Norse Centennial Report Back #1

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Authors Todd Swindell, Kevin Killian and Regina Marler celebrate Harold Norse’s 100th birthday at the Mechanics’ Institute, July 6, 2016

Authors Todd Swindell, Kevin Killian and Regina Marler celebrate Harold Norse’s 100th birthday at the Mechanics’ Institute, July 6, 2016

MI#3 WebAn attentive audience of nearly forty people gathered last Wednesday, July 6 to commemorate the 100th birthday of American Beat poet whose groundbreaking work forged a new voice for gay liberation, free of bigotry and hypocrisy.

The evening was hosted by Laura Sheppard, events director for the Mechanics’ Institute, in the storied San Francisco institution’s performance café. With wine available from the bar, this elegant room with professional light and sound equipment was a beautiful setting to recall and evaluate the life and work of the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn.

MI#2 WebThe festivities began with an invocation of queer poetic spirit by the multi-talented Jason Jenn who performed a selection of poems written by Harold that included “A Man’s Life”, Norse’s translation of a sonnet by the 19th Century Roman poet G.G. Belli.

Here’s a clip of Jason’s performance of “At the Caffé Trieste“, written in the early 1970s at the landmark North Beach coffee house as Harold looks back through the ages to the ways in which the poets’ voice guide us. It ends with the line, “this is the only Golden Age there’ll ever be.”

MI#6 WebThe evening’s compère was Tate Swindell of Unrequited Records who introduced each of the speakers, adding observations into Harold’s life experience. The first speaker was San Francisco based writer Kevin Killian whose friendship with Norse began in the early 1980s.

He spoke with warmth and affection about his friendship with Harold which began when Kevin would wheel his electric typewriter, down Guerrero Street from 24th, over to Harold’s cottage on Albion Street. A speedy typist, Kevin would assist Harold who was compiling material that eventually became his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel. Some of the pieces first appeared in Kevin’s magazine No Apologies which he published with Brian Monte.

Turns out Kevin had been a member of the Mechanics’ Institute at the time he met Harold and had brought him to visit their beautiful library. Earlier Harold had been kvetching to Kevin that none of his books were available at the local branch of the SF Public Library. “It’s only because they’ve been stolen the Public Library,” was Kevin’s clever reply. Here’s a six minute clip of his introductory remarks.

Kevin also remarked on Harold’s youthful spirit when in company with other writers and artists. He spoke of how Harold was always keen on visiting with artists whom he had known from his earlier days, from Tennessee Williams to John Cage, who were passing through San Francisco to participate in one event or another.

MI#5 WebRegina Marler offered insights into the connections between Beat writers and their Mothers which made her anthology Queer Beats a much needed addition to Beat literature scholarship. Her reading of “I’m Not a Man” added another level of appreciation to what is one of Harold’s most well known and well loved poems.

My remarks followed Regina’s sensitive evaluation of how Harold differentiated from his Beat contemporaries in terms of his treatment of women. I quoted from a 1985 letter from Harold to a publisher concerning an updated version of his 1976 collection of gay themed poetry Carnivorous Saint. Here’s an excerpt from the letter concerning Harold’s desire to remove instances of the word “bitch” when the collection was reprinted in 1986 as The Love Poems.

“Such usages do not accurately represent my consciousness now or, indeed, then, if truth be told, as I have always resented slurs of any kind in the language, yet given a macho background have been insensitive to slurs against women, whom I’ve personally always considered the superior sex, in any case…These words are offensive to me and to those I might hurt unintentionally.”

MI#4 WebThanks to Michael Petrelis for snapping the photographs included in this post. The photo to left shows me in an animated conversation with Laura Sheppard and, at the edge of the frame, Count Federico Wardal who attends all the Harold Norse related events in San Francisco.

Harold would certainly have been thrilled that such an event for his hundredth birthday would be hosted at a landmark San Francisco location. Thanks to all those who attended the presentation. Stay tuned for the next report back from the following Saturday’s event at The Beat Museum.

The complete video of the event can be viewed below:

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Norse Centennial Spotlight: Beyond Baroque

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This summer’s centennial celebrations for Harold Norse kick into full swing following two incredible events last week in San Francisco. Next up is a return to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice Beach where Harold lived for a couple of years following his return to America after fifteen years abroad. In a previous post, I looked at some of his connections from that time including Anais Nin and Charles Bukowski.

BeyondBaroque1982Once again the host of this event Beyond Baroque which is now approaching its fifth decade as Los Angeles’ premier literary arts center. Over thirty years ago Harold was featured as a “guest star” at a poetry reading by Allen Ginsberg. Last summer Beyond Baroque was the host of a reading for my release of the selected poem of Harold Norse. This time around the featured participants are Southern California based writers Thomas Livingston, S.A. Griffin and Michael C Ford.

The event will be held on Saturday, July 23 from 4-6 P.M. at 681 N. Venice Blvd. in Venice Beach. Please note there is an admission charge of $10 for the general public and $6 for students and seniors. Members of Beyond Baroque are free.

Thomas Livingston and Harold Norse in Vence, 1963

Thomas Livingston and Harold Norse in Vence, 1963

Thomas Livingston has published two novels: Paper Walls and The Tower Is Down and short stories in mass circulation magazines including Playboy, literary magazines such as Nothing Doing in LondonThe LedgeBastard Angel, and Main Street Rag, and academic anthologies such as Aleination: A Casebook.

His poetry has appeared in Two CitiesThe Ledge and the new renaissance. He taught at Rutgers University and San Jose State University and recently finished his new novel The Years of Light and Gangrene.

Thomas first met Harold in Paris in the summer of 1961 when Norse was living at the Beat Hotel. Their friendship grew in the coming years with Harold offering Thomas a summer job working with The Living Theater on two theatrical productions including The Connection. As this upcoming event he will share stories about The Living Theater, meeting William Burroughs at the Beat Hotel and his decades long friendship with Harold.

Thomas was among the contributors to The End is the Beginning– my 2010 memorial collection of poetry for Harold. His loving remembrance concludes with this paragraph,

Harold introduced my to Burroughs and Gysin, McClure and Ginsberg and, of course, Bukowski before they had their falling out. He enriched my life through our friendship, which was very often spiked with wine and laughter. I’m sure when he saw the praiseworthy obituaries in the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, he had the last laugh and said, “Well, it’s about time I got the recognition I deserve.”

Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

S.A. Griffin lives, loves and works in Los Angeles. He is the progenitor of Elsie The Poetry Bomb which he took on a five week tour of the United States in 2010 in an effort to foster civil disagreements.

The co-editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry which featured several poems by Harold Norse, S.A. recently edited The Official Language of Yes by Scott Wannberg for Perceval Press and Natural Geographics by M. Lane Bruner, published on his own Rose of Sharon imprint. His latest collection of verse, Dreams Gone Mad With Hope, was released in 2014 by Punk Hostage Press.

Returning again this year is poet Michael C Ford whose participation in last summer’s poetry reading for the selected edition of Harold’s poetry remains a memorable highlight. Here’s a video of Michael’s knock out reading of Harold’s 1973 poem “Remembering Paul Goodman”.

Publishing steadily, since 1970, Michael C Ford is credited with 28 volumes of print documents and numerous spoken word recordings. He received a Grammy nomination in 1986 and earned a Pulitzer nomination in 1998.

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L.A. poet Michael C. Ford stands between Tate Swindell (L) of Unrequited Records and Todd Swindell (R) editor of Norse Selected Poems. Beyond Baroque, Venice Beach, July 17, 2015.

His most recent volumes of work are the pamphlet edition of music related poetry entitled Atonal Riff-Tunes to a Tone-Deaf Borderguard (2012) and a 2013 volume entitled Crosswalk Casserole: both of which are published by Lawn Gnome Books in Phoenix, AZ.  

Michael was a student of Kenneth Patchen & Kenneth Rexroth both of whom influenced the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s. He’s also performed with Michael McClure and the surviving members of The Doors including a numerous performances with Ray Manzarek.

Make sure you arrive on time to catch Jason Jenn’s performance of Harold’s poetry which has been among the highlights of these Harold Norse Centennial Celebrations.

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Happy 100th Birthday Harold Norse

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Today marks the 100 years since acclaimed American poet Harold Norse was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Beginning tonight at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute will be a series of events this month commemorating this historic occasion.

The kick off began earlier today outside Harold’s last home in San Francisco’s Mission District on Albion Street– shades of William Blake. As an invocation of the queer poetic spirit, I read a poem by Harold’s friend, poet and filmmaker James Broughton. James was recently profiled in the award-winning documentary Big Joy.

