,
but I have enough difficulty breathing
as it is. They also don’t know when to
look away from you. For some reason
continuous eye contact was the norm
for them: what we now find unnerving
was for them a sign of respect, a sign
that they realized the influence of the
past upon the present and future is like
a trail of dust that bends through wind
and sky to meet us around the corner by
the cupcake shop. And daylight back
then wasn’t always shrouded in fog
or mist, and we didn’t all live near
the water, and if they could talk the
way we talk now they would, and they
would ask, as they look at the world
and what we’ve done with it, “What
the hell is all this shit, motherfucker?”
And, “You realize that while you’re
busy staring at that little black box
I could easily bash your head in.
Then I could eat your brains, and
thus gain possession of your power,
your knowledge, and your soul. Not
to mention that ugly blue box you call
a mini-van.” Ah, but if they don’t kill us
how we will drink, how we will feast,
how we will honor the past together
with each swallow of roasted pig,
pave the road to the future as we wet
our lips with room temperature whiskey.
Ah, how the days will go by, and how
the clouds will fly like white birds, and
turn to rain and turn to snow to cover us.

-Jose Padua


José PaduaJosé Padua’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Bomb, Salon.com, Exquisite Corpse, Another Chicago Magazine, Unbearables, Crimes of the Beats, Up is Up, but So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, and many other journals and anthologies. He has also written features and reviews for NYPress, Washington City Paper, the Brooklyn Rail and the New York Times. He has read his work at the Lollapalooza Festival, CBGBs, the Knitting Factory, the Black Cat Club, the Public Theater, the Washington Project for the Arts, and many other venues. José also blogs at Shenandoah Breakdown with his life partner, poet Heather Davis, and at the blog, Kings of the Road, and for Salon.com. José Padua’s most recent collection of poetry is a chapbook, The Complete Failure of Everything (2008: The Apathy Press Poets, Baltimore).

Photograph by Jose Padua. Jose Padua is co-author of the blog Shenandoah Breakdown.