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"Hanging Loose"

Remembering Robert Hershon [ed. Terence Winch]

 

 

Bob header 2________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Like many others, I am deeply saddened over the death of my dear friend Bob Hershon on March 20, 2021. Bob was smart, funny, and generous. He was also a wonderful poet. Bob was the co-founder of Hanging Loose magazine and press, and helped bring the work of hundreds of writers (including me) to light. He was beloved by many, and earned that love through his great generosity of spirit. Here is a poem of Bob's from last August. It may very well be one of his last poems, but like all his work it is characterized by his warmth, humor, wisdom, and literary genius. Thanks to all of his friends and fellow writers whose tributes to Bob appear below. (More texts, photos, etc. will be added as they arrive.)


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AWONDE~1A wonderful, characteristic photograph of Bob Hershon, at a memorial reading I organized for Harvey Shapiro at Stony Brook Southampton in 2013. Now Bob is gone. He was a man filled with humor, warmth and life. He had been ill for some time, but it’s still hard to grasp. —Kathryn Levy

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My dear friend and Hanging Loose co-editor Bob Hershon’s passing has left a gaping hole in my heart. As John Yau recently wrote, he was a major American poet. The quickest of wits, he was an unapologetic city poet in the tradition of Charles Reznikoff and Harvey Shapiro. His knowledge of Brooklyn history, of baseball, popular music, movies and art was encyclopedic. If you ever shared the podium at a poetry reading with Him you made sure he went last lest you be upstaged before you ever got started.  —Mark Pawlak

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Here is the New York Times obituary for Bob.

 

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Bob’s Winter Coat
an elegy for Bob Hershon, 1936-2021

by Sherman Alexie

 

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Did You Know that Robert Hershon is a Major Poet? by John Yau

Bob Hershon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to listen to

Bob reading at the DIA Art Foundation, November 10th, 2015

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Superbly Situated


you politely ask me not to die and i promise not to
right from the beginning—a relationship based on
good sense and thoughtfulness in little things

i would like to be loved for such simple attainments
as breathing regularly and not falling down too often
or because my eyes are brown or my father left-handed

and to be on the safe side i wouldn’t mind if somehow
i became entangled in your perception of admirable objects
so you might say to yourself: i have recently noticed

how superbly situated the empire state building is
how it looms up suddenly behind cemeteries and rivers
so far away you could touch it—therefore i love you

part of me fears that some moron is already plotting
to tear down the empire state building and replace it
with a block of staten island mother/daughter houses

just as part of me fears that if you love me for my cleanliness
i will grow filthy if you admire my elegant clothes
i’ll start wearing shirts with sailboats on them

but i have decided to become a public beach an opera house
a regularly scheduled flight—something that can’t help being
in the right place at the right time—come take your seat

we’ll raise the curtain fill the house start the engines
fly off into the sunrise, the spire of the empire state
the last sight on the horizon as the earth begins to curve

Robert Hershon, “Superbly Situated” from How to Ride on the Woodlawn Express.

Copyright © 1985 by Robert Hershon. Reprinted with the permission of Hanging Loose Press.

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Introducing Bob Hershon   by Joanna Fuhrman

I wrote this to introduce Bob when he received his LiveMag lifetime achievement award.

My intro for the award: Robert Hershon's 15th collection, End of the Business Day, was published this year. His work has appeared in The Nation, APR, The Brooklyn Rail, the current issue of LIVE MAG and a million other journals! He has been co-editor of Hanging Loose Press since its founding in 1966. His awards include two NEA fellowships and three from New York Foundation of the Arts

I think we all know that Bob Hershon deserves a Goddamn pile of lifetime achievement awards, a sky-scraper full of awards, a mountain of awards.

He needs one for his wry poetry that captures the joy and pain of everyday life, loss, aging, friendship and marriage.

Another for his absurdist poetry that skewers literary fools and know-it-all know-nothings who fill up shopping mall bookstore readings and AWP soirees.

Another for more than fifty years of co-editing one of the best literary journals in the country (and wrangling the OTHER editors into some sort of order)

For publishing the work of high school students from all over the country and the world including some of my early poems.