Happy Harold Birthday

For Harold Norse

By James Broughton

 

Hello Harold

                   here and there

Hello Harold

                     Everywhere

Harold in Italy

      Harold in Holland

            Harold in Tangier

                 Harold in Hell

Everywhere that I have been

Harold was already in

 

             Harold is a Norse

             of wandering force

             prankish of nature

             and intercourse

             Norse is a Harolding

             Widespread source

             of salty lust

             and sweet remorse

 

Harold in Paris

     Harold in Sonoma

           Harold in Euphoria

                Harold in the Dumps

Everywhere that I have spotted

Harold has already squatted

 

Hello Harold

                        near and far

Hello Harold

                        here you are

 

                                     6 July 1986

                                     San Francisco

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Norse Centennial Spotlight: Jason Jenn

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Gay writers Jason Jenn, Hank Henderson, Daniel Foster and Todd Swindell following a reading of Harold Norse's poetry at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park

Gay writers Jason Jenn, Hank Henderson, Daniel Foster and Todd Swindell following a reading of Harold Norse’s poetry at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park

I first encountered the phenomenally talented Jason Jenn last summer in Los Angeles during my book tour for the selected poems of Harold Norse. Homo-centric is a monthly reading series in Echo Park curated by Hank Henderson. For the July event Hank had invited local artists to read Harold’s work. I was thrilled to have a chance to hear Harold’s poetry read by gay voices other than mine.

When I mentioned I was planning for Harold’s centennial the following summer, Jason immediately said he wanted to participate. I was surprised mainly because talented queer artists are invariably booked solid with their own projects. Yet Jason said he felt not only a connection to Harold’s work but a need to learn about and share Harold’s own queer history.

Overtime I learned more about Jason’s work on other gay poets especially his full-length performance on the poetry of James Broughton– a San Francisco poet and filmmaker who was a good friend of Harold’s. His art is also activism, exemplified by his ongoing Queer History Tours of West Hollywood.

Each of the three upcoming Harold Norse Centennial events will begin with a brief performance by Jason of Harold’s poetry. I can honestly say that Harold would be thrilled about Jason’s involvement. During the busy preparations for next week, Jason and I had a chance to chat over email.

What can those who attend the Norse Centennial events look forward to during your performance?

PQNorse_Geronimo5Hopefully those familiar with Harold will see him in a compellingly fresh way and those unfamiliar will be turned on by how relevant, moving and provocative his poetry is. It’s my goal to create an experience that reflects the emotional truth of Harold’s work with an engaging visual component that supports his words. It will be a somewhat unique interpretation that honors the Beat generation as a vocal performance tradition mixed in with my own contemporary queer spirit. I like to believe that when I create these performances, Harold’s spirit is being entertained as well. I hope it encourages others to dive more into his work.

You provided assistance and friendship to the elder gay artist and poet William Emboden who recently died. What did you gain from an intergenerational queer connection?

Volumes. Literally and figuratively. I’m really missing William right now; he was a great friend. The value of intergenerational queer connection is infinite and worthy of further attention. It’s how we pass along the life-force, the children of the mind, the queer spirit. William gave me insight into what he gained from his life experience; he was a bridge to other generations.

Through our discussions from typing up his handwritten poems, plays, and manuscripts, I learned so much about the queer cultural icons about whom he encountered, admired, and wrote. It has always been my intention to perform some of William’s poetry someday. It made him happy thinking about what I might come up with even though he knew he wouldn’t get to see it. Writing kept him going day by day through his challenging decline, but he carried himself with such grace and cheer up until the last time I saw him. That was another big lesson.

You’ve created performance pieces for a diverse range of gay authors from the Greek poet Cavafy to poet and filmmaker James Broughton who was a friend of Harold’s. How do you choose these artists? What have you learned from them?

It’s actually because of William and his partner Tony that I even got into the series of gay/queer poet performances in the first place. And oddly enough, in all cases, I never chose the artist — it happened rather serendipitously.

Tony invited me to create a short performance piece for a book release and gallery opening of photographs by Stathis Orphanos called My Cavafy. I was actually not familiar with Cavafy’s work, but once I started reading his poems, I felt a rapturous connection and my imagination lit up. I ended up creating a full-length one-act play with a few other performers by combining Cavafy’s poetry with other aspects of his life story.

Broughton’s centennial was timed with the documentary film Big Joy. Its producer/director Stephen Silha encouraged other artists to create art about Broughton. Again I was mostly unfamiliar with his work, but fell head over heels for it (literally – my legs were up the air during a recitation of one of his poems in my show “Ecstasy For Everyone” as befitting Broughton’s espousal of sexual freedom).

Each poet has encouraged me to continue my own poetry. In working over and over again with their poems, I discover both what works for me and what doesn’t about their individual style. They become my teachers and I certainly draw upon them in my writing subconsciously, whether I want to or not.

For some time you’ve collaborated with Harry Hay biographer Stuart Timmons on a Queer History Tour of West Hollywood. How has that changed your perception of the neighborhood?

Working with Stuart on the tour deepened my appreciation not only of West Hollywood, but how I look at queer history. It was author Mark Thompson who suggested I get to know Stuart and introduce him to some of the newer Los Angeles Radical Faeries. I guess I’m a repeat example of why intergenerational queer connection is influential!

Jason4Stuart had written a trio of LGBTQ history walking tours of Los Angeles, but hadn’t finished the section on West Hollywood when he had a major stroke in 2008. When I found out the city was seeking artists to help create events for its 30th Anniversary, I immediately thought about working with Stuart to complete tour. Originally we intended it to be just an audio and written tour, but during a walk-wheel-through of his original draft the idea came to create a “live-action adventure”. I imagined different performers stationed around the city in some wild period costumes delivering the history. It was a bigger endeavor than either of us intended but ended up being so much fun that the city keeps asking us back to do it again.

What place do you think queer rage and anger has in the current discussion about violence against the LGBTQ community?

EcstasyJJWebIt’s an absolutely vital component for transformation. We need to really go there and share that rage in order to counteract and move beyond the horrors brought against us throughout history. But we can’t let it consume us. We have to stand up to, be strong, all while staying true to other aspects of our queerness like compassion, creativity, wisdom, vision, service, community – you name it, we contain multitudes. Anger has a valid, important place in the spectrum, but only in unison with the rest. You can be sure there will be some of the rage I feel right now about the world in the performance. It can’t be ignored and Harold brought that into his poetry.

Who are some of the LGBTQ artists that have inspired you and your creativity?

My dear friend Robert Patrick Playwright is an enormous inspiration to many of us. He and I both have a knack for creating our own a cappella songs since neither of us can play an instrument. He believed most of his life he couldn’t sing, but he’s charming the hell out of everyone singing for us and sharing his incredible wit and command of melody.

Ian MacKinnon is a mega-talent component of a fierce queer renaissance who shares queer history lessons in a wild and sexy way unlike anyone else. You can find the greatest inspiration from any number of the regulars who perform at the monthly Planet Queer event Ian co-produces with Travis Wood. I know I’m biased, but there are easily a dozen or so who deserve to be given a heap of funds to just keep doing what they do. The list seriously goes on and on, especially from artist’s like Harold who are no longer with us, but left us a lasting legacy to tap into and rediscover.

Here’s a poem that Jason’s friend William Emboden wrote about Harold Norse, San Francisco and Poetry:

A New Found Freedom (1960)

A week ago Jason loaned me

The Selected Poems of Harold Norse

He knew how I would respond

I feel totally at one with this poet

I lived his San Francisco experiences ten years earlier

Nineteen sixty was my time in San Francisco

City Lights Books was my alternative home

I listened to the poets that Norse knew personally

I never had the nerve to approach them

Other than Bukowski whom I did not take to

Ginsberg was a wonderful poet and orator

Poems came spilling out of him on those dark San Francisco nights

City Lights was extraordinary among bookstores

I walked to its beacon of lights almost nightly

Exhausted by hard physical work I was resurrected

It was my real coming out to the world

Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were our gay saints

In the sixties San Francisco poets were everywhere

But all congregated as worshipers at City Lights

A basement with hard benches was a hive of bees being poets

The excitement of words filled the air

Walls of books voices booming others hushed

There we worshiped by listening

Our communion in coffee and after coffee houses

The Trieste was a special bakery-coffee house

North beach was Italianate and vital

Lucca’s restaurant with its great oysters in the shell with garlic

Cheap Chinese markets with exotic fruits and vegetables

I as a student lived on the kindness of strangers

And those new friends among the Sainted poets

How alive was my life then

Gay and twenty five in bookstores

Gay and finishing a night in a bar

Waking up in the bed of a friend of the night before

Books narrations and poems

Sex bars and a newly found freedom

Life as it should and did then exist

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Norse Centennial Spotlight: Adrian Brooks & Jim Nawrocki

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This post takes a closer look at the participants in the second event celebrating the Harold Norse Centennial. On Saturday, July 9, the Beat Museum will host a panel including poet and writer Adrian Brooks, poet Jim Nawrocki and artist Tate Swindell. All three men were friends of Norse and will bring their personal remembrances to the evening’s discussion.

AngelLightAdrian Brooks has a storied history from his Quaker upbringing, volunteering with Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, involvement in the New York arts scene of the late 1960s, then moving to San Francisco as part of gay liberation. Adrian became a member of the seminal performance troupe the Angels of Light which grew out of the equally legendary Cockettes.

Flights of Angels: My Life with the Angels of Light is his memoir of that glittered encrusted period when gay liberation in San Francisco was a heady mixture of political, social and artistic movements. Illustrated with photographs by renowned gay photographer Daniel NicolettaFlights of Angels is required reading for those interested in radical gay performance in 1970’s San Francisco.

