San Francisco Beat Conference Report Back

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V. Vale of RE/Search Publications displays his copy of Harold Norse Memorial Collection

V. Vale of RE/Search Publications displays his copy of Harold Norse Memorial Collection

Last weekend’s Beat conference, sponsored by The Beat Museum, was two days of well attended presentations and performances including a joint presentation on Harold Norse and Jack Micheline.

With multiple events scheduled for the same time, it was impossible to attend all the presentations one wanted to. Luckily, my brother Tate and I were able to film a number of them and that footage should be available online in the coming weeks. Of the presentations I’m most eager to watch are those with Gerd Stern who was a patient at Rockland Psychiatric Center with Ginsberg and Carl Solomon. These experiences would form the basis for Part III of Ginsberg’s poem HOWL.
L to R: Tate Swindell, Brian Hassett, Jerry Cimino, Gerd Stern, Levi Asher and James Stauffer, SF Beat Conference, July 28, 2015. Photo by Brian Hassett

L to R: Tate Swindell, Brian Hassett, Jerry Cimino, Gerd Stern, Levi Asher and James Stauffer, SF Beat Conference, July 28, 2015. Photo by Brian Hassett

Stern had been falsely accused by Allen Ginsberg of destroying the infamous “Joan Anderson” letter. Written by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac, the missing pages had become legendary in Beat history as Kerouac cited Cassady’s use of language as crucial inspiration in the writing of On The Road. The letter was discovered last year.
 
Stern was one of the founders of “USCO,” a group of artists, engineers and poets creating multi-media performances and environments which toured the U.S. museum and university venues during the sixties. He also was a friend and manager to composer and creator of musical instruments, Harry Partch. According to those in attendance, Stern spoke of the time he dated author and poet Maya Angelou.
 

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Display of rare books by Harold Norse & Jack Micheline

On Saturday afternoon, I attended a talk by Dr. Philip Hicks who was a young psychiatrist in the mid-1950s at San Francisco’s Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic. Among his patients was Allen Ginsberg who at that time lived in North Beach, establishing a love relationship with Peter Orlovsky and completing what would become one of the most influential poems of the 20th Century- Howl. Ginsberg accepted that he was more attracted to men than women but still grappled with society’s rejection.

It was Dr. Hick’s audacious response of “Why not?” which proved to be a turning point, not only in Ginsberg’s life, but in the establishment of Gay Liberation. Ginsberg credited Dr. Hicks with giving the struggling poet “permission, so to speak, to be myself.”

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Ginsberg in the back garden of Milvia Street Berkely Cottage, 1955, where Part II of Howl was completed.

I was stuck by how non-plussed Dr. Hicks was by this moment which he saw from an understated perspective. Such empathetic insight was extremely rare during a time when the establishment used psychiatry to discredit men caught expressing their same-sex desires. During the height of McCarthyism, it was possible for such established figures as politicians and prominent businessmen to be institutionalized and forcibly medicated. Even white, male privilege couldn’t protect them from electro-shock therapy where, too often, they were forgotten, abandoned and left to rot.

V Vale SpeakingV. Vale & Marcia Wallace of RE/Search Publications have been documenting underground scenes since the days of Punk. The pair presented two panels, one which focused on the work of William S. Burroughs. With a soft-spoken voice, Vale’s Sunday talk (which I attended) saw him relating his time as a student at UC Berkeley during the Hippie days. It was those formative experiences that led him a decade later to become an anthropologist of the creative underground when he began to document the burgeoning Punk scene in his zine Search and Destroy.

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Vale referenced Burroughs’ work with Cut Ups that the writer had developed, along with painter Brion Gysin and Harold Norse, while living at the Beat Hotel. In particular, Vale singled out books such as The Job and The Electronic Revolution as being among Burroughs’ least known but most interesting works. Vale’s connection with poet Philip Lamantia led him further to an interest in Surrealism.

If you have the chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. Vale has a dry humor that’s refreshingly free of the feigned political correctness that passes for critical insight these days. Lamenting the absence of upcoming radical arts underground, Vale commented that the only group capable of recruiting these days was the Islamic State!

single_coverPoet and filmmaker Marc Olmsted gave an early talk Sunday about his friendship with Allen Ginsberg. Olmsted initially contacted the older poet through correspondence hoping to make a connection based upon poetry and an interest in Easteren religions. The two became, for a time, lovers as their friendship developed in tandem with their involvement in Tibetan Buddhism. Marc speaks with refreshing candor about his relationship with Ginsberg that is sure to be a boon to scholars and students of the esteemed poet’s work. I picked up a copy of Marc’s new memoir Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg 1972-1997 – Letters and Recollections, published by Beatdom Press, which I look forward to reading.
Marc Olmsted speak of his friends with Allen Ginsberg

Marc Olmsted speak of his friends with Allen Ginsberg

It wasn’t all talk as David Amran and ruth wiess closed out both evenings with exceptional performances of music and poetry. Here’s hoping it’s not too long before another event like the Beat Conference happens in San Francisco.

Harold Norse & Jack Micheline at SF Beat Conference June 27

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As mentioned two months ago, The Beat Museum is hosting their first conference on June 26-28 at Fort Mason Center. Located in the heart of North Beach, the Museum features a broad collection of photos and ephemera associated with the Beat Movement. Harold Norse’s last readings were held at the Museum and they were celebrated affairs.

Here’s Harold at the Museum reading his poem “I Am in the Hub of the Fiery Force.”

Jack Micheline & Harold Norse: The New York to San Francisco Connection will be a joint presentation between myself and my brother Tate who runs Unrequited Records. Our presentation will look at how growing up in New York influenced their development as poets. Harold was several years older than Micheline and had left for Italy in the early 1950s when Jack moved from his Bronx hometown to Greenwich Village. However they shared a number of mutual connections including Julian Beck and Judith Malina of The Living Theater and Beat poet Bob Kaufman, whom Harold later befriended in San Francisco.

Photo by Emil Cadoo

Jack Micheline photo by Emil Cadoo

Micheline’s first collection of poems, Rivers of Red Wine, was published in 1957 by Troubadour Press with an introduction y Jack Kerouac. By the early 1960s, he settled in San Francisco which became his permanent home. For the next three decades, he was known as one of the city’s celebrated street poets as well as a painter. Skinny Dynamite, a collection of his stories, was published in 1980 by A.D. Winan’s Second Coming Press. His archives, like Harold’s, are housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.

TheHNOCvinly presentation will include a display of rare books and ephemera by both poets along with audio clips and never before screened video. Unrequited Records has released poetry recordings that were originally issued on cassette by Eddie Woods’ Ins & Outs Press, among them a captivating reading by Herbert Huncke.

Harold’s 1984 Amsterdam reading, Harold Norse Of Course, was released not only on CD but also in a luscious double vinyl album with a gatefold collage of Norse photographs. A bottle of wine, some candlelight and these colorful beauties on your stereo will transport you back in time when Harold was in fine voice.

The rest of the conference features and impressive line up that includes Hilary Holladay, whose biography of Huncke will be published in its second edition this summer by Schaffner Press. Marc Olmstead, whose book about his friendship with Allen Ginsberg was published last year, will be speaking about learning Buddhism from Ginsberg. Neeli Cherkovski is hosting a poetry workshop. Plus all three of Neal Cassady’s children will be speaking in a panel that includes Neal’s Denver pal Al Hinckle who was featured in Kerouac’s On The Road.

