Poems for April 30: Tomorrow is May Day

[Celebrate May Day with Jack Hirschman, a poet unlike any other, one of America’s foremost poets, a poet and revolutionary committed to the word and the deed of social transformation. [This post was originally published in advance of Jack’s visit to Chicago in 2010.  The poem is just as relevant in 2017, which is one way of saying Jack’s always with us, always visiting us with his words.]

  1. Jack is the subject of a biographical film documentary called Red Poet which [was] screened at Mess Hall, 6932 N. Glenwood, Sunday May 2, 2010, 7:30 pm.
  2. Jack [did]appear in person at Jane Addams Hull-House, 800 S. Halsted, along with Kevin Coval and outstanding poets from the Louder than a Bomb Chicago youth poetry festival. This [was] Monday, May 3, 2010 at 7:30 pm.
  3. Jack Hirschman [did] appear in person at Mess Hall at 6932 N. Glenwood at 7:30 pm, [and read] from his work and discuss[ed] his poetry and politics.

Jack Hirschman is a recent poet laureate of San Francisco, an author of more than 50 books of poetry, translator from 8 languages, editor of the remarkable collection of essays on politics and art, Art on the Line.

Jack Hirschman‘s visit to Chicago [was] rare opportunity, not one to miss at any time, but even more significant in tandem with this very important May Day.]


MAYDAY 2008 by Jack Hirschman

On May Day, tomorrow, sometime in the course of the day,
I’ll take your hand, sister, I’ll take your hand, brother, and
lift our arms all together in honor of the workers’ holiday,

and the Internationale we’ll be singing tomorrow will also
remember that today Shitler blew his brains out 63 years ago
like that criminal in the White House should at any moment,

and that today 33 years ago the great people of Vietnam won
an unforgettable victory for socialism over the same brutal
machine that beat Rodney King of Los Angeles 17 years ago

and set off actions in states like Washington, Nevada, Illinois
because the hunger for justice that’s coming, that’s already
manifesting for food in Haiti, Egypt, Nicaragua, Pakistan,

the hunger that’s joined to the will of that deathless invincible
Union of the spirit of revolution, that hunger which has already
given birth to fourteen years of Mayan resistance and which

defies the mass production of outright lies about how delicious
life tastes with individual choices and forgets about the children
dropping dead of starvation, even here in the other America—

O if ever there was a time to get off the left side of our asses and
go to the bottom of the pot, and see that it’s empty and the kids
needs food. O if ever there was need for Revolution, it’s now

—Jack Hirschman

[note that “that criminal in the white house” referred to above is a reference to George Bush]

May Day 2010: 130 years of Working Class Immigrant Struggle

[We celebrate May Day as an international workers holiday throughout the world.  Until four years ago,it was common for us, particularly in Chicago where it all began, to hang our heads because May Day seemed all but forgotten.  Then the immigration rights marches overwhelmed the old and relatively isolated commemorations by people who had been long keeping the spirit from being extinguished — so overwhelmed that it was easy to call this some other phenomenon.  There is, however, a direct line from the days in 1886 when the police fired on demonstrators and galvanized the eight hour movement.  That direct line starts with the composition of the original haymarket martyrs, the ones imprisoned in Illinois on the charges of instigating a riot, some of whom were executed.  Immigrants led the support for striking workers, immigrants were arrested and executed, immigrants continue to raise the banner of justice which has immense significance for the rest of the working class.

Four years ago, when the May Day march in Chicago swelled to a million people, the demonstration — on a week day, when so many workers took off work and virtually stopped the city — responded to draconian legislation proposed to control immigration.  Now the recent Arizona legislation has generated a similar response.  Saturday promises to be another important step in breaking down barriers between sections of the working class that have opposed each other.  Below is the lead article in the current Tribuno del Pueblo that comments on the situation confronting the immigration rights movement.  There is also a story about how Colombian singer Shakira responds to the Arizona law.