BA3-40 WebHere Brooks relates his initial contact with Harold–upon the suggestion of poet and photographer Gerard Malanga–which led to his involvement with Norse’s literary magazine Bastard Angel, recently profiled in the UK publication Beat Scene.

First, after being put in touch with novelist Christopher Isherwood, who liked my poems and invited me to visit him in Santa Monica, Gerard [Malanga] suggested I telephone a local Beat poet. At fifty-six, Harold Norse was a stumpy ex-bodybuilder with a bad toupee and a huge chip on his shoulder about being overlooked. I loved his earthy New York humor and ballsy work. I also appreciated his praise, and his invitation to serve as the editorial assistant for his cutting edge magazine, Bastard Angel, which featured surrealists and celebrities like Jean Genet, stellar Beats, and on occasion, up and coming “unknowns.”

Adrain Brooks singing "Stormy Weather" in North Pole, in the Angels of Light production Paris Sites, 1975. Photo © Dan Nicoletta

Adrian Brooks singing “Stormy Weather” in North Pole, in the Angels of Light production Paris Sites, 1975. Photo © Dan Nicoletta

In a 2013 interview with Adrian about his friendship with Harold, I was impressed by his insight into Harold’s work and character–imbued with both criticism and compassion. Brooks was in a unique position at that time given his artistic expression straddled both the theatrical performance and poetry scenes.

On September 18, 1974, he organized what may be the first all-gay poetry reading at the Fellowship Church on Larkin Street. Among others, the roster included Norse, poet and publisher Paul Mariah, Pat Parker and Judy Grahn.

Here are some of Adrian’s reflections on the poetry scene at that time:

My perception of the  Bay Area poetry cosmos was shaped by North Beach bars and coffeehouses like Café Trieste. The scene revolved around the City Lights bookstore, but the degree to which one had “arrived” in this tiny yet most egotistical of all art scenes, was how close one got to Allen Ginsberg or twee Lilliputian Bolinas, a coastal town south of Inverness. Against this yardstick, poets measured their importance. I found it ridiculous. For all its much-vaunted status as the coolest hotspot in the country, the San Francisco poetry worlds was sophomoric.

BrooksReadingEven so, I admired the poets, well known names like Jack Hirschman, Gregory Corso, and Diane di Prima as well as lesser-known luminaries such as Jack Micheline, a poet and painter whose bellicose, belligerent manner and crudely fashioned verse–rarely edited–belied an unusual sensitivity. And in the background, Bob Kaufman wafted, a burned-out Beat star, like a disembodied ghoul of Goya.

Adrian’s art and activism continues with The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism, an anthology of essays and interviews edited by Brooks and published last year by Cleis Press. A well worth reading interview with Brooks about his anthology can be read here.

Jim&Hal Web

Jim Nawrocki interviewing Harold Norse

Jim Nawrocki is another San Francisco based poet who was a friend of Norse that will participate in the July 9 event. His poetry has appeared in A&U Magazine and Empty Mirror and he also regularly contributes essays and reviews to the Gay & Lesbian Review. Jim first met Harold in the early 2000s, resulting in a warm and supportive friendship between two gay poets from different generations.

Norse was notorious for exacting demands when it came to publishing his poetry, so it’s a testament to Nawrocki’s connection to Harold that he was instrumental in assembling the hundreds of poems that made up 2003’s collected poems–In the Hub of the Fiery Force–which spanned 70 years .

“At Albion” is a poem Jim wrote for a memorial collection which I published following Harold’s death in 2009.  Evocative and graceful in its heartfelt sorrow, Jim conveys the impression and emotions which arose when visiting Norse’s home on Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District where the Beat poet lived for several decades.

At Albion

 

the steps up to your place

were blue hours in Tangier,

haunted Roman shadows,

a Paris hotel rank above

the street of the heart –

so many young men,

skin olive, gold, brown,

dragging with you

on white cigarettes

like a sacrament,

in Barcelona, Naples –

one more shaded room,

sleeping streets. A smile

from an afternoon corner:

 

Who is this American,

who speaks the mother tongue

so well?

 

Just near your door, one step

worn through, almost gone,

a broken Brooklyn, hanging,

like a page or a reverie

You’d warned me about it –

and each time I’d step over,

looking down into its eye.

 

Memory can swallow you up.

 

You meet me with your gaze

but your mouth wavers,

at play, undecided:

 

What language now,

to recite again

the beautiful words?

 

Tate Swindell and Harold Norse at the Caffé Trieste. Photo © Todd Swindell.

Tate Swindell and Harold Norse at the Caffé Trieste. Photo © Todd Swindell.

Tate Swindell is a poet, photographer, filmmaker, as well as the founder of Unrequited Records where he makes available poetry and spoken-word recordings by Beat authors such as Herbert Huncke and Jack Micheline.

Originally released in 1984 on cassette by Eddie Woods’ Ins & Outs Press, Harold Norse, Of Course… is a poetry reading which Harold gave in Amsterdam. In fine form, it remains one of the premier recordings of Harold reading his work.

Unrequited Records has made the original recording available as both a digital download and double record album. The vinyl release is a work of high craftsmanship featuring deluxe colored discs and a stunning gatefold collage of Harold’s snapshots. It’s a must for collectors of Beat era artifacts.

HNOC Vinyl Web

This once in a lifetime line up is a fitting way to continue the centennial celebration of Harold Norse. The Beat Museum was the site of Harold’s final poetry readings, so it is fitting that his spirit returns to North Beach. The event, which runs from 7-9 PM, is free.

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Norse Centennial Spotlight: Kevin Killian & Regina Marler

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MI ListAs the Harold Norse Centennial approaches, there will be posts spotlighting the participants in upcoming events, presented by The Beat Museum, to celebrate this historic milestone. On Wednesday, July 6 (Harold’s actual 100th birthday) the Mechanics’ Institute will host a panel featuring San Francisco writers Kevin Killian, Regina Marler and myself, Todd Swindell.

poster_smallFounded in 1854 to serve the vocational needs of out-of-work gold miners, the Mechanics’ Institute is a historic membership library, cultural event center, and chess club in San Francisco’s Financial District. Today it serves readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and others.

In 2013, the Mechanics’ Institute was part of the Allen Ginsberg Festival that coincided with an exhibition of the Beat poet’s photography at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. The one-of-a-kind event featured everything from Beat poet ruth weiss performing in the Institute’s café space to a panel discussion featuring a whose-who of Bay Area authors that have written about the Beats.

Poet, playwright, and queer bon vivant Kevin Killian was a participant in last year’s reading at Alley Cat Books to promote the release of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: Selected Poems of Harold Norse which I edited. This accompanying fantastic photograph of Kevin with Harold and poet and filmmaker James Broughton in San Francisco, 1987 is courtesy of Alex Gildzen’s blog Arroyo Chamisma.

killian

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

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 John Wieners and Robert Duncan and influenced many Beat writers. His acclaimed biography of Spicer, Poet Be Like God, co-written with Lew Ellingham, was published in 1998. Killian also edited, with Peter Gizzi, the collection My Vocabulary Did This to Me-Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer. The title comes from Spicer’s last recorded words; Harold’s were “the end is the beginning.”

RM--Cropped_publicity_squareRegina Marler is the editor of the anthology Queer Beats, How the Beats Turned America on to Sex (Cleis Press, 2004) which features two poems by Harold Norse as well as an excerpt from his memoirs. Even though I’ve read a good amount of Beat literature, I found her inclusion of excerpts from lesser known works by Beat-associated authors like the Paul Bowles and poet Alan Ansen to be enlightening. Additionally there are contributions from female writers like Jane Bowles, Elise Cowen and Diane di Prima.

But it’s not only her sharp selection of writers that elevates Queer Beats head and shoulders above other Beat anthologies. Each of the book’s three sections feature an incisive introduction by Regina. Speaking about the homocentric content of Burroughs and Ginsberg, she writes about their

candid attitude towards sex and the body–towards pleasure. This open confession of their feelings is one of the pivots of the movement, and no less vital to their influence on the rising counter-culture than marijuana reveries and restless literary experimentation.

QueerBeatsWeb

Among the selections I found most illuminating was an excerpt from a letter by Jack Kerouac whom Marler describes as a “sensitive, gentle mama’s boy who goaded himself into macho displays…[whose] queer sensibility was most disguised, folded into the hero worship” of Neal Cassady.

Written on October 3, 1948 to Cassady, Kerouac states “Posterity will laugh at me if it thinks I was queer…little students will be disillusioned.” It’s a telling admission that Kerouac couches the censorship of his same-sex desires as protection for future generations. As Marler succinctly puts it, “He wanted the behavior, clearly, but not the identity.”

Of course this is exactly the kind of ignorant, oppressive attitude that Harold Norse sought to make extinct through his lifetime of confessional, open hearted gay poetry that follows the proud lineage of his Brooklyn forbearer Walt Whitman. Thanks to Queer Beats we can see how authors like Norse, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Gore Vidal were gay visionaries who, Marler claims, “stand outside the normalization of gay sex and identity.”

“They were not assimilationist. If the culture could not accept them, the fault lay in the culture.”