This is an amazing and historic collection of Beat related events. If you are in the Bay Area during the last weekend of June and would like to attend, you can purchase tickets here. Hope to see you there!

Petaluma Poetry Reading and an Old Friend of Harold Norse

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Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma hosted the latest reading for the selected poems of Harold Norse for an attentive of 30 people featuring readings and remembrances by the book’s editor Todd Swindell and San Francisco poets A.D. Winans and Neeli Cherkovski.

A.D. Winans brought along copies of his book This Land Is Not My Land for which Harold had written the introduction. He has published over 50 books in addition to two decades of running the small press publisher Second Coming. His latest book, Dead Lions, features essays on many of the writers he’s known including poets Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski.

A.D.’s selection of poems included some of Norse’s lesser read works such as “The Ex-Nun and the Gay Poet” and “For All These You”. “North Beach” featured recollections of North Beach fixtures Bob and Eileen Kaufman both of whom Winans had known. A.D.’s reading on Harold’s classic poem “I Am Not A Man” was especially moving.

Neeli Cherkovski read his poem “Hydra” which is a moving tribute to Harold and the experiences both poets had on that magical land amongst the Saronic Islands of Greece. The poem is included in Neeli’s latest book The Crow and I which among his best work.

Many of the warm anecdotes from their over four decades of friendship are included in Neeli’s brilliant introduction to the selected poems. At the reading he read some brief passages from it including this one:

“Harold and I cruised the gay bars. One night he turned to me as we were sitting in a bar on San Francisco’s Folsom Street, center of the leather scene and he said, ‘Could you imagine Walt Whitman at our side? We’re trying to be the cool, observant types, and he would be spouting poetry.'”

A wonderful surprise was to find amongst the audience a woman who had met Harold over fifty years ago. Monique Laurin had known Harold in Naples and Paris as her mother Julia was a confidant and benefactor to the expatriate poet. The family is featured in Harold’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel.

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Julia Chanler Laurin, Paris 1959

In fact Julia Laurin was responsible for Harold’s first visit to Paris after the two initially met in Naples. Mme. Laurin offered Harold the use of the family’s apartment on the Ile St. Louis, one of two tiny islands located in the heart of Paris on the Seine River. It was on the train to Paris that Harold shared a compartment with a young Roman Polanski who was on his way to Paris having had no success as a film director in Rome.

While staying in the small but cozy apartment filled with Oriental objects in a gray stone house some five hundred years old, Harold had a torrid affair with a closeted male writer who introduced him to famed author James Jones, who lived nearby on the Ile de la Cité. The two became good friends during that time and Jones had no qualms admitting to his same-sex exploration.

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Novelist James Jones who befriended Norse in Paris 1959

One afternoon the two writers were having drinks at Les Nuages in St. Germain along with Beat poet Gregory Corso. At one point, Jones asked Harold whether he preferred boys or girls. Harold replied he preferred boys. When Corso asked Jones, “Have you had any queer experiences,” the celebrated novelist replied in his gruff voice, “Sure, many times.”

The impish Corso pressed on, “Did you like it?” “Yeah, very much,” growled Jones. “The only thing I didn’t like was, when you kiss, the other guy’s beard scratches. But after a few experiences I kind of lost interest. I just happened to like women more.” Harold admired Jones for his fearless honesty. The only straight man he new who didn’t cover up or misunderstand. “Jones was unafraid of the truth. Unlike most writers, he wasn’t a liar.”

Thanks to Ray Lawrason and the staff at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma for providing a space to share Harold’s poems and connect with those who knew and loved him. The store now stocks the selected poems, so make sure you stop by and purchase a copy.

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More Press for Petaluma Reading

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BohemianWebThe North Bay Bohemian’s weekly listing of music, arts& culture section contains one of the most comprehensive listing of events in Marin and Sonoma County. Their current issue features a brief article on Saturday’s Petaluma poetry reading from Harold Norse’s selected poems. Featuring the beautiful photograph of Harold taken by his friend Allen Ginsberg, the blurb offers a nice overview of Harold’s life work and legacy.

PDwebSanta Rosa’s Press Democrat has also highlighted the reading with a prominent feature on their website. It’s great that the local media in Sonoma County is promoting the reading and calling attention to Harold’s poetry. Let’s hope that it bring some new readers to his poems.

Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma has taken on promoting the reading on their webpage by offering a 20% discount on I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse to anyone who RSVPs for the event. Harold would certainly have been thrilled at the attention being paid to his work.PoetsPanel

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Another Norse Review, Reading plus a Beat Conference

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“What the evolution of these poems speak to me is of Harold Norse becoming even more vociferous in detailing the life of a gay man in his times.”

Review of Norse selected poems in Beat Scene- Winter 2015, page 54

BeatSceneRevFor the last twenty-five years, UK based Beat Scene magazine has covered the legacies and influences of Beat associated writers and artists. The Winter 2015 issue features an excellent review by Sophia Nitrate of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass which she describes as a “fresh volume” whose arrangement of poems “bring out his stylistic evolution.”

Following a concise overview of Harold’s travels and associates, Miss Nitrate offers her insightful perceptive about Harold’s legacy as one of 20th Century America’s great gay poets.

“He was a cheerleader for acceptance and equality for gays. In some ways this is doubly unfortunate, it could overshadow his talents, his keen observational skills. Where he forgets his sexual orientation he becomes a poet, not a champion for a cause. But he is Harold Norse, he took up the banner.”

Thanks to Kevin Ring at Beat Scene for helping UK readers of Beat literature know more about the life and poetry of Harold Norse. Make sure you don’t miss Kurt Hemmer’s interview with Herbert Huncke.

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The folks at North Beach’s Beat Museum have organized their first Beat Conference that will be held at Fort Mason during the last weekend of June. I’m excited to announce that there will be a panel featuring Harold and Jack Micheline. Both began writing poetry in their native New York City and both ended their years in San Francisco.

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Micheline, who was more a poet of the streets than Harold, was known for his dynamic poetry readings- performances really. Joining me will be my brother Tate who, through his Unrequited Records, had released two recordings by Jack Micheline. The presentation will feature an exclusive screening of Harold Norse video footage from our forthcoming film project as well as rare recordings and books.

51FRW6DDHFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The rest of the schedule includes some very interesting presentations. San Francisco publishing luminary V. Vale will be speaking about William Burroughs. Vale’s influential RE/SEARCH publication featured the cut up works of Burroughs and his connection to the British music and art collective Throbbing Gristle in their 1982 issue.

Also there will be a session with Dr. Phillip Hicks who was Allen Ginsberg’s psychiatrist in 1955 when the young poet was at work on Howl. Those familiar with Ginsberg’s story will recall those sessions were instrumental in Ginsberg’s decision to unburden the gay voice within his poetry and establish his relationship with Peter Orlovsky. Plus Herbert Huncke biographer Hilary Holladay will be returning to San Francisco to share more about this under appreciated Beat storyteller. View the full schedule here.

If you’re near Sonoma County, you won’t have to wait until June to hear more Harold Norse poetry. Hot on the heels of the recent knock out San Francisco event, Petaluma’s Copperfield’s Books will host the next Norse selected poems reading on Saturday, May 9th at 1:30PM.

