Although famous in literary circles for his close association with Beat Generation poets such as Allan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and others, poet Herschel Silverman was also known for years as the owner of Herschel’s Beehive Candy Store on Avenue A in Bayonne.
“The Beehive” was across the street from Bayonne High School. Students frequented his store after school. Wearing his usual blue apron, Silverman greeted them with grins and talked about jazz. His store radio always played the music.
Along with wife Laura, daughter Elaine, and son Jack, Silverman worked seven days a week from dawn to dusk, selling lunch, newspapers, and coffee. In his “spare time,” he wrote and published his verses.
At night, after the floors were swept and counters cleaned, Silverman sometimes settled down to discuss literature with friends, and to write. Despite his busy schedule, he managed to publish numerous chapbooks of verse as well as work the reading circuit.
Occasionally, he even wrote about the kids, such as one of his sadder poems, “I’ll weep for you,” about Stanley Kopcinski, a Bayonne High student who came to his store regularly before enlisting in the United States Marines. Kopcinski was the first Bayonne resident to be killed in Vietnam.
A successful writing career
Silverman published hundreds of poems in literary journals, including Long Shot (based in Hoboken), Alpha Beat, and the Journal of New Jersey Poets’ 20th Anniversary Issue, Kerouac Connection. He was also editor of BEEHIVE Magazine of Contemporary Poetry and Scrap Paper Review.
Into his 90s, Silverman performed in scores of venues, including The Poetry Project/St. Mark’s Church (New York City), The New England Poetry Festival, and Berkeley Divinity School of Yale University. He appeared at several events in Hoboken and attended local readings of other poets.
He has more than 20 collections of poetry, including those at the Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin and the Library of the University of Chicago. His work has been translated into German and Japanese.
“I wrote to him and told him I was a poet and owned a candy store in Bayonne.” – Herschel Silverman
In 1999, Silverman was included in “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry,” along with other greats such as Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Amiri Baraka, and William Carlos Williams.
He was very fond of BHS and his ability to communicate with kids. He supported their sports teams, giving them pep talks and posting reports of their wins on his walls, along with the schedule of their games, attending as many as he could. The school was also very fond of him, naming him consultant for the Bayonne High School Poetry Club, where he established the Bruno Tarzia Memorial Award.
A huge influence on local poets
Over the years, Silverman has appeared in many venues; in 2014 at the Hoboken Museum.
A recipient of the New Jersey Council of Arts Fellowship in Poetry, Silverman is considered one of the last of the Beat Poets.
He had a huge influence on the local art scene, especially on writers connected with Long Shot magazine in Hoboken, many of whom helped honor Silverman at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2010.
Raised in Jersey City
Though Silverman’s grandparents emigrated from Russia in 1880, he was born in California, orphaned by age 7, and brought back east from San Diego by train in the company of an aunt and uncle to be raised in Jersey City, where his grandparents had originally settled.
He said he was inspired to write by a teacher in grammar school and by reading books.
He read library books religiously, and the sports pages of local newspapers. A big New York Yankees fan, he wrote a poem to Joe DiMaggio, sent it to Mel Allen, the Yankees announcer at the time, and received a nice letter back.
“Joe wasn’t just a great batter, but he had a great arm, too, and he could fly around the bases when he got a hit,” Silverman said. “I listened to all the games on the radio.”
While he wanted to continue his writing career after he got out of the navy, he knew he had to make a living. With little time to write, he began to condense his language, developing a style that he later realized was a kind of free verse, though he’d encountered the more conventional styles of writers like Robert Frost and Marianne Moore.
Thought he would become a journalist
In high school, Silverman took courses in journalism and creative writing, and had a fiction story published in the yearbook.
“I thought I was going to become a journalist,” he told the Bayonne Community News during a 1985 interview.
While in the navy, he wrote letters and short stories, eventually becoming the company correspondent for a navy newsletter.
He married Laura after the war ended. This appeared to steer him toward a practical career as a store keep. Laura died in 1988, a few years after his retirement.
Corso described Silverman as “our neo-wizard flowing with goodies, always with a smile, always protecting the good life.”
Silverman connected with Corso and other Beat poets after reading a story about Ginsberg in the New York Times in 1957.
“I wrote to him and told him I was a poet and owned a candy store in Bayonne,” Silverman said. “I invited him to come see me.”
Ginsberg wrote back, putting off the visit to Bayonne until he got back from a trip to Europe. But he didn’t keep that promise until more than two decades later.
Ginsberg visited Silverman’s store in May, 1979, after reading William Carlos Williams’s Day in Paterson. Silverman and Ginsberg drove to Bayonne together.
“When we passed St. Henry’s Church, Allen was very impressed,” Silverman recalled.
When they got to the candy store, bundles of newspapers waited to be carried in, a chore Silverman usually did himself, but on this day, two of the great poets of the Beat Generation carried them into the store together. He remembers Ginsberg looking at pictures of Bayonne on the walls of the store.
In a poem, Ginsberg later called Silverman “a candy store emperor who dreams of telling the truth.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.