This is set to be a perfect evening to celebrate the 100th birthday of Beat poet Harold Norse, the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn. Please note there is a $15 charge for the public but haroldnorse.com readers can wave the fee by stating they are a “Beat Museum Member” either at the online registration or that evening at the event which is from 7-9PM. As the event will be held in the Mechanic’s Institute’s café space, make sure you arrive early to enjoy a drink at the bar.

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Hilary Holladay Interview and Belgium Broadside

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Author and Beat biographer Hilary Holladay has been doing her part to bring more attention to the poetry of Harold Norse. As mentioned earlier this year, Hilary’s interview with writer and publisher Jan Herman highlighted his friendship with Harold. Hilary recently interviewed me about Harold Norse, his relationship with Allen Ginsberg, Bastard Angel magazine and my editing of the selected edition of Harold’s poems. You can read the complete interview at hilaryholladay.com.

“Without Harold, the Beats would not have such a rich international dimension. He lived in Paris in the late 1950s and traveled widely. We read often of New York City and San Francisco, but a great deal of the Beats’ influence came out of what happened in Paris, Tangier, and the Greek Islands, and Harold was part of that scene.”

“Harold embraced his Jewish heritage when the Nazis rose to power. Also, he saw how prejudice arose from baseless stereotypes whether it was blacks, queers, or Jews. For instance, Harold—muscular, hairy, butch—was never suspected of being queer. His swarthy complexion and upturned nose could have him pegged as anything from Italian to English to German.”

herbert-hunckeI highly recommend Hilary’s biography Herbert Huncke: The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Huncke’s pivotal role in connecting Beat writers with narcotics and criminality has sadly overshadowed the magnificence of his writings. Though he never published as much as his friends Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, Herbert was able to convey the sordid tales of those he knew with a rare empathy, which is the essence of Beat literature.

Leslie Winer has been contributing her passion and creativity to Huncke’s estate with the elegant website Huncke Tea Company. I highly recommend perusing their SoundCloud page where you can listen to recordings of Huncke reading along with Leslie’s contemporary interpretations of Herbert’s writings spoken in her dry yet winsome voice. She is currently recording a series of Huncke stories, notebook entries & letters put to some new music co-written with & produced by Christophe Van Huffel which will soon be released on vinyl.

DSC00091For over a decade, Bart de Paepe’s Sloow Tapes in Belgium has been releasing cassettes recordings from numerous artists who were connected with Harold including Judith Malina, Ira Cohen, Brion Gysin and Sinclair Beiles. Three years ago Sloow Tapes released Harold Norse Take a Chance In The Void: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel, another cassette-only release from Cut Up recordings made by Harold when he lived in Paris at the Beat Hotel in the early 1960s. I’m pleased to note that the edition of 100 copies has completely sold out.

Last year Sloow Tapes began publishing broadsides with eye catching graphics on the front and poetry on the back of A5 size paper. Sloow Tapes Broadside #11 was released last month featuring Harold’s poem “Wise to its Poisoned Condition.” Here’s what Bart had to say about the broadside,

“Between 1960 and 1963 Norse lived in Paris with William Burroughs and Gregory Corso in the hotel in the Latin Quarter known as the “Beat Hotel”. Although initially wary of the Beat writers’ literary credentials, Norse collaborated with Brion Gysin on the cut-up technique and was briefly an acclaimed painter of ink drawings soaked in the hotel bidet, known as Cosmographs. Norse described himself as a “lone-wolf” and he refused to join the pack, at some cost. In many ways he was more “Beat” than the Beats: Jewish, illegitimate, homosexual.

Norse was an outsider who quietly produced some startling and technically accomplished verse from the fringes of the US literary scene. ‘Wise to Its Poisoned Condition’ is an unpublished poem written at the time he lived at the Beat Hotel and illustrated with a mylar portrait by Ira Cohen.”

WisePoisonI just received some copies of the broadside and it is a truly beautiful artifact. The psychedelic photograph was from a series of pictures Ira took of Harold in the early 1970s when he was photographing everyone from Jack Smith to Jimi Hendrix in his mylar chamber.

A black-and-white version of that photograph was used for the cover of Harold’s 1976 anthology of gay poems Carnivorous Saint. It was also featured on the back cover of Harold Norse Of Course…, the double vinyl record release of Harold’s 1984 poetry reading in Amsterdam available from Unrequited Records. This collector’s item is sure to be snapped up in no time, so make sure you procure a copy at this link.

 

 

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Poets Are The True Historians

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“Poets are the true historians.” – Harold Norse.

That’s what Harold said to me one day about fifteen years ago in the sun-filled front room of his cottage located off Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District. We had a unique friendship. I was in my late twenties, by then a long-time member of the radical AIDS activist group ACT UP San Francisco (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Harold was then in his mid-eighties, having lived a storied life of love and poetry across many decades and continents. I don’t remember what caused him to say that, but I recall how it felt: Harold was connecting his poems–and all poetry–to the deeper story of what they spoke about.

As the news of today’s bloody attack on the queer community of Orlando, Florida worsened, we all experienced a range of terrible and uncomfortable emotions. For gay men of my generation there is the constant question of why we were the ones who have survived the endless, relentless slaughter of our community. Florida has been part of the battleground of America’s hostility towards queers for decades. In the late ’70s washed up beauty queen and orange juice spokesmodel Anita Bryant was on a  homophobic “Christian crusade” to “save the children” from “dangerous queers” by eliminating our civil rights thereby condoning violent attacks against the LGBTQ community.

My two dearest friends and comrades in ACT UP SF, David Pasquarelli and Michael Bellefountaine, first met in the early ’90s in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. They spent a lot of time battling the Christian Right and the Church of the Avenger until the status quo dominance of the region’s gay leadership sent them on a road of urgency and action to San Francisco. Both eventually died of AIDS and I find myself now older than they ever had the chance to become. With them went my access to the twin engines of urgency and action which had previously propelled me through fear and despair.

So it is that I turn to poet Harold Norse–as historian–to offer some perspective with a selection of poems that articulate the rage, sorrow and love that pulse through these hopeless times. As some of these poems are long, the full text of each one can be read by clicking on its title.

HOMO– an excerpt from Harold’s last great work. He began writing the poem in 1984 during an affair in Amsterdam with a young dutchman “with shock of honey hair”. A shared visit to the Van Gogh museum inspires in the poet a desire to “fix you in this poem/As firmly as Van Gogh fixed your ancestors/In his immortal sketches. I pray for this.”

From there the poem grows to describe the long, proud, terrible history of same-sex attraction along with the nearly two Millenia of its prosecution and persecution by political and religious powers. By the time of Harold’s statement to me, the expanded HOMO (told in poetry, prose and Cut Up) was on its way to being his magnum opus, but remained uncompleted by the time of his death in 2009.

We Bumped Off Your Friend The Poet was inspired by a book review Harold read in 1973 about the murder of gay poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. What makes this poem so disturbingly powerful and sadly relevant is Harold use of Lorca’s assassin, a Spanish fascist, as the poem’s narrator.

Elegy for St. Matthew Shepard “martyred by criminal bigots blinded by hate” was written for the young gay man who was beaten and left to die on the prairies of Wyoming in 1998. Though 82 when he composed this elegy, the red-hot anger from Harold’s youth, under the threat of murderous homophobic violence, still burns through the poem until it is absorbed by the compassion that came from his broad knowledge of history.

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Norse Cut Ups at EBSN Manchester Conference

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poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyThe European Beat Studies Network (EBSN) annual conference begins in two weeks in Manchester, UK. I’m very excited to attend this year’s conference as a participant in Session 13: Cut Ups, of Course.

My talk, “Cut Out of the Cut Ups: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel”, will focus on Harold Norse’s involvement in the development of Cut Ups during his residency at the Beat Hotel in the early 1960s. Also presenting in Session 13 are Antonio Bonome, “Polytopy and Burroughs’ Coordinate Points” and Edward Robinson, “Audio Technology, Science and Fiction in Burroughs’ Electronic Revolution”.

Harold Norse in his room at the Beat Hotel. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Harold Norse in his room at the Beat Hotel. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Cut Ups began as an accident when the painter Brion Gysin cut a matte for one of his pictures. Slicing through a stack of newspapers, he was startled to discover new phrases as a result of the altered text.

Gysin eagerly showed the results to his friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident William Burroughs who took up the mantle of this new experimental method in his novels The Soft Machine and Nova Express.

Unfortunately Harold’s role in Cut Ups has been consistently under appreciated.  Norse is of course partly to blame as he never promoted his involvement unlike Brion Gysin who always had a flair for promotion. The relationship between Norse and Gysin was complex. Despite a developing rivalry, the pair were friendly during their time at the Beat Hotel. Gysin was the first to see Harold’s breakthrough Cut Up “Sniffing Keyholes” and immediately brought it to Burroughs’ attention. It later became the centerpiece for Norse’s Cut Up novella Beat Hotel.

Ian Sommerville, Montparnasse, Paris, 1962. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Ian Sommerville, Montparnasse, Paris, 1962. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Harold was also responsible for introducing Ian Sommerville to their scene. As related in Harold’s memoirs, it was in a bookstore in the Latin Quarter that he met the young British mathematical student who “liked older men.”