Along with Neeli Cherkovski, this event will feature San Francisco born poet A.D. Winans has been in the publishing industry for over five decades. As the founder of Second Coming Press, he published a 1973 special issue on Charles Bukowski that included Norse’s poem “The Worst Thing You Can Say to Him is I Love You.” His latest book, Dead Lions, was published last year by Punk Hostage Press.

Alley Cat Books Hosts Reading from Norse Selected Poems

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Poets Neeli Cherkovski, Todd Swindell and Kevin Killian following a reading of poetry by their friend Harold Norse at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco.

A crowd of three dozen poetry lovers gathered in San Francisco’s Mission District at Alley Cat Books and Gallery to hear poems from I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse. This reading featured three writers who were all close friends with Norse and who shared various tales of their time with the master poet.

AlleyCatz1 copyThe evening began with the book’s editor Todd Swindell who explained how he met the acclaimed Beat poet through the introduction of Chicano Surrealist poet Ronnie Burk, whom Swindell knew through his involvement with the AIDS protest group ACT UP San Francisco. There was also a brief tribute to Harold’s good friend Judith Malina, founder of The Living Theater, who had died the day before. Swindell continued with an excerpt from Norse’s lengthy prose poem “HOMO” which described the history of homophobia and the transformative power of gay love.

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San Francisco author Kevin Killian followed by reading a poem not featured in the selected edition titled “Rescue Remedy” which he first published in the premier issue of the literary arts magazine Mirage. Written in the early 1980s, the poem begins as an elegy to the city’s gay men who were dying from AIDS and continues as a playful list of the healing properties of various herbs and elixirs. The work draws on Harold’s extensive knowledge of alternative healing and his frequent visits to San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery.

crab apple for those who feel something is not
quite clean about themselves
gorse for feelings of hopelessness and futility
holly for negative feelings
and a need for love

 

AlleyCatz3 copyRenowned lyrical poet Neeli Cherkovski began with his tribute poem to Norse, “Hydra”, about the famed Greek island where Norse lived in the mid 1960s. It was during that time he befriended the young unknown Canadian folk singer Leonard Cohen who was working on his soon to be published novel Beautiful Losers. The poem is featured in Cherkovski’s latest collection The Crow and I.

Another reading celebrating Norse’s work is coming up in Sonoma County on May 9th at 1:30 PM at Copperfiled’s Books in Petaluma.

 

We Salute Judith Malina- Actress, Playwright and Revolutionary

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“I think in the 1960s, by the 1960s, most people thought by now in the 2010s we would have abolished prisons, abolished wars, abolished police, abolished national boundaries. We didn’t abolish any of that. It’s still around and the work remains to be done.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

 

Judith Malina in front of a portrait of her by Mary Beach. May 10, 2013. Photo© Tate Swindell

Judith Malina in front of her portrait by Mary Beach. May 10, 2013. Photo © Tate Swindell

Though she was quite old and in very poor health, word of Judith Malina’s death seems implausible. Surely someone so filled with the fire of liberation could transcend even death, yet none of us escape that final curtain. Harold Norse’s history was intimately entwined with Judith and her partner Julian Beck. He was integral in the creation of the Living Theater and befriended many in their circle like Paul Goodman, Ira Cohen, Hanon Reznikov and Mel Clay.

I had the opportunity to meet Judith two years ago for a film project about Harold which my brother Tate and I have been working one for some years. It was the afternoon of a partial solar eclipse and the astral energy was strong. I recall a nervousness, thrilled to meet one of my inspirations, absurdly hoping to capture everything about her and Harold’s relationship within the few dozen minutes we spent on camera.

Though frail and bent, her presence remained luminescent. Dressed in black, her lips painted bright red and a colorful shawl draped across her shoulders, Judith wasn’t much interested in recalling the past. It was the present, the next play that intensified the light in her eyes. She was immensely patient with my list of names and dates. It wasn’t until Tate suggested i jettison my printed notes that the exchange began to swing.

Judith was a performer, an artist. Born in Germany, her family immigrated to the United States in 1929.  With a mother who was an actress and a father who was a rabbi, there was no separation for Judith between the artistic and the spiritual. For her, everything was political. This was the young girl who, during the second World War, beseeched her parents that we must show the Nazis we love them. No enemies, no fear.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theater photogrphaed by Iran Cohen.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theater photographed by Ira Cohen.

Judith Malina was a new Yorker to the bone. As a student of The New School, she had the chance to study with many of the artist refugees fleeing Europe. An early mentor was the dramatist Erwin Piscator who, along with Bertolt Brecht, was the foremost proponent of “epic theater” which espoused that theater should be a force for social change.

“Harold introduced Michael Fraenkal who brought a word into my life that’s really been central. Michael Fraenkal said the problem is the system. We began to analyze what is the system? It sounds like some kind of abstraction you know? The System. Well the system is the money and the form of give and take we practice with each other, the form of how to make a living in the world, how to live in the world. It’s all part of the system. We can’t entirely get out of it.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

It was Judith’s friendship, love affair and collaboration with Julian Beck that ignited the spark of theatrical revolution. Julian and Harold had become friends during the summer of  1944 in Provincetown. Beck at that time was a painter. Harold lived in a cottage with Tennessee Williams who was finishing his “pot boiler” The Glass Menagerie.

Judith1Readers are encouraged to seek out Judith Malina’s diaries which tell many tales of the Living Theater’s early days. Harold’s input was integral as it was his reading of an essay by W.B. Yeats essay on The Theater, which suggested that a stage wasn’t required in order to perform, a stage could be anywhere, that lead to the first Living Theater performance in the Beck’s apartment on West End Avenue.

 

Harold’s then lover was the composer Dick Stryker, whose music accompanied a number of early Living Theater performances. They also shared a mutual friend in the poet William Carlos Williams whose play Many Loves was the Living Theater’s first production. It should be noted that Judith and Julian were instrumental in promoting the dramatic works of Gertrude Stein.

 

“[William Carlos] Williams liked my English. Wrote me a letter in fact saying…how impressed he was to hear an American voice. Now I never thought of myself that way but Dr. Williams flattered me with that appellation. I like to have an International accent. I don’t want to be American. I want to be planetary, cosmic maybe even, post-planetary.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

Her diaries also record her and Julian’s resistance to Cold War paranoia and their radical opposition to nuclear weapons. During the 1950s it was common to hear air raid sirens blasting in lower Manhattan, so called civil defense alarms. At these times, you were required by law to take shelter indoors. Peace activists saw this ruse for what it was- the government’s desire to normalize Armageddon. Joining such illustrious company as gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and radical Catholic worker Dorothy Day, the Beck’s refused to go inside during a mid-day air raid drill and were arrested. Judith’s diaries continue the story with her incarceration at the infamous Women’s House of Detention on Greenwich Avenue.

Judith3A second volume of the diaries covering the years 1968-69 when the Living Theater returned from several years in Europe to which they’d fled following persecution by the IRS that had closed their theater location. They toured college campuses filled with radical students performing such pieces as Paradise Now and The Mysteries. Featuring an all black cover, the second volume of diaries was appropriately titled The Enormous Despair.

