Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

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.

________________

Sparta, Illinois--1963
by Maurice L. Hirsch

Sparta, Illinois
1963

Like half the town
I work at “The Comic Book,”
where white men adjust
printing presses and bindery machines
that spew white heroes
Superman,
Archie,
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.

You can learn more about Dr. Maurice L. Hirsch, Jr. and his work by reading his blog, and website.
Maurice Hirsch' blog
Maurice Hirsch's website.
Hirsch writes, takes pictures, rants

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8 Responses »

  1. Interesting times and interesting observations by Maurice.

  2. Dear Ruth,

    Thanks for commenting on Maurice's revealing poem. I admire how it catches the feel of both place and time.

    Janet

  3. The poem actually took me to Sparta. I could feel the air. I have walked those streets. Maurice captured the time and place.

  4. moving, insightful and significant.

  5. Such a powerful poem. Thanks!

  6. Ruth, Margie, and Kim...

    Yes, I too admire this powerful story poem by Maurice which takes us into the heart of a time and a place which lives with us still.

    Janet Riehl

  7. In my intro to this poem, I note that the first African-American comic book hero didn't appear until 1971. And the poem mentions "Archie." Well, we now have an openly gay character from the creators of "Archie:"
    http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/04/22/archie-introduces-an-openly-gay-character-kevin-keller/

  8. Thanks for this postscript, Maurice. Looks like Kevin Keller will be safe in Riverdale...and that Riverdale will be safe with him in it.

    But, Veronica is in for a skid.

    Janet Riehl

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