As other presses embrace, the Ponzi scheme mode of publishing, Hanging Loose is unique in still not charging poets to submit poems, AND actually PAYING writers for their work

He-- of course --deserves another award for putting SO MANY beautiful books in the world (including work by so many of my favorite poets): Paul Violi, Jayne Cortez, his wife the lovely Donna Brook, Charles North, and Quote unquote “younger poets” like Tom Devany and Maggie Nelson

Another for being such a good friend to so many people for so many years. For writing poems to his friends so precise that we all feel like we are their friends too.

I’ve known Bob now for more than 30 years, and in this time his poetry has only gotten better: more honest, funnier and more absurd.

He’s the only poet I know to have a poem on the OP-Ed page of the NY Times AND the menu of a restaurant. I am hoping this publishing trend continues. I would like a Bob Hershon poem flashing underneath the tracks of the F train and in the information books at the hospital.

His work is what we need to make any kind of sense of this backwards world.

I’m looking forward to his 16th, 17th and 18th book.

AND his 50th, 51st and 80th lifetime achievement awards.

 

See also

Celebrating 50 Years of Hanging Loose Press In Conversation with Co-editor Robert Hershon

Interview by Joanna Fuhrman

 

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Bob Hershon  Dick lourie  Mark Pawlak

Bob Hershon, Dick Lourie, and Mark Pawlak. Photo by Gerald Fleming.

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 Bob and Donna believed in me  by Mandy Smoker Broaddus

Over twenty years ago Robert Hershon (and others at Hanging Loose Press - Dick, Mark, Donna...) changed my life forever by publishing my collection of poems. It felt like an incredible dream.  Bob and Donna believed in me, guided me through a new world, boosted me up, and loved me. They became my forever Uncle and Auntie. I will miss him immensely. I will cherish the compliments, the constructive criticism, the witty email banter, coffee at the kitchen counter, after dinner drinks - but mostly I will remember your keen poetics, your bright eye and all the generosity. Thank you.  Thank you so much. 💔

Mandy Smoker  Bob Hershon  Donna Brook

                                                            Mandy Smoker Broaddus, Bob Hershon, Donna Brook

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Robert Hershon R.I.P.  by Michael Lally

Bob was six years older than me and felt like a big brother, a funny one (I had an ex-cop big brother named Robert who was twelve years older and a jokester as well). Hershon's quick wit, even when aimed at me, always made me laugh, which was an unexpected gift because my inability to be equally witty usually soured me on that kind of banter. But Bob Hershon's love for his fellow poets and friends, and most folks, radiated from his heart even when cracking wise.

In fact, his readings were known for the laughter his poems often generated, even sometimes when addressing serious subjects. Some thought of him as a stand-up comic as much as a poet. But he was one of our most wonderful poets and should have had the name recognition of our most famous ones. I think because his poetry was often humorous it sometimes wasn't taken as seriously as it should have been, and because he didn't fit into the categories that critics create for poetry movements and scenes.

In fact Robert Hershon was unique, as a poet, editor, publisher, co-founder and director of The Print Center (that made it possible for many small presses to publish), and husband, father, friend, and wit. His physical presence will be, and already is, deeply missed, but his printed and recorded presence will live on. Rest in poetry, Bob.

PS: here's the full text of the title poem from his 2019 collection

End of the Business Day:

I looked in every file and folder

under the fax and behind the

Xerox. I retraced my footsteps

and pawed through the waste

paper and finally

I found what I'd done with this poem

So I folded it in half and then in

quarters and then to the size of

a matchbook

and I put it in my breast

pocket and I gave it a pat

and I turned out the lights

and I locked the door

and I ran for my life

 

David Lehman  Bob Hershon  Bill Zavatsky  Michael Lally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Lehman, Bob Hershon, Bill Zavatsky, Michael Lally

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Robert Hershon and his daughter Elizabeth

                                                               Bob with his daughter Elizabeth       

 

Bob Hershon and his sister Sue  ca. late '40.                                                              Bob Hershon and his sister Sue, ca. late 1940s.

Bob was my big brother who decided to teach me to read when I was 3 and gave me vocabulary tests every week. He loved being a big brother to “little sister Susie” and we went to the movies every Saturday as kids. He took me to my first ballet, my first opera, and my first off Broadway play.