Despite his icy, anti-social affect, Burroughs was in need of youthful male companionship, something which had been easier to find when living in Tangier. Sommerville’s connection with Burroughs was significant in a number of ways. Ian was instrumental in assisting Burroughs through heroin withdrawal and collaborated with Gysin in the creation of the Dreamachine.

BURROUGHS1097This year’s EBSN conference theme is science and music. One of the sessions is titled “Burroughs – Addiction, Dystopia and Biology”. The conference’s keynote speaker is Andrew Lees, Professor of Neurology at the National Hospital, London. A fascinating interview with Dr. Lees was recently posted at RealityStudio.

His book Mentored by a Madman: the William Burroughs Experiment is described as “drawing on Burroughs’ search for an addiction cure to discover a ground-breaking treatment for shaking palsy, and learns how to use the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes to diagnose patients. Lees follows Burroughs into the rainforest and under the influence of yage (ayahuasca) gains insights that encourage him to pursue new lines of pharmacological research and explore new forms of science.”

Towers Open FireAmong the many presentations relating to music, Frank Rynne’s “On-going Guerrilla Conditions” will feature a live soundtrack to a series of short films from a collaboration between English filmmaker Anthony Balch and Burroughs made in the 1960s.

As Cut Ups brought the use of montage to literature, it was natural for Burroughs to extend his exploration in altering space and time to experimenting with cinema. Though some of the Balch films can be seen online, it will be interesting to see what new experiences occur at this screening.

Photo Paul Beattie, San Francisco, 1960

ruth weiss photographed by Paul Beattie, San Francisco, 1960

Among the other sessions I’m looking forward to include a number of presentations about Beat poet ruth weiss. Still going strong at age 88, ruth’s participation in Beat poetry reaches back to the 1950s, though she continues to perform her poetry in San Francisco as well as internationally.

ruth will be perform June 15 in North Beach with Doug O’Connor (acoustic bass), Rent Romus (saxophones), and Hal Davis (percussion). This event is part of the Beat Museum Presents series which is sponsoring the Harold Norse Centennial events. An impressionistic interview with ruth can be read at Michalis Limnios’ website.

ruth’s cinematic poem will screen along with the work of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. There is even a conference sessiton titled “wiess & co.” featuring two presentations about ruth, in addition to “Elsie Cowen as Feminist Avant-Garde Poet”. It’s wonderful to see EBSN including diverse Beat poets outside of the more familiar and predominantly male names.

Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs

Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs

But there’s even more happening at the EBSN Manchester conference: Ginsberg – Buddhism, Collage, Kaddish; Kerouac’s Tristessa and Mexico City Blues; Philip Lamantia and Jay DeFeo; The influence of John Rechy and Hubert Selby Jr. on the Music of Lou Reed; The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop;  Burroughs the Pussy King: Burroughs, Acker and Punk; The Huncke Papers and Beat Impressions: A Conversation with John Tytell. You can read the full program here.

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Revisiting Harold Norse Obits 7 Years Later

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“Harold Norse’s poetry was very much expatriate poetry,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti said. “It was the voice of alienation from modern consumer culture.”

As this week marks the seventh anniversary (June 8, 2009) of the death of Harold Norse–visionary Beat poet, progenitor of gay liberation and oracle of the American Idiom–it’s a fitting time to look back at some of the obituaries published in the weeks after he spoke his last words on this mortal coil, “The end is the beginning.”

NYT090613 WebThe New York Times obituary described him as a poet who “broke new ground beginning in the 1950s by exploring gay identity and sexuality in a distinctly American idiom relying on plain language and direct imagery.” Featuring a great photo Harold taken in 1973 by Neil Hollier, the obit included this quote from Harold’s good friend Neeli Cherkovski:

“Harold was one of the pre-eminent rebel poets of our time,” the San Francisco poet Neeli Cherkovski said. “He was someone who smashed conventions, like Ginsberg, and broke through to what he called a new rhythm, writing the way he talked, using the voices of the street. He also gave voice to homosexuality early on.”

LAT090613 WebThe Los Angeles Times obituary described Norse as a “mentor or peer  to many of the greatest talents in 20th century American literature, including Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski” who “was unabashed about being homosexual and poured his experiences into poems that reflected anger, sadness and pride.”

The accompanying  photograph of Harold was taken in the kitchen of his apartment at 157 Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District by Norse’s old friend Ginsberg. This time the quote came from Lawrence Ferlinghetti who published Harold’s book Hotel Nirvana in 1974 as part of City Lights Books prestigious Pocket Poets Series.

“He was essentially an expatriate voice in American poetry,” said Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and bookseller who published a volume of Norse’s poems in the mid-1970s. “He had an original voice because he ventriloquized what a lot of other poets were saying. . . . He could sound in one poem like T.S. Eliot . . . or in another poem like William Burroughs.”

GRD090617 WebUnder the headline “Striking Beat writer and artist later feted as one of America’s leading gay poets“, the UK Guardian newspaper published an appreciation by Douglas Field, renowned James Baldwin scholar and a friend of Norse.

Along with William Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris, Douglas is co-chairing next month’s European Beat Studies Network conference in Manchester, where I will be presenting a talk about Harold’s participation in the development of Cut Ups at the Beat Hotel where he lived in the early 1960s.

The San Francisco Chronicle also ran an obituary with the following quote:

“I consider him one of the best poets there was,” said A.D. Winans, a poet and friend. “He was very congenial, very educated. He was also funny. He could hypnotize you with all these stories about the great writers he knew.”

EQCRPSAnother of Harold’s poet friends was Andrei Codrescu whose Exquisite Corpse featured two tributes from poet and publisher Eddie Woods.

First up was “Harold Norse Is Dead! Long Live the Carnivorous Saint!“, culled from emails about his death from myself and San Francisco poet Jim Nawrocki among others. The second,”Remembering Harold Norse“, is a lengthy piece by Eddie of his many adventures with Harold that is well worth reading.

Closing out this post is an obituary written by myself and Jim Nawrocki who will be part of the Beat Museum event on July 9.

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.

brooklyn-college-35-Web

Harold Norse as a student at Brooklyn College in 1935

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. Harold 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, he 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 1953, 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. He 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.

Harold in Crete 1963 by Thanassis

Harold in Crete 1963 by Thanassis

Harold’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 he traveled to Paris, settling into the infamous Beat Hotel. Through friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident Gregory Corso, Harold met William S. Burroughs then Brion Gysin. It was Norse who introduced Ian Sommerville to Burroughs as the group experimented with the cut-up method of writing. His collection of writing from that period was published in English 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. Harold also spent time in Switzerland, Germany, and England. During this time he maintained a close correspondence with Charles Bukowski, who affectionately referred to Norse as “Prince Hal, Prince of Poets.” In 1969 he edited Penguin Modern Poets 13 featuring Norse, Philip Lamantia and, in his first major international exposure, Bukowski.

In 1969, gravely ill from hepatitis, Norse repatriated to Venice, California where he was met by Bukowski and the young poet Neeli Cherkovski. He 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. Harold also reconnected with Jack Hirschman (the two had spent time together in Greece during Norse’s expatriate years) as well as Anais Nin who first mentored the Brooklyn born poet in the early 1950s when Norse’s first book was published. Recovering his health, Harold became a vegetarian and a body builder at Gold’s Gym along with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Photo © Nina Glaser

Harold Norse in the 1980s Photo © Nina Glaser

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 fulfilling time for Harold 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. During this period Harold 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 1989 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. At over 600 pages, his collected poems–In the Hub of the Fiery Force–was published in 2003 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.

Harold Norse in the bedroom of his Albion Street cottage, November 11, 1999 © Todd Swindell

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The Beats Abroad Features Norse in Italy, France and Greece

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BeatsAbroad CoverCity Lights Books recently published the final edition in their popular set of pocket travel guides about Beat writers. The Beats Abroad, A Global Guide to the Beat Generation completes the previous installments for New York City, San Francisco and America at large. The series was written by Bill Morgan who is best known as biographer and bibliographer for Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

iuIn recent years Bill has brought some overdue attention to lesser celebrated participants in Beat literature. His edition of Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words appeared in 2014. Drawn from journals, correspondence, poems and photographs, this the most comprehensive collection of Orlovsky’s writings in print and the closest we can come to reading Peter’s own story.

In The Beats Abroad, Bill Morgan has added Harold Norse to the list of those Beat writers meriting further attention. The Bastard Angel of Brooklyn pops up a number of times in the book with his own entries for Italy, France and Greece. Though Harold lived in many other countries during his fifteen years abroad, it was in those three countries where some of his most significant work was written.

When he left America in 1953, Harold headed straight to Italy where he spent the next five years. Following a brief stint dubbing American films into Italian, Harold survived on minimal stipends from benefactors that were supplemented by the occasional job teaching English. While in Rome, he translated Italian poets from the pornographic verse of the Classical poet Catullus to the 19th Century anti-papal Roman sonnets of Giuseppe Gioanchino Belli.

PPP

Poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini who knew Harold Norse in Italy in the 1950s.

The translations success was due to Harold’s use of his native Brooklyn vernacular to convey the essence of Roman dialect. A selection of then were published in 1960 with an introduction by Harold’s mentor William Carlos Williams.