When I visited her in 2013, Judith mentioned that she was working on another volume of her diaries. She continued to keep her daily journal in addition to working on two new plays, one of which was to performed with the fellow residents at the Lillian Booth Actors Home just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
Judith’s energy expanded as she related how much she had grown in the last twenty years of her life, how much she learned in her 80s compared to her 70s and how different that was from her 60s. She was still discovering, still at work, working for the beautiful non-violent anarchist revolution. That task is still ours to continue but with her reminder that the work should be playful, thoughtful and most of all loving.

Rain Taxi publishes first review of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass

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Part2RTcvrI Am Going to Fly Through Glass, the selected poems of Harold Norse, has received it’s first published review in the Minneapolis based independent literary review Rain Taxi courtesy of New York Surrealist poet Valery Oisteanu, originator of Jazzoetry. He also creates fantastic Dada Pop collages some of which can be seen here.

Here are a couple excerpts from the review: “Norse’s verse is authentically voiced but without pretension…From a contemporary perspective Norse is unclassifiable, on one hand a psychic energy detective reporting from the edges of perception, on the other a gay playboy reporting from an orgy (“Carnival in Athens,” 964)…traveled to exotic islands, seeking ways to break through into the subconscious realm, often by way of blue kif smoke.” To read the review along with other interesting pieces consider purchasing a issue from Rain Taxi or looking for a copy through your local bookstore.

whiteFLYERDon’t forget if you’re in the Bay Area to make it out to Alley Cat Books for the reading from the selected edition of Harold Norse’s poetry, I Am Going to Fly Through Glass, featuring Kevin Killian, Neeli Cherkovski and the book’s editor Todd Swindell who were all friends with Norse. This is sure to be a special gathering so check back for follow ups from the event.

Kevin Killian & Neeli Cherkovski read Harold Norse April 11 at Alley Cat Books

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The next poetry reading for I Am Going to Fly Through Glass- The Selected Poems of Harold Norse will be in San Francisco’s Mission district at Alley Cat Books on Saturday, April 11th at 7 PM with San Francisco writers Kevin Killian and Neeli Cherkovski along with the book’s editor Todd Swindell.

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Harold Norse, Kevin Killian and James Broughton, San Francisco, 1987. Photo by Alex Gildzen.

This will be the first reading featuring Kevin Killian who knew Harold back in the 1980s and was the first to publish Harold’s poem “Rescue Remedy” later included in The Love Poems 1940-1985. This fantastic photograph of Kevin with Harold and James Broughton in San Francisco, 1987 is courtesy of Alex Gildzen’s blog Arroyo Chamisma.

For many years Kevin has helped preserve the work and legacy of poet Jack Spicer- a key participant in the 1950s San Francisco poetry renaissance that included Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan and which influenced many of the Beat writers. His acclaimed biography of Spicer, Poet Be Like God, co-written with Lew Ellingham, was published in 1998. He also edited, with Peter Gizzi, the excellent collection My Vocabulary Did This to Me- The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer. The title comes from Spicer’s last recorded words; Harold’s were “the end is the beginning.”

NeeliA previous post focused on Neeli Cherkovski’s friendship with Harold and the influence he and William Carlos Williams had on Neeli’s poetry. I’m pleased to have Neeli return once more to help share Harold’s work and excited for Kevin to join us. This is the kind of event which could only happen in San Francisco- an excellent representation of what’s being lost in the gentrification sweeping the city. One of the remaining holdouts is on 24th Street in the Mission District. Alley Cat Books and Gallery was among the first stores to stock Harold’s selected poems. Please join us and bring your firends.

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NY Review of Books Ad, SF Library, more Bookstores plus another Reading Event

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Word is getting out about I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse. The book’s publisher, Talisman House, took out an advertisement in a recent edition of the prestigious New York Review of Books. I’m indebted to my good friend veteran gay rights activist Michael Petrelis for mailing me an actual copy of the advert.

Advert from The New York Review of Books 12/18/14 pg. 88

Excerpt from an advertisement from the Dec. 12, 2014 edition of The New York Review of Books, page 88.

This book would have taken much longer than two years to make its way to bookstores and public libraries without the work and support of Ed Foster’s Talisman House. Ed’s belief in the importance of Harold’s poetry has helped his work reach new readers. You can view the full page of the ad as a pdf here: NYRB Advert.

SFPLThe San Francisco Public Library has ordered four copies of the Norse selected poems. Two copies will be housed at the city’s Main Library along with one copy each for the Mission and North Beach branches. It’s wonderful that the city has ordered extra copies for both the Mission location, as Harold was a long time resident of the neighborhood, along with the North Beach branch which has several shelves reserved for Beat authors.

greenarcadeThe selected poems are also being stocked by two more San Francisco bookstores. The Green Arcade (whose owner Patrick Marks was friendly with Harold)  is prominently located on Market Street, near Franklin and Gough, and will be selling the book along with other titles they receive from our distributor- Small Press Distribution.

Abode Books & Arts Collective

Abode Books & Arts Collective. Image courtesy of adodebooks.com.

For many years, Abode Books resided on 16th Street at Valencia in the Mission district. Harold lived around the corner on Albion Street and could often be seen inside the book-filled store chatting with its proprietor Andrew McKinley. Having been forced from their location due to rising rents, Adobe Books found a literary haven further out in the Mission on 24th Street. The space features an art gallery and regular events. Christine, their new manager, was excited about stocking Harold’s book, so please make sure you stop by and give them your support.

I’m also happy to report about the first bookstore outside the Bay Area to have Harold’s selected poems upon their shelf. Copperfield’s Books is an independent books seller in the North Bay. Their Sebastopol location now carries the book.

Following the success of the first reading event at Bird & Beckett Books last December, I’ve been looking for more locations to share Harold’s work with audiences. The Venice Beach literary arts center Beyond Baroque has agreed to host an event this summer on July 17th at 8:00 PM. This is sure to be a fantastic event. Harold resided in Venice Beach from 1969-71 upon his repatriation from 15 years in Europe. It was during this time that he was befriended by Charles Bukowski and Anaïs Nin while also lifting weights at Gold’s Gym with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Southern California inhabitants should mark their calendars and check back for updates.

Neeli Cherkovski on His Friendship with Harold Norse

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Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

One of the highlights from the first release event for I Am Going to Fly Through Glass was the opportunity to listen to Neeli Cherkovski share stories from his forty year friendship with fellow poet Harold Norse. From their start of their friendship, palling around with Bukowski in Los Angeles in the late 1960s to Harold helping Neeli come out as a gay man in mid–1970s San Francisco, their relationship as friends and fellow poets continued to blossom through their grey years. Here’s a clip of Neeli talking about those times.

Poets Neeli Cherkovski & Harold Norse in the basement of City Lights following the publication of Norse's Hotel Nirvana in the Pocket Poets Series. Photo by Raymond Foye.

Poets Neeli Cherkovski & Harold Norse in the basement of City Lights following the publication of Norse’s Hotel Nirvana in the Pocket Poets Series. Photo by Raymond Foye.

In 1968 Harold returned from fifteen years in Europe to Venice, CA where he was met by a young Neeli and his friend Charles Bukowski. Neeli shared a great story of the three of them out to dinner one night.  Carnivores Neeli and Bukowski were chowing down on t-bone steaks while Harold noshed on a salad. Bukowski’s competitive nature edged him to growl at Harold, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you eat like a man?” Harold. still chewing his salad, replied in his Brooklyn accent, “Let’s see who lives longer.” Neeli’s summation–– “Needless to say it was my dear friend.” Neeli wrote a poem about Harold’s survival as an elder poet titled “Slicing Avocados” where Harold advises “you have to eat like a rabbit/in order to survive.” More of these wonderful anecdotes are included in Neeli’s brilliant introduction to the new collection of Harold’s poetry.