Remember the demonstrations taking place tomorrow; remember also that the arts have always played an important role in participating in the working class struggle, as we have tried to demonstrate on this blog, not only in the daily poetry contributions you have seen here in the month of April.  Today’s contribution is Jack Hirschman’s May Day poem you will find in a separate post. — Lew Rosenbaum]

Editorial: ¡Si se puede!
A just immigration reform now!
from the Tribuno del Pueblo

On March 22, 2010 more than a quarter of a million marched in Washington D.C. chanting, ¡Si se puede!, letting Congress and the Democratic Party know a just immigration reform is long overdue. As we move forward celebrating the fourth anniversary of the first immigrant rights marches, it’s time to also assess where the immigrant rights movement is at as a whole.
Immigration reform has been stuck. Considering the high hopes and spirited enthusiasm of the massive immigrant rights marches, the election of the first minority president in U.S. history and a Democrat controlled Congress, there has been no meaningful progress toward legalization and amnesty. Instead, there are even more security measures such as tighter border surveillance and enforcement and workplace identification checks such as e-verify.
Despite the recent passage of major national health care reform in this country, undocumented and even legal resident immigrants have been to a large extent excluded from coverage. They were victims of backroom political deals designed to insure passage of the health reform measure, ignoring the fact that immigrants pay taxes and contribute to this country. Their exclusion occurred despite the fact that Latinos and other immigrants compose the group with the lowest rates of health care coverage in the country. Several states such as California had already dropped undocumented immigrants from health coverage due to state budget deficits. Now, in response to further deficits, the California Governor is proposing to deny health programs even for legal residents.
Some in the immigrant movement will be quick to blame President Obama. For sure, many on the far right are already attacking “Obamacare” as they call the national health care legislation, but not for the same reason that immigrants are unhappy with it. They call it “big government,” socialized medicine, or communism, as they hurl racial epithets and incite violence against Democratic congressmen who voted for the legislation.
How does one make sense of this morass? Is it racism? Is it betrayal by our leaders? Is this the America of our dreams of democracy, fair play and equal opportunities?
One thing is for sure, and it is that the Democratic Party is not delivering even for U.S. citizens, let alone immigrants. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the Democratic Party from the Republican Party. While banks and General Motors were bailed out, foreclosures, job losses, and social service cuts are affecting even formerly comfortable and securely employed U.S. born workers. Congressmen of both major political parties receive major contributions from interests that keep the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies in control of health care, even as immigrants and U.S. born workers die from lack of health care. Those who strive to control this country behind the scenes are bigger than just one man and will utilize whichever party, movement or fringe group they need to do it.
So, as the May Day marches approach, it is important to see who our enemy is and who our friends are. Many immigrants are instinctively moving in this direction already, ignoring the calls to be patient and wait for a better immigration proposal. As an integral part of the workforce and social fabric of this country, immigrants are affected by the same social destruction that is occurring to the rest of the U.S. working class. We are united with the rest of the U.S. working in our mutual need to struggle to survive. We must also become united with them in unmasking and exposing the extremists who threaten the democratic ideals that also attracted us to this country.
It is in defending ourselves and demanding our full rights, while looking for what we have in common with the broader American working class which is also being hurt, that we will defeat the weapon of “divide and conquer” that our mutual enemy has historically used. That will be the beginning of political independence for the American working class, of which we as immigrants are an integral part.


Shakira attacks Arizona immigration law

Reprinted from The Guardian, UK. Colombian singer protests controversial legislation allowing police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant

Shakira protests Arizona immigration law Controversial legislation … Shakira protests Arizona immigration law in Phoenix. Photograph: Joshua Lott/Reuters

Shakira has joined the chorus of opposition to Arizona’s new immigration law. President Obama has questioned its legality, Linda Ronstadt has called for its repeal, the band Stars have called for a boycott, and now the Grammy award-winning Colombian singer has visited Phoenix to discuss the controversial legislation with the city’s mayor.

Civil rights activists are furious about bill 1070, signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer on Friday. If police suspect anyone of being an illegal immigrant, the bill directs officers to ask about their immigration status – and if they are not carrying proper papers they will be committing a crime. Critics have called this state-supported racial profiling.