He was always funny, and that got us through a rocky childhood. I became a.therapist, and he always wanted to write, and I loved his poetry. I don’t know if you ever saw his cartoons. I have many of them, and when he had a birthday I would give him one, as he never saved them but I did. They are very clever. We never fought, talked very often, and Donna and I were close friends, and close with Jed and Elizabeth. He was very modest and talented. He had an unbelievable memory for all kinds of things. He was one of a kind.

I miss him very much and hated that he suffered so in the last few months. I saw him 3 days before he died, and he held my hand. I bought him chocolate and a big jar of cashews, and he loved that. The nurse said it wasn’t good for him and we looked at her as if she was insane. Life wasn’t always easy for Bob but he was such a kind and loving guy and he knew how many friends were rooting for him. We were all so lucky he was in our lives. (Little sister Susie)

Bob Hershon with his son Jed.                                                                Bob Hershon and his son Jed

Bob Hershon as a young man                                                              Bob Hershon as a young man

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Mourning the Loss of Bob Hershon  by Thomas Devaney

His life-long work at Hanging Loose Press is beyond measure.

Bob’s poems, with their "downhome speech," lead with the heart.

The one where he puts his hand back to reach-out for his son's hand as they're crossing the street always hits me. The son much older now, Bob writes:

Don't fill up on bread

I say absent-mindedly

The servings here are huge.

My son, whose hair may be

receding a bit, says

Did you really just

say that to me?

What he doesn't know

is that when we're walking

together, when we get

to the curb

I sometimes start to reach

for his hand.

Bob was one of the great walkers in the city. Cut out of that same generous grain celebrated by Alfred Kazin and Walt Whitman, where he says: "Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else."

The streets of the city are before us: Bob's gait remains distinctive. His stride is deliberate with a range of tempos. His sense of being is transmitted in the stride of his line breaks and lines.

Notice the poem “Pace.” Yes, we never know which direction he might go, or the pace the poem may take to get there. But, in its own workaday way of that form, it’s also a concrete poem. Bob writes:

on skinny old

Lexington Avenue

I speed up

to pass this man

so I can

slow down

I take

great pleasure in the exact size

of my steps

 

The poems are living maps: all the worlds in all of the names, all the places, which continue to live in Bob's honest and vivid words.

Somewhere, I believe, Sherman Alexie credits Bob and Donna with saving his life. They published Sherman's first book with Hanging Loose Press. Later, even though his big publishers wanted him to publish all of his books with them, Sherman stuck with Hanging Loose for his poetry collections. His tribute to Bob helps to tell the larger story:

Bob's Coney Island

Let's begin with this: America.

I want it all back

now, acre by acre, tonight. I want

some Indian to finally learn

to dance the Ghost Dance right

so that all of the salmon and buffalo return

and the white men are sent back home

to wake up in their favorite European cities.

I am not cruel.

Still, I hesitate

when Bob walks us around his Coney Island:

the Cyclone still running

the skeleton of the Thunderbolt

the Freak Show just a wall of photographs

the Parachute Drop

which has not been used in 30 years

but still looks like we could

tie a few ropes to the top (Why the hell not?) and drop

quickly down, spinning, unravelling

watching Bob's Coney Island rise

from the ashes of the sad, old carnival

that has taken its place now, this carnival

that is so sad because, like Donna says

all carnivals are sad.

We drop to the ground, our knees buckle slightly

at impact. We turn to look at each other

with the kind of love and wonder

that only fear and the release of fear can create.

We climb to the top and parachute down

again and again, because there is an ocean

a few feet away, because Manhattan is just a moment

down the horizon, because there was a 13-year-old boy

who believed that Coney Island belonged to him

though we know that all we see

doesn't really belong to anyone

but I'll let Bob have a conditional lease

because I know finally,

somebody will take care of this place

even if just in memory.