IdiomHFMAfter Walt Whitman, one of the greatest influences on both Neeli and Harold was William Carlos Williams whose poetry broke from academic convention to celebrate common American speech. In the early 1950s, Williams singled out Harold amongst the upcoming Beat poets and acted as a mentor, encouraging him to write in the American idiom. Their correspondence was collected and later published under that title. It remains an insightful document worth searching out. In this last clip Neeli reads, from the selected edition, Harold’s poem “William Carlos Williams” which he characterizes as “one of the greatest tributes from one poet to another.”

 

Norse Selected Poems Stocked in Bay Area Bookstores

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The Bay Area is still host to a good number of bookstores in defiance to the culture of digitization. I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse is now available at a number of Bay Area bookstores. I heartily recommend Bird & Beckett Books and Records who hosted the first release event to celebrate the book’s publication.

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Books, Inc. stocks the title at two of their locations at Opera Plaza and The Castro. In the Mission District the book is available on Valencia Street at Dog Eared Books and on 24th Street at Alley Cat Books.  For those who live in the East Bay, the Oakland location of Diesel, A Bookstore sells the book.

I strongly encourage readers who are geographically unable to visit these stores to consider ordering a copy from their website. It’s vital that lovers of poetry support independent bookstores. Additionally, if there is a location that you think could be a good place for carrying the book please let me know or, better still, give them a call and ask them to stock it.

Bird & Beckett Hosts San Francisco Book Release for Norse Selected Poems

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Let me start by thanking Eric Whittington at Bird & Beckett Books and Records for hosting the first release event for the selected edition of Harold Norse’s poems. It’s a great store which hosts many events each month from book readings to live Jazz performances. A festive crowd of thirty folks gathered last Wednesday to celebrate the first publication of Harold’s writing since his death five years ago.

Crowd

A festive crowd gathers at Bird & Beckett Books for a poetry reading to celebrate the release of “I Am Going to Fly Through Glass” on 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

I began the evening by touching upon what lead me to publish a new collection of Harold’s poetry and the inspiration I drew from similar attention that’s being paid to some of his contemporaries. This was followed with some of my favorite poems from Harold including “Now I’m in Vence” and “California Will Sink”.

Neeli Cherkovski entertained the crowd with a number of his lively anecdotes of his the forty years from their friendship and read some of Harold’s best loved poems such as “Classic Frieze in a Garage” and “To Mohammed at the Café Central”. Neeli’s contribution was so great that in the coming days I’ll do a separate post about it.

Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Harold Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Jim Nawrocki told of first meeting Hal, as he was called by his friends, after reviewing the reprint of his memoirs for the Bay Area Reporter. Jim was so taken by the book’s storytelling personality that he looked up Harold’s name in the phone book and gave him a call.  “The voice [on the phone] sounded just like the book,” Jim warmly recalled. From there grew a rich connection that saw Jim make a significant contribution to the publication of Harold’s Collected Poems in 2003. Among the poems Jim read were “I Would Not Recommend Love” and a moving rendition of “I Am Not a Man”.

SF poet Jim Nawrocki reads from the work of his friend Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Writer Jim Nawrocki reads from the work of his friend Harold Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Here’s a short video clip of me reading one of my favorite poems of Harold’s which I see as a declaration of the liberation that can arise from discarding society’s prohibitions against pleasure–– “Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness”.

Book Release Event for Harold Norse Selected Poems 12/3/14

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Please join us on December 3rd at 7:00 PM for a poetry reading to celebrate the release of I Am going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse at Bird and Beckett Books and Records in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood.

FlyerDraft

The book’s editor Todd Swindell will be joined by San Francisco poets Neeli Cherkovski and Jim Nawrocki. They will be reading from the Selected Poems, in addition to their own work inspired by their friendship with Harold Norse.

For more information about the reading and the book’s release check out this great post from Bird and Beckett at this link. Hope to see you there!

New Greek Translation of Harold Norse Poems

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Harold was always proud that his poems had been translated into many languages- Spanish, Italian, German, French- all languages in which he was fluent. Now we can add Greek to that list thanks to Yannis Livadas, whose recent translations, Harold Norse – Poems, with introduction and notes, was published in 2012 by Heridanos Books, Athens.

The cover for Yannis Lavidas' Greek translation of Harold Norse's, Heridanos Books, 2012.
The cover for Harold Norse – Poems translated into Greek by Yannis Livadas, Heridanos Books, 2012.

Harold arrived on the Greek Islands in 1964, having left Paris after the closing of the Beat Hotel. In Athens he reconnected with poet Charles Henri Ford, whom he knew from their days in Greenwich Village, but it was on the island of Hydra that Harold lived the next couple years. It’s also where he met poet Jack Hirschman, Zina Rachevsky and a young Canadian folksinger named Leonard Cohen. Then an epidemic of hepatitis swept through the island and Harold’s declining health forced him on to Switzerland where he met J. Krishnamurti and shacked up with a Dutch boyfriend.

Photo by Harold Norse of his Thanassi in Hydra 194.

Photo by Harold Norse of his boyfriend Thanassis in Hydra 1964.

I asked Yannis about translating Harold’s words into Greek…

Y. Livadas“Harold Norse was a hectic and anarchist poet. A poet not only simple assessed as the major voice of a legendary era that is now forever lost; but also as the first American poet who defined the poetic idiom and lifestyle that was followed by the next generations. Norse was a sui generis who affected decisively the contemporary poetry and highlighted the importance of its experiential dynamics. He was one of the most coherent and brilliant poets of his time. Nowadays, although deceased since 2009, Norse remains undeniably one of the greatest voices of modern America; an international, legendary poet of our times.  The publishing of a volume with the best of his poems in greek, was more than indispensable.”
Yannis Livadas
Paris 2014
livadaspoetry.blogspot.fr

 

Allen Ginsberg Project features Norse Selected Poems

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 "Poet Harold Norse in his apartment kitchen, 157 Albion Street, San Francisco, May 28, 1988 - For HN with old affection from Allen Ginsberg- AH" - Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

“Poet Harold Norse in his apartment kitchen, 157 Albion Street, San Francisco, May 28, 1988 – For HN with old affection from Allen Ginsberg- AH” – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse has received its first write up thanks to the Allen Ginsberg Project. The project, an extension of the Ginsberg estate, features regular updates on all things related to Allen Ginsberg. As richly described in Harold’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, he first met a teenage Allen Ginsberg on a deserted, late night New York subway in 1944.

Featuring a cornucopia of photos and web links, the post will hopefully bring some new admirers to Harold’s work. We’re grateful to Peter Hale and Simon Pettet for their accolades to haroldnorse.com and encourage you to visit the Allen Ginsberg Project often.

The post can be viewed here.

 

New Harold Norse Poetry Book

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HNCover1Harold Norse’s poetry returns to the printed page with I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse. Published by Talisman House this first posthumous release, featuring thirteen photos and ninety three poems, covers the breadth of Norse’s poetic work. His close friend and fellow poet Neeli Cherkovski contributes an excellent introduction that encapsulates the incredible life and work of one of 20th century America’s finest poets.

