Magazine article Tablet Magazine

The Candy Store Poet

Magazine article Tablet Magazine

The Candy Store Poet

Article excerpt

One of the universe's greatest injustices is that poets, whose minds dwell far beyond the middling realities of the mundane world, have to worry about making a living. Poetryeven more than other artsis a notoriously unprofitable endeavor, and in recent history great poets have spent their weekdays working as dreamy doctors, unlikely insurance salesmen, disaffected journaliststhe list goes on. It's probably safe to assume, however, that among them there was only one candy store owner, and that's Herschel "Hersch" Silverman, who is turning 86 this year.

In the early 1950s, having just returned from the Navy, Silverman opened Hersch's Beehive in Bayonne, N.J. While serving he was trained as a cook: a path he chose, as he told me in a phone interview, because, having grown up in a traditional Jewish home, he didn't want "to eat anything too unkosher," and he preferred to know what his meals were made of. One day after work, while taking a writing course at the 92nd Street Y, he pulled off the shelf a copy of the Evergreen Review, which contained Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Upon reading this epic poem, jazz-anthem to madness and rebellion, Silverman underwent a profound transformationhe was turned on as a poet.

Silverman wrote to Ginsberg, inviting him to partake of milkshakes and sweet sodas at the candy shop. Miraculously, the maestro responded, and even paid a visit25 years after the invitation. But during those 25 years, and long after, a friendship filled with correspondence and hangout sessions blossomed. Through Ginsberg, Silverman met and befriended other iconic poets of that circleJack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Charles Olson.

The friendships were unlikely: These artists prided themselves on being intellectually-sexually-spiritually disabused bohemians, while Hersch was married, had two children, attended synagogue, celebrated Jewish holidaysand held down the fort daily at the store. What perhaps brought them together was Silverman's unwavering enthusiasm and dedication to all things counter-cultural. Musician and writer Marshall Allen, in the introduction to Silverman's book of collected poems, put it this way: "At Hersch's Beehive, right under the Pepsi clock and portrait of JFK, the names of the Beats were uttered with the same brightening intensity, and reverence, other people reserve for ballplayers, cartoon characters, television stars, and lawn mowers. Hersch's Beehive, in reality, radiated a kind of third eye, hip, patriotism if you will, where dissonant howls, sax blaps and angular Monkish grooves were as automatically wholesome, natural and expectable as the national anthem."

And then there was also Hersch's poetry. While unmistakably influenced by the Beats, Silverman's voice is distinct as it intertwines seemingly contradictory concepts of hipness and familial bliss. …

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