“Shakira is deeply concerned about the impact of this law on hard-working Latino families,” said Trevor Nielson, the singer’s “political and philanthropic adviser”. “She is coming to Arizona to try to learn more about how law enforcement is reacting to this and how we can ensure that people in the state of Arizona are not being targeted because of the colour of their skin.”

While Shakira is best known for hits like She-Wolf and Hips Don’t Lie, she is also a long-time activist. The singer received a medal from the UN’s International Labour Organisation last month, and she is also a global ambassador for Unicef. Shakira is particularly involved with groups that are active in Central and South America.

According to Nielson, Shakira cancelled other commitments to visit Phoenix yesterday, where she met with mayor Phil Gordon, who opposed bill 1070, and the local police chief. Although she also hoped to speak with Governor Brewer, her staff said she was too busy.

Appearing on the radio show On Air With Ryan Seacrest, Shakira described her questions for officials. “Are they really willing to enforce [a] law [when] they know it is going to crush the dream of so many immigrants who would like to have a shot at the American dream, like so many minorities in this country have in the past? We all know how America has been forged by the dreams of those people, and by their passion, and by their contribution to the economy – by working really hard.”

Three Arizona cities are considering lawsuits to block the new bill, and the legislation may be challenged at referendum in November. At least one state sheriff has called it a “stupid law” and said this week he would not enforce it in his county.

• This article was amended on 30 April 2010. The original referred to Arizona governor Jan Brewer as ‘he’, when in fact she is female. This has been corrected.

Poems for April 29: Meridel Le Sueur and Tom McGrath

Fierce for Change is a cinematic portrait of writer Meridel Le Sueur, whose works for over 60 years have been informed by her political history and beliefs, and colored by her connectedness to the midwestern land and environment. On this site you will find her NY Times obituary,  a link to four short essays byMeridel, and other relevant information. The form of this selection is prose.  But the lyrical use of language and the vivid imagery are extraordinary:

Cows and Horses Are Hungry
by Meridel Le Sueur

Publishing Information

Originally published in American Mercury (September, 1934). Republished in Ripening by Feminist Press (1980)

Ripening: Selected Work, 1927-1980


When you drive through the Middle West droughty country you try not to look at the thrusting out ribs of the horses and cows, but you get so you can’t see anything else but ribs, like hundreds of thousands of little beached hulks. It looks like the bones are rising right up out of the skin. Pretty soon, quite gradually, you begin to know that the farmer, under his rags, shows his ribs, too, and the farmer’s wife is as lean as his cows, and his children look tiny and hungry. . . .

read the rest of this essay here.


I Light Your Streets by Meridel Le Sueur

I am a crazy woman with a painted face
On the streets of Gallup
I invite men into my grave
for a little wine.
I am a painted grave
Owl woman     hooting for callers in the night.
Black bats over the sun sing to me
The horned toad sleeps in my thighs

Meridel Le Sueur reads at the opening of the Guild Complex, May 1989 (Nelson Peery at right, Lew Rosenbaum at left)

My grandmothers gave me songs to heal
But the white man buys me cheap without song
or word.
My dead children appear and I play with them.
Ridge of time in my grief –remembering
Who will claim the ruins?
and the graves?
the corn maiden violated
As the land?
I am a child in my eroded dust.
I remember feathers of the hummingbird
And the virgin corn laughing on the cob.
Maize defend me
Prairie wheel around me
I run beneath the guns
and the greedy eye
And hurricanes of white faces knife me.
But like fox and smoke I gleam among the thrushes
And light your streets.

from Ripening: Selected Work, 1927-1980 (Feminist Press)


Blues For The Old Revolutionary Woman by Thomas McGrath

for Mother Bloor
Mother Jones
Meridel Le Sueur

Tom McGrath

A tick of time that stones the heads of kings
And drops its pennies on a thousand eyes
Unreels the gaudy shroud of history
And transmutes all statistics into pain.

What is simple virtue can never be denied,
Explained, or canceled. Still, it is not
Enough to love a world that must be changed.
This was the earliest thing they learned.