 

—Sherman Alexie

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Bob at Murat's

Bob was my friend for more than 40 years, my publisher more than once, and a great sports fan, the Mets above all.  One of the bricks at Citi Field bears his name (a gift from his family).  He watched other sports, too, though not often the pickup basketball games at Murat Nemet-Nejat's annual summer poets parties—and even less me going one on one with Max Warsh, the son of Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh. Bob looks so happy (and young) here, as do Ed Friedman and Marc Nasdor.  Me, I'm worrying about how to get past Max.

—Charles North

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Bob Hershon and Gerald Fleming                                                                  Bob Hershon and Gerald Fleming

Bob Hershon was a stellar human being. The web of writers he brought together— some now gone from the earth and the many left who now mourn him—knew him not simply as "funny" nor classically Brooklyn-irascible, but profoundly caring and generous, deeply intelligent, steeped and conversant in both literature and art. That web of writers is wide both geographically and aesthetically: his tastes took in the whole spectrum of good literature without favoring gender or ethnicity, and both the magazine and the many Hanging Loose book titles attest to that.

I remember a Hanging Loose prose poem reading that Sharon Mesmer, Jack Anderson, and I did at the New York Public Library. Bob did the intro, and during that intro grouched about critics' obsession with defining the prose poem: "If it's good writing, who the hell cares?" That was Bob. (And it should be said that Hanging Loose, under Bob's, Dick's, and Mark's editorialship, was an early home for the prose poem—no raised eyebrows when a prose poem manuscript came over the transom.) It's people like Bob Hershon who keep our literature alive at its cellular level, and those of us who knew him, loved him, are aching.

—Gerald Fleming

Bob Hershon and Donna Brook. Photo by Gerald Fleming.                                                  Donna Brook and Bob Hershon. Photo by Gerald Fleming.

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Bob Hershon. Photo by David Kelley

Here is Bob reading at the Paul Violi Memorial at the Poetry Project in June 2011. I can imagine that, during a pause between poems, he's recounting a wryly touching and pertinent anecdote, which will shortly be hitting the audience in the way this photograph hit me. [Photo by David Kelley]

—Tony Towle

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Bob et al b

Bob  Michael Lally et al

                                             Bob out on the town

Bob sent me these pics a few years ago. It was 2016, he was just turning 80 and a bunch of us were eating some great Italian food after a gathering at Poet's House to celebrate his birthday and the fact that some of us had just had books come out from HL Press... I think no one at the table was aware that anyone was taking pics--I certainly wasn't--so it's all very real. ---Patricia Traxler


Yes, I remember that book party. Bob: pleased that the book party went off smoothly, pleased to be in the company of close poet friends, wine, and food. What I remember so fondly from many such annual events is the late night drive back to Wyckoff Street, sitting at the kitchen counter with Bob, the great pleasure he took in tallying up the book sales, recounting who showed up, who said what, etc. Then a nightcap and to bed in the wee hours.
---Mark Pawlak


The restaurant where those photos were taken on May 20th, 2016, by the way, was Gigino's, on Greenwich Street south of Duane. Mark was right on the money in his description---Bob was extremely happy to be where he was with the people that were there, after another successful Hanging Loose celebration, and after a good dinner with good wine (and maybe one pre-dinner cocktail). ---Tony Towle

top: Bob, Patricia Traxler, Dick Lourie, Mark Pawlak, [?], Tony Towle, and [???].
bottom: Michael Lally, Bob, Patricia Traxler, Dick Lourie, Mark Pawlak

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Bob in Paris. Photo by Gerald Fleming

Bob and Donna Paris

Bob and Donna in Paris at an evening reading I'd arranged at a pal's apartment. Quite a few readers (including Kathryn Levy, who happened to be in town), and Bob was a big hit. (It took some convincing to get Donna to read, but read she did, and I think she was glad she did. Bob was especially happy about that.)  ---Gerald Fleming

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Bob Hershon Keri Smith Ivy Chen Ping                                                                   Bob Hershon, Ivy Chen, Keri Smith, Wang Ping in NYC

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Left to right-- Jeanne Calvit  husband of Lisa Von Drasek  Sherman Alexi  Lisa Von Drasek  Wang Ping  Bob Hershon  Donna Brook

 

 

Wang Ping  Sherman Alexi  Bob Hershon

left photo: Jeanne Calvit, husband of Lisa Von Drasek, Sherman Alexie, Lisa Von Drasek, Wang Ping, Bob Hershon, Donna Brook
right photo: Wang Ping, Sherman Alexie, Bob Hershon