While living in Rome, Norse would often drink coffee at Rosati’s on the Piazza del Popolo with poet, filmmaker and fellow boy lover Pier Paolo Pasolini. One can only imagine the lively conversations shared between these two visionary queer artists.

The Beats Abroad also includes a snapshot of Harold’s apartment in Naples on Via Posillipo, which Morgan described as “what might have been the most spectacular view that any Bear writer ever enjoyed: a panorama of the city, a view of the bay and Mount Vesuvius were all visible from his perch on the side of a cliff.” It was while living in Naples that Harold wrote one of his most famous poems “Classic Frieze in a Garage“.

BeatsAbroad 23

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After Italy, Harold traveled to Paris. Upon the recommendation of Gregory Corso, he took a room at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin Quarter. Known as the Beat Hotel, its dingy but inexpensive rooms provided residence over the years to a number of Beat writers including Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and Norse.

It was there that painter Brion Gysin first discovered the Cut Up method. One day, cutting a matte for a painting, Gysin sliced through a stack of newspapers and discovered startling phrases which appeared from the reordered sections.

William Burroughs was quick to pick up on this innovation which followed upon the shuffled order of sequences in his recently published, and recently banned, novel Naked Lunch. Harold was a significant participant in Cut Ups and his story “Sniffing Keyholes” was singled out by Burroughs and Gysin as a key breakthrough.

Norse’s surviving Cut Ups were eventually published in English as the novella Beat Hotel in 1983. Its first appearance was a 1974 German translation by Carl Weissner with collages by Norman Mustill. It remains the only book composed entirely at the hotel. Selections from Harold’s experiments with reel-to-reel tape recorders at the Beat Hotel were released on cassette by Bart De Paepe’s Sloow Tapes in Belgium under the title Take a Chance In The Void: Harold Norse’s Beat Hotel Recordings.

BeatsAbroad 89

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When the Beat Hotel shuttered its doors in 1963, Harold headed to the Greek Islands and this is where The Beats Abroad logs its final Norse entries. Harold’s first stop was Athens where he found a small apartment just below the Acropolis. Living nearby was the poet Charles Henri Ford whom Harold had known from their Greenwich Village days in the 1940s.

From Athens, Harold periodically traveled to other islands including Poros, Crete, Madouri and Hydra. It was while residing on Hydra that Harold first met the poet and translator Jack Hirschman and the Princess Zina Rachevsky.

cohen - beautiful losersAs relayed in his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, Harold acted as a mentor for a then unknown Canadian folk singer named Leonard Cohen. He was inspired to write after reading Norse’s “Sniffing Keyholes” which made a big impression on the young writer.

The Cut Up story’s bold approach to sexuality and language inspired Cohen to a burst of writing. Fueled by amphetamines and fasting, he created material which eventually became hiss second novel Beautiful Losers.

Though the sun, the sea and the boys all served to inspire Harold’s poetry, some of it published in 1966 as Karma Circuit, he ended up contracting hepatitis on the island then endemic amongst the expatriate community. Harold’s health flagged for the next couple years, precipitating his return to the United States in 1969.

 

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Beatdom features Harold Norse politics and poetry essay

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For some years, David S. Wills has made Beatdom an essential resource and outlet for the varied participants of Beat arts and literature, along with the subsequent generations who’ve taken inspiration from them. Though names like Kerouac and Ginsberg catch readers’ attention, there remains a wealth of experience to be shared. An interview with writer and activist Amiri Baraka from 2013 is an excellent example.

BeatdomMy extensive essay “Harold Norse– the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn” has just been posted to Beatdom. You can read it here. As the current print edition of Beatdom focuses on politics, my piece takes a look at the ways in which Harold’s connection to gay liberation and environmental destruction were expressed in his work.

Unlike his contemporary Allen Ginsberg, Harold was more observer than participant in social movements. Though he was politically enlightened, the distance created by his outsider status as an illegitimate child and queer imbued his work with a voice both empathetic and prescient.

One of the reasons Norse’s work connects with today’s new generation of poetry lovers is the prescient nature of his voice – its observations of gay liberation and environmental destruction. These topics are echoed in his critiques of racism, war, and animal abuse. For Harold, the sexual drive is connected to our animalistic origins, its expression growing from childhood, before repression by religious brainwashing. His poetry demonstrates this universal truth through his rich knowledge of history and literature; he reflected contemporary culture as changing little from the impulses of Classical Greece and Rome.

david-s-wills.scientology-william-s-burroughs-and-the-weird-cultIn addition to posting online essays, Beatdom publishes an annual literary journal as well as operating its own press. Some of the titles include Wills’ Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ which takes a look at Burroughs’ involvement in the controversial movement and the ways it affected his writing.

Burroughs’ interest in Scientology coincided with his exploration of Cut Up writing, which viewed language as a virus of control, and directly influenced his novels The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. More than a passing interest, this key period in Burroughs literary development has, until now, been ignored by the majority of Burroughs scholarship.

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Another Beatdom book worth reading is Marc Olmsted’s Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg. Olmsted was first fan, then lover and then a student of Allen’s and this collection of letters and his memoir is a much welcomed addition to better understanding the influence Ginsberg’s had on the generation of writers and artists who followed the Beats.

The book inclusion of photographs and copies of correspondence give the collection the feel of mimeograph press where many Beat writers were published in the 1960s. Harold Norse also makes an appearance in Marc’s story. In the coming months, I’ll post a more thorough review of the book, but for now I strongly recommend Don’t Hesitate to those interested in expanding their knowledge of Ginsberg’s biography.

In the meantime, you can take a look at my report back from last summer’s Beat Conference in San Francisco where Marc presented a talk about Ginsberg and other Beat writers who influenced him including William Burroughs and Charles Plymell.

Beatdom has also added an announcement about the Harold Norse Centennial events coming up this summer, along with a plug for the Norse book sale fundraiser, now in its final days. Look forward to more Norse material at Beatdom in the coming future.

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Norse Centennial Salutes from Jan Herman & City Lights Books

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“Attention must be paid,” was the famous line from Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. It appears the Harold Norse Centennial has begun to engender some of that past due attention to his legacy.

A couple months ago, I wrote about Harold’s friend Jan Herman, whose recently published The Z Collection contains portraits and sketches of notable 20th Century authors. Jan was also a notable publisher whose Nova Broadcast Press included works by William Burroughs, Carl Weissner and Norman Mustill.

ArtsJournalThese days Jan’s writing can be found at ArtsJournal. His latest post focuses appreciation on the Harold Norse Centennial and my work here at haroldnorse.com. Read the complete article here.

CityLights

In addition to Jan Herman’s article, the folks over at City Lights Books gave a shout out to #HaroldNorse100 San Francisco events and ongoing book sale on their Twitter account.

Accessibility of information and material about Harold Norse on the Internet is crucial for introducing him to people who may not have heard of his work or unable to find his books at their local library. Thanks to City Lights Books for using their platform to bring more attention to Harold Norse’s poetry.

There are still a couple weeks remaining for the online Harold Norse book sale at indiegogo. Featuring a selection of rare, out of print works, this is an exceptional chance to obtain copies, in mint condition, of Harold’s books. DSC00018Each book bundle comes with a bevy of extras including commemorative book marks, photographs and text by Norse including his acceptance speech for the 1991 National Poetry Association’s Lifetime Achievement award.

This week’s featured book is Harold’s Cut Up novel Beat Hotel first published in English by Atticus Press in 1983. This one of the few Cut Up publications written entirely at the famous hotel at 9 rue Gît-le-Cœur, on the Left Bank of Paris, and includes a foreword and text by William Burroughs.

These are fast becoming collector’s items, so visit the campaign to purchase your own copy.

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Centennial Poster and Book Sale

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The folks at the Beat Museum have done it again. Following last year’s fantastic Herbert Huncke Centennial event, the Beat Museum has designed another sensational promotional poster. It features a photo of Harold taken in 1961 outside the Beat Hotel where he was living along with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, who were practicing the Cut Up- a process of applying montage to writing.

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As previously mentioned, three Harold Norse Centennial events are happening in California during the month of July. The Beat Museum is co-sponsoring these dates as a kick off to a year of events which they will be curating. Harold’s final poetry readings were hosted by the Beat Museum, so it’s great to be returning to North Beach on July 9.

Also there has been a change in the July 9th line up, as poet and writer Adrian Brooks has offered to participate in the evening’s panel. He first met Harold in the early 1970s, upon the suggestion of Gerard Malanga, and the pair became friendly, with Adrian assisting in some of the preparation for Harold’s Bastard Angel magazine. Adrian’s public speaking engagements are rare, so I’m thrilled he’s agreed to join a truly special presentation, as all the #HaroldNorse100 events will be.

DSC00027For those interested in obtaining copies of Harold Norse’s rare, out of print books, such as Beat HotelMemoirs of a Bastard Angel, and Hotel Nirvana, there is an online book sale happening during the month of May.

Each Book Bundle comes with rare Norse ephemera and material created exclusively for Harold’s hundredth birthday. All proceeds support the Harold Norse Centennial. With a number of offers reasonably priced, including 3 commemorative bookmarks for $5, there is something for everyone. Find out more about the book sale here.