The book is available through Small Press Distribution. Readers are encouraged to purchase the book through a local book store and avoid corporate monoliths such as amazon.

Celebrating Harold Norse’s 98th Birthday

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On the occasion of what would have been Harold Norse’s 98th birthday, I have a couple video clips to share after stumbling upon on a Greek YouTube page dedicated to poetry. I’m not aware of the source for these rare clips of Harold interviewed in the side room of his back cottage on Albion Street, where he lived in San Francisco’s Mission district.

The first clip shows Harold talking about the influence of William Carlos Williams on the development of his mature poetic voice. Williams encouraged him to move away from academic poetry and instead follow the spoken language that Harold heard on the streets of his native Brooklyn. Williams called it the American Idiom, which served as the title for the collection of their correspondence.

The clip closes with Harold recounting his first meeting with a then teenage Allen Ginsberg on a deserted, late night New York subway. The full story is descriptively conveyed in Norse’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel.

In the second clip, Harold reads his famous poem “At the Café Trieste,” composed at the North Beach landmark. Having recently repatriated from fifteen years in Europe and North Africa, Harold describes his return to the West Coast poetry scene from the timeless perspective of the poet.

While your at mpakana’s channel check out some more of the amazing poetry footage including extremely rare clips of North Beach’s great poet Bob Kaufman.

 

Harold Norse Still Walks 16th and Valencia

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San Francisco poet Alejandro Murguía reads his poem “16th and Valencia” in this short video edited with footage from street protests against the recent killing of Alejandro Neito who was shot in his Bernal Heights neighborhood by the SFPD.

The poem powerfully evokes the anger and resistance that is rising along with the rents in San Francisco. As a mirror to the cultural loss that is part of displacement of gentrification, Murguía invokes the image of writers such as Jack Micheline, Oscar Zeta Ocasta and Harold Norse.

Harold scraped by living in his back cottage on Albion Street near 17th street. This same area has become a prime target for greedy developers seeking to erect a 10-story complex of million dollar condos in place of the BART plaza at 16th and Mission.

If Harold were alive today, he would no longer be able to survive in San Francisco and would surely direct his rage and grief into poetry as moving as Alejandro Murguía’s.

Alex Nieto from Juan Ruiz on Vimeo.

Take a Chance In The Void: Harold Norse’s Beat Hotel Recordings

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Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel in 1961.

Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel in 1961.

I’m pleased to share news of the release of Harold Norse’s magical cut-up recordings from his time at the Beat Hotel in the early 1960s.

Joining the ranks of his poet friends Ira Cohen, Allen Ginsberg, Valery Oisteanu and Eddie Woods, Harold’s recordings are now available from Bart De Paepe’s Sloow Tapes in Belgium under the title Take a Chance In The Void: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel. This is a cassette only release whose low-fidelity technology is an excellent format for these historic analogue recordings.

Originally recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine, the cassette features Harold reading from his translations of the satirical sonnets of 19th Century Roman poet G.G. Belli, along with some of his then recent cut-up works. There are also what could be called field recordings of local Parisians telling their tales and singing songs while visiting Harold’s room.

Harold said of the Beat Hotel, “This fleabag shrine will be documented by art historians.” The small hotel, located on Paris’ Left Bank near the Seine river, housed, at various times, Beat writers from Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky to William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, whose residencies coincided with Harold’s.

It was during this time that Harold participated with Burroughs and the painter Brion Gysin in developing the Cut-Up technique. Taking abstract elements from painting, they introduced them into literature by physically cutting up text to produce hallucinatory images freed from the rational mind. This process became the basis of Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy of novels The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express.

Harold’s first cut-up, “Sniffing Keyholes”, singled out by Burroughs and Gysin as a major step in the development of cut-ups, was first published in Ira Cohen’s literary journal GNAOUA. A collection of Harold’s cut-ups were published in the brilliant novella Beat Hotel.

For more information on the recordings, visit Sloow Tapes where you can hear a selection from the tapes of Harold reading his cut-ups. It’s like some surreal radio program mutating through radio waves.

Individual tapes can be purchased from Bart at sloowtapes@gmail.com.

Celebrating Harold Norse’s 97th Birthday

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Photo by Nina Glaser

 

We salute Harold Norse on what would have been the great poet’s 97th birthday,  a day shared with visionary painter Frida Kahlo and visionary being the Dali Lama.

Harold lives as long as his poetry is read and his voice remembered. To that end, here’s a poem from Harold’s time in Tangier, breaking through to a new voice: a new man, recalling the visions and ecstasies shared with his young lover.

To Mohammed On Our Journeys

I was the tourist
el simpatico
and your brother offered you
and also himself
I forgot about your brother
and we took a flat in the Marshan
with reed mats and one water tap
about a foot from the floor
and we smoke hasheesh
and ate well and loved well
and left for the south
Essaouira, Fez, Marrakech
and got to Taroudant
thru the mountains
and bought alabaster kif bowls
for a few dirhams and watched
the dancing boys in desert cafés
kissing old Arabs and sitting on their
laps, dancing with kohl eyes
and heard the music down in Jejouka
in the hills under the stars
the ancient ceremony, Pan pipes
fierce in white moonlight
by white walls
with hooded figures
stoned on kif
for eight nights
and the goatboy in a floppy hat
scared us, beating the air
with a stick, beating whomever came close,
Father of Skins, goat god,
and the flutes maddened us
and we slept together in huts.
San Francisco 7.xi.72

 

Video of Tribute to Harold Norse

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You can now watch my tribute to Harold Norse from an evening of Writers Remembered earlier this year in San Francisco. After checking it out, have a look at some of the other fantastic presentations from that evening.

Writers Remembered Report Back

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The evening of Writers Remembered was held to a packed audience at California College of Arts Writers Studio in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. Among the twenty-two writers paid tribute were poets such as Janine Pommy Vega, Roberto Valenza and Lenore Kandel.

Here’s a photo of me speaking about Harold taken by Gerald Nicosia, who organized the event.

Todd Swindell speaking about Harold Norse at Writers Remembered, March 1, 2013. Photo by Gerald Nicosia

Todd Swindell speaking about Harold Norse at Writers Remembered, March 1, 2013. Photo by Gerald Nicosia

America Destroys Though Who Create- The Italian Exile of a Brooklyn Bard

I want to dedicate my talk tonight to the visionary Judith Malina and The Living Theater, our country’s oldest experimental theater troupe. They were exiles that performed throughout Europe in the 1960s because of persecution from the IRS. This week the Living Theater closed the doors to its Manhattan performance space, as they could no longer afford the rent. That’s so terribly unjust. Harold Norse was not only a close friend of both Judith and her husband Julian Beck, but was involved in the creation of the Living Theater in 1947. His then lover, Dick Stryker, composed music for many of the Theater’s early productions.

From Gertrude Stein’s modernist prose which flourished in avant-garde Paris of the early 20th Century to the evolution of blues and rock by Jimi Hendrix in the psychedelic scene of 1960’s London, many of America’s most prophetic artists were forced to leave this country in order to find the encouragement and community necessary to voice their visionary creations

Harold Norse was born in Brooklyn, during the summer of 1916, to an unwed Lithuanian Jewish immigrant. Like many others of his generation, he grew up poor during the depression with an abusive stepfather and a superstitious, overbearing mother. Harold was a language prodigy; his heroes were Walt Whitman and Hart Crane. As a student at Brooklyn College, he quickly rose above the fray.