Bob and Donna visited Macalester College in 2015, with Sherman Alexie. The trio caused a sensation in the Twin Cities, with their poetry, stories, humor, and their bonds with each other. Sherman told many stories about how Bob discovered his poetry and has been publishing him ever since. I cooked a banquet for them at home. So many people came, and I had to borrow chairs from friends. One of the chairs was faulty, unfortunately. Bob sat on it, and it collapsed under him. I was terrified, but he got up and continued with the feast, with a joke that made everyone laugh. He was tough and funny. Hanging Loose Press published my first translation: New Generation: Poetry from China Today, with Dick Lourie, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman among the co-translators. It paved my path as a poet and translator for the future. Bob and Donna also hosted a baby shower for my firstborn child at their home. I still hold onto that stroller. Bob's last wish was a Chinese dinner. I am sharing a photo of us feasting on Chinese food at Hong Kong Noodles in Minneapolis. Hope he sees this and smiles from his new place. Bob has made many children of poets and writers. I'm one of them.
---Wang Ping

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Dick  Ron  Emmett  Bob.                                                                                 Dick, Ron, Emmett, Bob

Bob wrote a poem about Hanging Loose editors. That’s the one that, in the last few weeks, has really got to me.

We’ve been doing the same thing for fifty-five years: submissions to the magazine are screened, sent around, and voted on—mostly by mail, since we’ve never actually had all the editors living in one place. Then we meet together about three times a year. We spend a weekend sitting around a table, usually in Bob’s living room, to make final decisions. On warm, sunny days there’s a table in the back yard.

Nothing gets in the magazine until it’s been read aloud—we have to hear it. In the middle of the table there’s a pile of manuscripts. Depending on how long it’s been between meetings, there might be 40 or 50, or only 20 or 30. Ron Schreiber always took on himself the job of doling them out by turns. We never knew if Ron had some devious sorting plan of his own. That would have been in character.

Bob reads someone’s poem to us—his voice: I know it so well—first polishing his glasses with that characteristic gesture I also know so well. He’s right across the table from me. Then we vote (previous votes are disregarded; to make the cut it has to be heard). Because we are kind people, a tie vote always goes to the “yesses.” Ron’s on my right; he’s next; we always read clockwise. (Don’t ask.)

Then me, then Emmett Jarrett on my left; after he has retired into the clergy, Mark Pawlak is on my left; he’s been there forty years. After Ron died, we each had to choose our own manuscripts to read from the pile, and we didn’t need to think about tie votes any more.

Now Mark’s across the table and Bob is on my right, watchful so I don’t steal the pen he’s doodling with. We’re familiar, so joyfully and achingly familiar, with one another’s voices, and with each individual style of reading aloud. Because this is what we do. For a half-century.

Here is Bob’s poem.

The Editors Editing 

Nomi our neighbor 

Asks Donna what are those 

Guys doing out back 

Sitting around the table 

Table full of papers 

And one guy goes blah blah blah blah 

And the others all shake their heads 

And go ahum ahum ahum 

 

Then the oak leaves fall 

Then the white garden furniture 

Covered with gray city snow 

Bluejay walks across the table 

And down somebody's leg 

Blah blah blah blah 

 

Reflecting on it the week after Bob died, I realized why I was so moved by these fourteen lines. Of course, I thought, it’s a poem about eternal friendship.

---Dick Lourie

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Bob Hershon at home in. Photo by Wang Ping.

I found another photo of Bob I took the last time I stayed with him, in 2019. I love that photo. He was sitting under his favorite painting, happy, content, at ease...full of dreams.  ---Wang Ping

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December 12, 2021

July 20, 2021

June 06, 2021

September 20, 2020

August 30, 2020

November 07, 2019

June 16, 2019

October 26, 2018

October 22, 2018

September 18, 2017

January 02, 2012

December 27, 2010

April 25, 2010

April 18, 2010

April 11, 2010

March 28, 2010

March 21, 2010

March 14, 2010

March 07, 2010

February 27, 2010

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly

Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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