 

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Bastard Angel Magazine in Beat Scene

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The most recent issue of UK based Beat Scene features a lengthy piece about Harold Norse’s magazine Bastard Angel.  Though it only ran for three issues in the early 1970s, Bastard Angel is remembered as an eclectic mix of writers and artists from the earlier generation of Beat writers to then up and coming authors.

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Harold founded the magazine shortly after his arrival in San Francisco in 1971. Energized by the city’s poetry scene and his contact with a younger generation of authors, Harold wanted an outlet for these creative voices. The title Bastard Angel was something of an avatar for the bard from Brooklyn, who never knew his birth father.

The image to the left is an excellent example of the magazine’s mixture of collage and poetry, in this case Harold’s ode to Cut Up progenitor Kurt Schiwtters. The vibrant layout of the publication added to its attraction. Harold had also been inspired by the underground publications he read while living in Venice Beach including the L.A. Free Press and John Bryan’s Open City.

BA2-20To gather material, Harold was able to draw for his associations with writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Gerard Malanga, Julian Beck, Judith Malina and Diane Di Prima—and that’s just the short list!

But it wasn’t only writers form the early Beat days who made the editorial cut, as Harold  welcomed the voices of rising talent like Neeli Cherkovski, Andrei Codrescu, Erica Horn and Adrian Brooks. The gathering of seasoned and emerging voices is part of what made the magazine so strong.

BA2-44A major coup was the inclusion of what I believe to be previously unpublished poems that were provided by Allen Ginsberg. The poet Jack Hirschman translated a long poem by French author Jen Genet by using alexandrian lines. The magazine also featured literary reviews and correspondence.

Bastard Angel’s final issue, No. 3, coincided with a major exhibition on the Beats at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum. Though the publication proved to very popular, finding a home inside libraries and universities, its success was also part of its downfall. Like with most creative endeavors, funding was an ongoing concern. Ultimately Harold’s poetry work took precedence as he began work on many poems in the mid-1970s which are among his strongest.

As momentum builds for Harold’s 100th birthday this summer, it’s fitting that Bastard Angel should take flight once again. Stay tuned for more updates about the Norse Centennial celebrations including an online book sale of rare and out of print Harold Norse books. In future posts, I’ll delve more into the Bastard Angel archives but, in the mean time, here’s the article from Beat Scene, with thanks to Kevin Ring. Click on the images to enlarge them to reading size.

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Harold Norse Centennial Events

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HNBK1July 6, 2016 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of master American poet Harold Norse. Known for his association with Beat literature and gay liberation, Norse’s work retains its pertinence in today’s fractured world of politics and despair. This has been reflected by increased attention to Norse’s legacy from The New York Times to the International Times.

Since April is National Poetry Month there will be further posts this month to kick off the Harold Norse Centennial. In the meantime, here is information about upcoming events so you can make sure to mark your calendars.

poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyThe European Beat Studies Network is hosting its annual conference in Manchester, England June 27 to 29. Co-chaired by renowned Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris and Manchester University professor Douglas Field, whose All Those Strangers: The Art and Lives of James Baldwin will be published this summer by Oxford University Press.

The conference program is packed with presentations on all aspects of Beat writers and artists. It’s inspiring to see a number of presentations about Beat poet ruth weiss, who at age 87 continues to perform her poetry in San Francisco.

As part of Session 13 on the second day of the conference, I will be presenting a talk titled “Cut Out of the Cut Ups: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel.”

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The EBSN Manchester conference is merely the kick off for the Harold Norse Centennial. Beginning on Harold’s actual 100th birthday, July 6, there will be two separate dates of discussion panels in San Francisco co-sponsored by The Mechanics’ Institute and The Beat Museum.

These will be followed by a return to Harold’s old stomping grounds of Venice Beach at Beyond Baroque. Each of these events will feature a short performance of Harold’s poetry by Los Angeles based multi-talented artist Jason Jenn who has previously performed works about gay poets James Broughton and C.P. Cavafy.

Wednesday, July 6 from 7-9 PM at the Mechanics’ Institute, SF

  • Kevin Killian – Poet, Author & Friend of Norse
  • Regina Marler – Editor of Queer Beats
  • Todd Swindell – Editor of Norse Selected Poems

Saturday, July 9 from 7-9 PM at The Beat Museum, SF

  • Adrian Brooks – Poet, Writer & Friend of Norse
  • Jim Nawrocki – Poet & Friend of Norse
  • Tate Swindell – Founder of Unrequited Records

Saturday, July 23 from 4-6 PM at Beyond Baroque, LA

  • Tom Livingston – Author & Friend of Norse
  • Michael C Ford – Poet & Audio Journalist
  • S.A. Griffin – Poet & Actor

Check back in the coming weeks for detailed information about the events and the authors who will be participating. Also keep on the lookout for a Centennial fundraiser featuring bundles of rare Harold Norse books for sale.

Happy Hundredth Birthday Harold Norse!

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Jan Herman’s The San Francisco Earthquake and Norse Centennial Update

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Jan Herman at City Lights editorial office with SF Earthquake No.3, 1969. Photo courtesy Reality Studios.

Jan Herman at City Lights editorial office with SF Earthquake No.3, 1969. Photo courtesy Reality Studios.

New York born and based writer, publisher Jan Herman first met Harold Norse in Paris in the grim, grey winter of 1963. Herman, a recent college grad, had moved to Paris to live the life of an expatriate writer. Poor and lonely, he sat in cafés writing poems on napkins and was noticed by Norse. The pair struck up a conversation leading to an invitation to Norse’s room at the Beat Hotel.

For years, American expatriate Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs had been living amongst the hotel’s small, inexpensive rooms. The painter Brion Gysin had recently cut through a stack of newspapers only to recognize a new language within its butchered text and, along with Burroughs’ collaboration, originated the use of Cut Ups.

“The hotel was miserable, dark, cold, dreary. The walls were sweating. It was winter, you know, they were wet. It was really cave-like. We went to his room. We smoked hash. He put the make on me, of course. I was rather innocent but I was not interested really, sexually, but we had a good time. We talked forever because I didn’t get out of that room until it was late night, dark, late night. I made my way completely loaded back to my hotel room with several books, very thin books… All this expatriate stuff I had hoped for, he personified.”

-Jan Herman interviewed in 2013

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Herman recently published The Z Collection– portraits and sketches of notable 20th Century authors which has been featured by The International Times. Interviewed by Hilary Holladay, author of the excellent Herbert Huncke biography, Herman’s sharp, insightful, generous observations about Beat writers can be read here.

IT recently featured Jack Foley’s review of the Norse Selected Poems and it’s great to see him popping up again. Holladay’s interview includes a mention of Norse though he is not among the book’s subjects.

Holladay: “You met Harold Norse in Paris when he was living at the Beat Hotel. Did you stay in touch with him after that? Considering what an interesting, well-connected poet he was, why do you think he didn’t achieve the name recognition of the more famous Beat poets?”

Herman: “I wasn’t in touch with him again until 1967, when I started Earthquake. In the third issue I published his long poem “Hotel Nirvana.” It was later included as the title poem of his City Lights collection. When he was living in Venice Beach, we occasionally spoke by phone. At some point he said he wanted to move to San Francisco, so before I left town at the end of 1971, I offered to pass him my railroad flat with all the furniture in it. The rent was only 90 bucks a months. He lived there for the next five years.HN eqk Web

Lack of wide recognition bothered the hell out of him. He was so hurt and so vain about it that he became an awful injustice collector, pissing and moaning to the point of obsession. Hal needed a better PR agent or a better strategy. He was strictly a literary man, which doesn’t cut it. Ginsberg became legendarily famous for his activism. Burroughs became a celebrated cult figure by way of the underground press. Even Gregory Corso’s antics drew attention. But Hal didn’t do too badly in the glory department. His name is right up there, second from the top, on the memorial plaque at what used to be the Beat Hotel.”

Reality Studios, the premier online community of Burroughs enthusiasts, features a superb overview of Herman’s work and Jan’s latest writings can be found at his Arts Journal blog.

Carl Weissner during the recording of UFO 3,1972. Photo courtesy of Reality Studios.

Carl Weissner during the recording of UFO 3,1972. Photo courtesy of Reality Studios.

Though only published for two years, The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE was an outlet for writers and artists who were part of Herman’s circle. Among them are painter Mary Beach, writer and artist Claude Pélieu, artist Liam O’Gallagher, collagist Norman Mustill and translator, publisher Carl Weissner.

Weissner, who passed away four years ago, was the German translator for both Norse and Charles Bukowski. Through the publisher Maro Verlag, Weissner was the first to publish Norse’s Cut Up novel The Beat Hotel. The 1975 edition (republished in 1995) featured surrealist, psychedelic collages by Mustill.

Norse’s poem “Hotel Nirvana” was featured in the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE published in Spring, 1968. The poem expanded, eventually becoming the title poem of Norse’s 1974 book published in City Lights’ Pocket Poet Series.

Claude Pélieu in 1963. Photo courtesy ressacs.hautetfort.com

Claude Pélieu in 1963. Photo courtesy ressacs.hautetfort.com

In addition to writings by fellow Beat Hotel resident and Cut Up participant Sinclair Beiles and the poem “Elegy for Jack Spicer” by poet Robert Duncan, highlights inside the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE are a collection of collages of Beach, Pélieu, Mustill and others.