Neither Weehawken Ferry nor a flower,
The world was love and work — we could become
Human. Across the cruel geography
Of strike and struggle, hitch-hiking, riding freights

They sought the boundaries of that possible world
Where statistical death can never cancel dream
And history is humanized. Their blazoning voyage
Points toward the Indies of our mortal wish.

from Selected Poems 1938-1988 (Copper Canyon, 1988)


by Thomas McGrath

How could I have come so far?

Selected Poems 1938-1988

(And always on such dark trails?)
I must have traveled by the light
Shining from the faces of all those I have loved.

from Selected Poems 1938-1988 (Copper Canyon, 1988)

[From the biographical material on the Poetry Foundation website:

For some fifty years, the late Thomas McGrath produced a prolific array of titles, encompassing poetry, novels, books for children, and several documentary film scripts, including uncredited work on the eloquent and exhilarating Smithsonian film about the history of flight, To Fly. But McGrath is primarily a poet, and although “important contemporary poets . . . proclaim him as a major voice in American poetry in the last three or four decades,” according to Frederick C. Stern in Southwest Review, McGrath‘s work has been critically neglected for years. “He’s one of those poets who should be known but isn’t, who is constantly being rediscovered as if he were some precocious teenager who just got into town,” declared Mark Vinz in North Dakota Quarterly. “If he’s been honored, even revered by a few, he’s also been ignored by most.” To quote Terrence Des Pres in TriQuarterly, “Thomas McGrath has been writing remarkable poems of every size and form for nearly fifty years. In American poetry he is as close to Whitman as anyone since Whitman himself, . . . read more and listen to audio recordings here. ]

Secret History of Chicago Music

The Secret History of Chicago Music info-strip runs every two weeks in the free weekly The Chicago Reader, which comes out every Wednesday. The musical segment/show

Just one of the images and text in the secret history

runs the following Sunday eve on the Nick Digilio show on WGN 720 at midnight (technically Monday, but you get the idea). A book collection is in the works of the strips…cross yer fingers… Check out the images and the web site here .

Poems for April 28, 2010: Michael Warr, Tony Fitzpatrick, Jack Hirschman praise heroes

Gravitas  In Three Movements

Written by Michael Warr and performed in 2005 at the memorial of Fred Fine to music composed and performed by Mitar Mitch Covic.

Michael Warr

In memory of Fred Fine

In the immortal mind
of this Worldchanger
bottom line was humanity,
Breadlines for subsistence
not enough without beauty
riveted into the beams
of our being
offered to all in reach of his
brilliant, encompassing, light
where would-be Worldchangers
were taught to slay
the golem of cyclical crisis.


Firebird soaring underground.
Entrenched scholar on frontlines.
Bronze-Star soldier, profound.
Mobilizer of each one of us.
Gardener of consciousness.
Scientific shaman. Maven.
Mentor to masses. Agitator.
Code Breaker. Mensch.
Frail enough to fly.

We Are All The Black Boy (Tia Chucha)


Freedom Fighter. Father.
Immense enough to leave
an imprint on our communal stone.
Today the theory of chaos is true.
The flutter of a butterfly’s wing
can equal the force of a hurricane.
© 2005, Michael Warr

[“Michael Warr’s literary awards include a Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Illinois Poets Award, a NEA Creative Writing Fellowship for Poetry, a Ragdale Foundation US – Africa Fellowship, and The Beat Museum Poet of the Month. His first book of poems We Are All The Black Boy, was honored by the Illinois Library Association. He is a co-editor of Power Lines: A Decade of Poetry From Chicago’s Guild Complex.” taken from the spoken word website where a number of his poems can be read and/or heard, including his evocation of Tony Fitzpatrick (see next entry) in this poem: My Father’s Favorite Pastime.]