By World War II, Harold was a full participant in the bohemian milieu of Greenwich Village. Among his friends were James Baldwin, W.H. Auden and Paul Goodman. Following a Master’s in English from NYU, Harold was on his way to a PhD and a life in academia.

But 1950’s America was gripped in the clutches of Cold War conformity and its conservative hysteria was particularly dangerous for Harold.  Not only was he a liberal and a poet but also queer, all red flags for being labeled a communist. This was the soulless era of validation through collective consumption where the only escapes were the numbness of alcohol & the ecstatic bliss of furtive sexual contact.

Fearing that he would either end up in jail for being gay or drink himself to death, Harold left for Italy in 1953. His plan was to go for 3 months but he quickly sold his return passage and, for the next 15 years, lived in Tangier, Paris then Athens. This geographical travel mirrored a development of his poetic voice as he took inspiration from the mores of Classical Rome and Greece.

By the time of his expatriation, Harold had published his first collection of poetry, The Undersea Mountain. The establishment of that time coveted poets such as Robert Lowell and Karl Shapiro and viewed Harold’s poems as too wild. William Carlos Williams was an early & strong supporter of his work, stating that Harold used the colloquial American language as never before.

Harold spent the next five years living in Rome, Florence and Naples primarily. In these classical surroundings he could finally breathe freely as a person and a poet. In a society with pre-Christian attitudes to same-sex desire, Harold no longer had to dissociate his soul’s voice from his poetic voice, but instead found fertile ground to blossom in an ancient culture (one which America could not offer). Europe’s shattered remnants from World War destruction had yet to be bulldozed for commercial development, the progress of underarm deodorant & computer automation.

Harold’s next collection of poems, The Dancing Beasts, connected his immersion in Italian life and the historical experience of Ancient Rome to the uncertain and changing realities of the mid- 20th Century. In such poems at “Tiberius’ Villa at Capri” and “An Episode from Procopius”, the poet asks how much had we truly changed from those ancient days? When stone and marble structures from two millennia still stand yet homes, families, and lives were reduced to rubble. What had modern man learned but more efficient and lucrative means to destroy through violence?

Harold’s gift for language and his Whitmanic love of everyday American speech soon found him translating the Latin poet Catullus whose poems had been censored through translations choked by Christian prudishness. In “On Translations of Catullus,” he writes

Catullus, you’d bust your balls laughing!
For 2000 years they’ve fixed you like a horny cat-
The pedagogues can’t take you straight.
Old pederast, they’ll never make it
-not while they teach you how to write!

Harold also turned his ear to Giuseppe Gioachino Belli whose satirical sonnets attacked the corruption and egotism of the papacy with a sharp humor. Though D.H. Lawrence and Joyce both attempted translations, the vernacular of 19th Century Rome proved too much of a challenge. Harold said that he accomplished the task with “a dictionary in one hand and an Italian youth in the other.”

During this time Harold continued to correspond with Williams and their surviving letters are preserved in the wonderful collection The American Idiom. In it Williams singled out the poem “Classic Frieze in a Garage” as “the best I have seen of yours” which saw Harold combine the old world and the new by following his native idiom. I will close with the second part of the poem:

I have passed my time dreaming thru ancient ruins
walking thru crowded alleys of laundry
    outside tenements with gourds in windows
& crumbling masonry of wars
 
when suddenly I saw among the greasy rags
  & wheels & axles of a garage
      the carved nude figures
      of a classic frieze
     above dismantled parts of cars!
 
garage swallows sarcophagus!
    mechanic calmly spraying
       paint on a fender
observed in turn by lapith & centaur!
 
the myth of the Mediterranean
            was in that garage
        where the brown wiry youths
               saw nothing unusual
                               at their work
among dead heroes & gods
 
but I saw Hermes in the rainbow
     of the dark oil on the floor
           reflected there
      & the wild hair of the sybil
          as her words bubbled
mad & drowned
              beneath the motor’s roar

An Evening of Writer Tributes: Harold Norse

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On Friday, March 1st, I will participate in an evening of tributes to writers who have passed away in the last couple years by offering remembrances and reflections on Harold Norse. A number of Harold’s friends and contemporaries will be featured including Ira Cohen, Mel Clay and Peter Orlovsky. Please come and join what will be a lovely event.

Friday, March 1, 2013, 7-9 PM
California College of the Arts Writers Studio
195 DeHaro (@ 15th Street)
San Francisco

Todd Swindell and Harold Norse, San Francisco, 2008

Harold Norse and Todd Swindell, San Francisco, 2008. Photo by Michael McEntee.

Harold Norse Book Covers

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Olé, No. 5, San Francisco: Open Skull Press, 1966

Olé, No. 5, San Francisco: Open Skull Press, 1966

Announcing the complete visual documentation of Harold Norse’s major publications. From his first books in the early 1960’s to his later ones from City Lights and Gay Sunshine, the covers of Harold’s books were often as innovative and provocative as his poetry. This pages also includes hard to find foreign editions of Beat Hotel. They are all lovingly gathered under the Book Covers section.

Harold Norse Poetry Recording Now Available

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They say Dylan Thomas’s recordings were the best recorded poetic voice of the twentieth century, but for my money, Harold Norse’s voice runs a close second. Hear this master of the American idiom, whose mind and knowledge were absolutely cosmic, on the must-have album for all poetry collection, Harold Norse Of Course…”

-Gerald Nicosia, author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac

 

Originally released on cassette tape in 1984 by Ins & Outs Press, Harold Norse Of Course captures the Master Poet in all his glory. Recorded in Amsterdam, this historic recording has been re-released on CD and a luxurious double-colored vinyl with gatefold cover featuring a collage of Norse photos.   Please visit the Merchandise page for more information.

We Salute Ira Cohen- Poet, Photographer, Film Maker and Magician

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Ira Cohen first met Harold in Tangier in the early 1960s when they were part of an expatriate group that included William Burroughs and Paul Bowles. It was Ira who gave the title “Sniffing Keyholes” to Harold’s first cut-up piece which was first published in Ira’s magazine GNAOUA, subsequently featured by Bob Dylan on the cover of Bringing It All Back Home.

Harold paid a visit to Ira’s Mylar Chamber while in New York City in the Summer of 1970. The photographs captured Harold dancing as a psychedelic Krishna, naked, flashing mudras. A photo from this series was featured, albeit in black  and white,  on the cover of Carnivorous Saint, Harold’s seminal collection of gay poetry .

Along with Judith Malina and the late Charles Henri Ford, Ira Cohen remained a loving friend until the end of Harold’s life. After Harold moved into an assisted-care facility, I remember Ira telling me on the phone that he wanted to cheer Harold up by sending him sweet potato pies and fudgesicles in the mail.

In 2007 when Ira made his last visit to San Francisco, he made sure to pay a visit to Harold. Sitting across from each other in Harold’s cramped room, they made quite a pair. Talk turned to reminiscence of Burroughs and the Beat Hotel. Harold, whose memory had begun to fail him, turned to Ira and asked, “Do you know Ira Cohen?” Without missing a beat, Ira replied brightly, “That’s me!” Harold was so pleased. He said, “How wonderful,” as he leaned over to shake Ira’s hand.

