Riehlife Poem-of-the-Day: “Sparta, Illinois–1963” by Maurice L. Hirsch
We have Maurice Hirsch's mentor and friend, Catherine Rankovic, to thank for today's Poem-of-the-Day. Welcome! He joins us from Chesterfield, Missouri. Here's some background he's shared on his poem "Sparta, Illinois--1963"
We lived and worked in Sparta from 1962-1964. It was a tipping point in the transition of this town/area from segregation toward integration in jobs and where you could live. While the printing plant put out magazines and comic books for urban center consumption, the town was Southern-Illinois rural.
In an “art imitates life imitates art” moment, the movie In the Heat of the Night was filmed there in 1966 and had a real impact on the community. Originally set in Mississippi, the IMDB database says: “Mississippi was eventually ruled out as a location due to the existing political conditions. Sparta, Illinois, was selected as the location, and the town's name in the story was changed to Sparta so that local signs would not need to be changed.”
This led to African-American mid-level managers. One of their sons became the first African-American physician in town (and was taken as a partner by a while physician). It took until 1971 for there to be an African-American hero in a comic book.
by Maurice L. Hirsch
Like half the town
I work at “The Comic Book,”
where white men adjust
printing presses and bindery machines
that spew white heroes
Casper the Friendly Ghost,
while blacks wield brooms, load freight cars.
Six months pregnant
with our first child,
Marian walks to the plant,
our tiny black poodle,
Voodoo, on a leash.
As we stroll home for lunch,
she tells me the dog bit her hard.
We chat about baby names.
Later, I go to Rotary.
The minister sitting next to me says:
You’re the first Jew I’ve ever talked to.
MAURICE (BUD) HIRSCH is a poet and photographer. He began writing poems in 2000 and has authored three collections: Taking Stock, Stares to Other Places, and Roots and Paths. His work has been published in literary journals, including Untamed Ink and New Harvest: Jewish Writing in St. Louis, 1998-2005, /
Maurice won awards from the St. Louis Poetry Center, St. Louis Writers Guild, and the Missouri Writers Guild. His 2008 poetry concert, Change the Subject, incorporated music and graphics to tell the story of his life (presented at The Centene Center for Arts and Education).
In addition to his poetry and photography achievements, HIRSCH is author and/or co-author of several books and journal articles on management accounting and oral and written communications. He received his M.B.A. and Ph.D. in Accounting from Washington University and, until his retirement, taught management accounting at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. A founding member of Chesterfield Arts, HIRSCH is also a devoted community volunteer. He and his wife, Marian, live on a horse farm in Chesterfield, Missouri where he rides Paso Fino horses.
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