Crazy Horse Collages by Tony Fitzpatrick

[Tony Fitzpatrick has earned his position as a visual artist and a wordsmith poet. In a number of works, such as Bum Town, his brilliant evocation of south Chicago’s blue collar past, he combines the two arts with his visceral prints and words. Note that Tony has also done book covers:  his own for BumTown of course, but also for Michael Warr’s book featured above, and for PowerLines, which Michael co-edited.  And if you listen to Steve Earle’s music, look again at the album covers and you’ll recognize the work there too.  In the work represented here, his visual art itself becomes a form of poetry, and the prose reflections that accompany them evoke the tragic past of Crazy Horse, someone to be admired even if the tragic end is not to be emulated. The following is from the text accompanying number one of the collages:

“I think I keep thinking about Crazy Horse because of the sad trajectory of his life — he’d lost his wives , his brother, his father, and his dearest friend, Hump; and in his lifetime he would also lose the ferocious landscape of the Badlands to the white man and the RailRoads. His, was a life of furious loss, despite fighting mightily to hang onto some semblance of his history and ancestry– these things too, were lost to him.
His only solace was in nature. Being on the wrong end of history’s loaded gun, relegated him and millions of other indians to the shameful footnote of White America’s own genocidal manifest destiny.
I guess the idea of belonging to a place is something I’ve always considered an idea worth fighting for.” ]


Homage to Ben Moloise, South African Poet by Jack Hirschman

The Bottom Line (Curbstone)

When a poet
in revolutionary struggle
is hanged by the evil his every breath had fought
his words
unleash the lynched
unchain the fettered
turn every pen into a javelin
when a poet
is murdered for being
truth’s messenger
the government of his executioners
chokes on its own tongue
and aparthate crawls on maggot belly
while the words of the poet
enter the peoples’ ears
like the unbroken neck of the rainbow
that will be South Africa’s sky
for every pair of eyes
when the reign of death is over
and the flood subsides.

from The Bottom Line (Curbstone Press)

Rap Video Responds To Arizona Immigration Law — from Rock And Rap Confidential

Coyote vs the Roadrunner-Arizona Rap Artist Swindoe Drops Hard Hitting Video About New Immigration Law


Thanks to Rock and Rap Confidential

More on May Day Rallies, 2010

Arizona immigrant law energizes Hispanics, Democrats

Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:08pm EDT in Reuters
People hold signs as they protest against Senate Bill 1070 outside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona April 25, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

People hold signs as they protest against Senate Bill 1070 outside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona April 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott

PHOENIX (Reuters) – U.S. Hispanics and Democratic lawmakers furious over Arizona’s harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants expect huge weekend rallies across the United States, piling pressure on President Barack Obama to overhaul immigration laws in this election year.


Protest organizers said on Wednesday outrage over the Arizona law — which seeks to drive illegal immigrants out of the state bordering Mexico — has galvanized Latinos and would translate into a higher turnout for May Day rallies in more than 70 U.S. cities.

“The marches and demonstrations are going to be far more massive than they otherwise would have been,” said Juan Jose Gutierrez, a Los Angeles rally organizer who runs an immigration assistance company.

The backlash began on Friday after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a measure that requires state and local police to determine a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” they are undocumented. Critics say it is unconstitutional and opens the door to racial profiling.

Republican backers of the law say it is needed to curb crime in the desert state, which is a key corridor for drug and migrant smugglers from Mexico.

A Rasmussen Reports poll on Wednesday found that almost two-thirds — 64 percent — of voters in the state favored the measure.

The crowds on the streets, from Los Angeles to New York, could be the biggest since 2006, when hundreds of thousands of marchers urged former President George W. Bush to overhaul of federal immigration laws. He tried, but failed in Congress.

“With what’s going on in Arizona we see renewed energy for folks to fight for immigration reform,” said Marissa Graciosa, of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, an organizer of rallies and vigils on Friday and Saturday.

In Washington, a diverse group of more than two dozen lawmakers — Hispanics, blacks, Asians, whites — held a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to denounce the Arizona law as a violation of civil rights.

“What Arizona has done is that it has galvanized, united, fortified, focused our immigration movement,” Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez declared at the news conference.  Read more here.


Web site for the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant Rights


Illinois Labor History Association has two events set, including a rally scheduled in Haymarket Square:

See this link for Festival events including May Day events.


See also this story by Eduardo Galeano about May Day in Chicago.