Being slips in and out of time’s stream of thought and memory.
Gone but not forgotten. Still here, more than most.
Image and word continue on, guiding us, chiding us, inspiring us.

We Salute Peter Orlovsky- Poet, Farmer and Queer Revolutionary

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Harold Norse and Peter Orlovsky at Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photograph by Michael Kellner.

In the summer of 1980, Harold joined Burroughs, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky for a joint reading at Naropa Institute where Peter had taught poetry the previous decade.

Peter Orlovsky, poet, Ginsberg’s partner, dies

Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Peter Orlovsky was a sweet and handsome 21-year-old with a troubled past when he met Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco in 1954, and the two forged a relationship that would last for decades and transform their lives.

Mr. Orlovsky, who became a poet in his own right but was always overshadowed by Ginsberg’s fame, died Sunday in Vermont. He was 76 and had battled emphysema and lung cancer.

“When Peter and Allen met, they were both troubled,” said Gerald Nicosia, a Marin County poet and biographer of Jack Kerouac. “Ginsberg was troubled by his homosexuality and afraid to be a poet, and Peter had come from this family defined by mental illness, and he was living in San Francisco and wondering where his own life was going.”

Within a year of meeting Mr. Orlovsky, Ginsberg started writing “Howl,” a poem that was first performed Oct. 7, 1955, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco and published a year later. The controversial poem became a seminal work of the Beat Generation.

“Allen was the brains, and Peter was the heart,” said Nicosia. ” You couldn’t be around him without feeling this love radiating from his eyes.”

With Ginsberg’s encouragement, Mr. Orlovsky, who had been born into poverty, grown up in a converted chicken coop on Long Island and seen his siblings institutionalized, began keeping a journal and writing poems.

Mr. Orlovsky could also be a natural performer, pausing from poetry recitations to break into a yodel, wearing outrageous clothes and growing a ponytail that ran down his back. He also was known for trying to get the hard-partying beat poets of his generation to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Ginsberg and Mr. Orlovsky were notorious early in their relationship for taking off all their clothes at Bay Area parties, and were sometimes invited to parties just for that.

In 1974, Mr. Orlovsky began teaching poetry at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., and in 1979 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. City Lights Books in North Beach collected Mr. Orlovsky’s works. In 1980, Gay Sunshine Press published “Straight Hearts’ Delight,” comprised of the letters and love poems between Mr. Orlovsky and Ginsberg.

Over the years, they became one of the most famous openly gay couples – with Mr. Orlovsky listed in “Who’s Who” as Ginsberg’s “wife.” They split as a couple in the late 1980s, when Mr. Orlovsky had a mental breakdown, but remained close.

Ginsberg died in 1997. Mr. Orlovsky was said to have started in recent years working on his memoir.

E-mail Julian Guthrie at jguthrie@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Harold Norse Obituary by Todd Swindell and Jim Nawrocki

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Harold Norse, whose poetry earned both wide critical acclaim and a large, enduring popular following, died on Monday, June 8, 2009, in San Francisco, just one month before his 93rd birthday. Norse, who lived in San Francisco for the last thirty five years, had a prolific, international literary career that spanned 70 years. His collected poems were published in 2003 under the title In the Hub of the Fiery Force, and he continued to read publicly into his 90s, bringing his work to new generations.

Born in 1916 to an illiterate, unwed mother, Harold Norse’s natural gift for language, influenced from the varied dialects of his surroundings, led to a boyhood interest in writing that blossomed into a rich, peripatetic life that he documented in an innately American poetic idiom.

Like Walt Whitman, Norse was a Brooklyn native. He came of age during the Depression, an experience that significantly shaped his voice and endeared him to a varied audience of underdogs and the persecuted. Beginning in 1934, he attended Brooklyn College, where he met and became the lover of Chester Kallman. In 1939, when W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood gave their first reading in America, Norse and Kallman were in the front row winking flirtatiously at the famous writers. Norse soon became Auden’s personal secretary, a role he filled until Kallman and Auden became lovers.

During the 1940s, Norse lived in Greenwich Village and was an active participant in both the gay and literary undergrounds. His close friends at the time included James Baldwin, who was a teenager when he met Norse in 1942. A close friend of Julian Beck and Judith Malina, Norse was integral in the early foundation of The Living Theater. In the summer of 1944 Norse was introduced to Tennessee Williams in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the two shared a summer cabin while Williams completed the manuscript for The Glass Menagerie.

Abandoning his doctoral work in English in 1954, Norse sailed to Italy, spending the next fifteen years traveling across Europe and North Africa. Living in Rome, Naples, and Florence, Norse immersed himself in the classical culture that had survived the two World Wars. Norse found a mentor and friend in William Carlos Williams, who encouraged the younger poet to move away from the classical poetics of academia and explore the poetic possibilities of the spoken word of the American streets. The complete correspondence of Norse and Williams, titled The American Idiom, was published in 1990.

Norse’s travels continued in the 1960s, bringing him to Tangier, where he consorted with Paul and Jane Bowles, Ira Cohen, and Mel Clay. In 1959 Norse traveled to Paris, where he settled in the infamous Beat Hotel. Through friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident Gregory Corso, Norse met William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. It was Norse who introduced Ian Sommerville to Burroughs as the group experimented with the cut-up method of writing. Norse’s collection of writing from that period was published as a cut-up novella, The Beat Hotel, in 1983.

From Paris Norse moved onward to Greece and Hydra, where he reconnected with the poet Charles Henri Ford, a friend from Greenwich Village days, and smoked pot with the then unknown poet Leonard Cohen. Norse also spent time in Switzerland, Germany, and England. During this time Norse maintained a close correspondence with Charles Bukowski, who affectionately referred to Norse as “Prince Hal, Prince of Poets.” In 1969 Norse edited Penguin Modern Poets 13 featuring Norse, Philip Lamantia and, in his first major exposure, Bukowski.

In 1968, gravely ill from hepatitis, Norse repatriated to Venice, California where he was met by Bukowski and the young poet Neeli Cherkovski. Norse enjoyed the social freedom and political activism of the hippy era, so presciently voiced in his writing, which breathed new life into his body and work. Norse also reconnected with Jack Hirschman; the two had spent time together in Greece during Norse’s expatriate years. Recovering his health, Norse became a vegetarian and a body builder at Gold’s Gym along with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 1972 Norse moved to San Francisco, ultimately settling in the Albion Street cottage he would occupy for the next thirty years. The 1970s were a productive and personally fulfilling time for Norse as the personal and sexual liberty he had lived clandestinely now became the cultural norm. City Lights Books published a collection of poems tilted Hotel Nirvana in 1974. It was nominated for a National Book Award. Carnivorous Saint, published in 1977, was an historic collection of poetry that covered Norse’s gay erotic experience from World War II through the Gay Liberation Movement. During this period Norse was a habitué of North Beach coffee houses where he often connected with fellow poet Bob Kaufman.

Norse’s autobiography, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, was published in 1987 to international acclaim. Chronicling his rich life at the cutting edge of twentieth-century literary arts, Norse’s memoirs were republished in 2002. A National Poetry Association Award was bestowed upon him in 1991. During his final years, Norse continued to live in his cottage in San Francisco’s gritty Mission District, continually reworking his poems, giving readings, and corresponding with admirers from around the world.