These artists deserve more attention at haroldnorse.com, but for now there are a number of web links that call for further examination. The Beach-Plymell Collection is a superb repository of artwork by Beach and Pélieu. Be warned you could spend days looking at their incredible works. Empty Mirror Books features some remembrances of Mary Beach. For now, let your eyes rattle at some of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE’S collages.

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Claude Pélieu collage, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, page 33

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Norman Ogue Mustill and Mary Beach collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 50-51

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Liam O’Gallagher collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 38-39

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Carl Weissner and Claude Pélieu collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 54-55

As mentioned in the previous post, July 6th marks the hundredth anniversary of Harold Norse’s birthday. There are a number of events planned this summer to mark this historic occasion and bring greater attention to a great American poet. More information will be posted in the coming days, but for now you might want to mark the following dates on your calendar:

 

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Harold Norse Centennial, Manchester UK Beat Conference and Pocket Poets Anthology

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July 6, 2016, marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Beat poet Harold Norse. From the immigrant streets of his Brooklyn childhood, to mid-century Greenwich Village, to the American expatriates of Europe and North Africa, to his position as one of San Francisco’s best poets, Harold Norse remains a forgotten voice among 20th Century American Poetics. In the coming months, I’ll be announcing a series of events to increase attention and appreciation for the rich legacy of Harold’s like and work.

The European Beat Studies Network website states it “brings together, from across and beyond Europe, those who share an academic or creative interest in the broad field of Beat culture. The EBSN aims to be inclusive; a genuine community of scholars and students, writers and artists, which not only reaches out to all kinds of people who work on the Beats, but also actively invites their participation.”

EBSN barThe organization’s President, Oliver Harris, has overseen expanded publications of many of William Burroughs’ books. In 2014 he edited editions with the restored text of Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy: the cut-up novels The Soft Machine, Nova Express and The Ticket That Explode. Material for these books were written while Burroughs lived at the Beat Hotel collaborating with Harold and Brion Gysin on the development of the cut-up method.

EBSN’s latest conference was held in Brussels, Belgium in late October 2015. Renowned James Baldwin scholar Douglas Field, Lecturer of 20th Century American Lit at the University of Manchester, has taken the lead among academics calling attention to the work of Harold Norse. Douglas presented a paper about Harold and has been generously offered to share the preface to his work.

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Harold Norse & Douglas Field, San Francisco, 2007. Photo © Tate Swindell

“Keen to promote the life and work of Harold Norse, I presented a paper titled “Beat Counterculture in the Digital Age: Documenting Harold Norse” at a plenary panel session with Thomas Antonic (“Ruth Weiss – Beat, Jazz, and the Art of Improvisation”) and A. Robert Lee (“Beat Contenders: Kupferberg, Micheline, Sanders”).

As I’ve found in the past, Norse remains a shadowy figure in the history of Beat lore; he is known to many but read by few. As I talked to people in Brussels, many Beat scholars and poets knew something about Norse’s life and work, but they did not know the extent of his output, or of his craftsmanship as a poet.”

“As Alan Kaufman astutely observes, Anne Charter’s Portable Beat Reader brought attention to many Beat writers—but it also consigned those writers omitted from her anthology to obscurity. Writers like Norse who didn’t make the Portable Beat Reader, it seems, would quickly be forgotten. Thanks to the tireless work of Todd and Tate Swindell, Norse is destined to rise from the ashes… reminding us of this late writer’s incomparable talent as a poet, artist and letter writer.”

poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyHarris and Field are organizing this year’s EBSN conference to held June 27-29 in Manchester, England, and the two mains topics will be music and science. Given the cut-up method’s ongoing influence among English musicians such as recently departed David Bowie, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the activities at the Beat Hotel in early 1960s Paris will certainly be among the main discussions.

As Harold was an integral participant in the creation of cut-up (his cut-up novella Beat Hotel was published in 1983), I hope to make sure that his work and legacy are known at the conference.

Hotel Nirvana remains among Harold’s best known collections, responsible for introducing him to a new generation of poets and writers when it was published in 1974. It was among that year’s National Book Award nominees losing to double-winners Allen Ginsberg and Adrienne Rich. As part of the prestigious Pocket Poets Series (edition #32), it unfortunately remained the only collection of Norse’s writing published by City Lights Press.

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To celebrate last year’s 60th anniversary of the Pocket Poets Series, City Lights editor Lawrence Ferlinghetti released an anthology from all 60 editions. Harold’s poems are included among his friends Allen Ginsberg (Howl #4), Gregory Corso (Gasoline #8), Frank O’Hara (Lunch Poems #19) and Bob Kaufman (Golden Sardine #21).

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Customers at City Lights are likely to receive a complementary bookmark featuring stamp size reproductions of all 60 editions of the Pocket Poets Series. Harold would be rightly proud to see Hotel Nirvana prominently featured. Let’s hope City Lights chooses to republish an updated edition of this essential Norse collection in the future.

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Jack Foley Review of Selected Poems in International Times

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Int. TimesInt. Times 2Following the recent mention of Harold Norse’s correspondence with Charles Bukowski in The New York Times, the latest review of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse is now available online at International Times– the newspaper of resistance.

This fantastic review was penned by Harold’s good friend the poet Jack Foley, who has been doing a great job lately of shinning a light on Harold’s poetry. Yesterday the first half of his two part radio show, Cover to Cover, a weekly fixture on KPFA, 94.1 FM, was dedicated to Norse and featured excerpts from a 1991 interview that Jack recorded with Harold. The concluding episode will air Sept. 9th at 3:30 PM. The show is continually available online at this link.

Talisman House Publishers has recently published I’m Going to Fly Through Glass, a new Selected Poems by Harold Norse. Lovingly edited by Todd Swindell and with an introduction by Neeli Cherkovski, it’s an excellent passageway into the work of a man admired by writers as diverse as James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski. The cover of I’m Going to Fly Through Glass features a remarkable 1938 photograph of the young poet executing a balletic leap, a tour jeté en l’air. I’m sure it’s the hope of Todd Swindell that Harold Norse’s reputation will perform a similar leap because of this book.

 

Not only a wonderful review of the book, it’s a thoughtful appreciation of Harold’s life. Furthermore Jack’s piece, which is more of an essay in length, provides an insight to the reasons Harold’s work has been unjustly neglected in the continued examination of 20th Century poetics, particularly among Beat poets.

 

Shouldn’t there be a place for a man who, in Auden’s phrase, spent his life in “writing well”? Isn’t it the point of magazines like The American Poetry Review (APR) to direct readers towards the little known, the careful, caring writers who kept the flame alive but who never used it to burn anything down? May Todd Swindell’s carefully-edited libellus (“little book,” as Catullus put it) bring Harold the readers his work deserves.

 

Int. Times 3Founded in London in 1966, International Times was part of the radical underground press in England through the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Among its contributors were poet and social commentator Jeff Nuttall along with Harold’s friends and fellow Beat writers William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Among its editors were Mike Lesser, Chris Sanders, the poet Eddie Woods (another of Harold’s close friends) along with poet, actor and dramatist Heathcote Williams who continues the paper online, including a complete digital archive of its earlier issues.

I’m grateful to Heathcote Williams and the staff of International Times for highlighting the vibrant life and work one of America’s under appreciated poets- Harold Norse.

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More Norse Media- New York Times and KPFA

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I wish I could use the language like you. You have all the words and you use them exactly as they should be spent. I don’t have the words. I’m afraid of them. — Charles Bukowski, letter to Harold Norse, July 6, 1966

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Lately some long overdue attention is being directed to Harold Norse. A recently published collection on the topic of writing by Charles Bukowski was reviewed earlier this month in the New York Times.

Significantly Bukowski’s correspondence with Harold is quoted in the review’s second paragraph and he is mentioned again later in the piece.

It’s high time people are made aware of the influential role Harold played in the skid-row operatic narrative of the controversial author. Few know that Norse and Bukowski had a correspondence which spanned two-decades, one that began in 1963 when the L.A based Bukowski was still unknown.

Poets13FMSeveral years later Harold provided crucial exposure when he included Bukowski along with San Francisco Surrealist Philip Lamantia in the prestigious Penguin Modern Poets series.

The Bukowski/Norse correspondence was transcribed and edited, with a piercingly perceptive introduction by Harold, and given the striking title Fly Like a Bat Out of Hell. Sadly the book was never released and it know rests, complete and ready to publish, in Norse’s archives at the Bancroft Library.

Many years ago the loathsome San Francisco Weekly published a cover piece on Harold at the time his Collected Poems was published. Though histrionic and loose with facts about the radical AIDS activism of ACT UP San Francisco, the piece brings attention to the, at that time, pending publication of the Bukowski/Norse letters. It’s worth reading (link here), especially for the references to Fly Like a Bat.

This quote by poet Neeli Cherkovski, a close friend to both writers, is especially perceptive:

“Bukowski was very enamored of Harold’s writing early on,” says Neeli Cherkovski. “He loved both the experimental quality of it and the street-level quality of it. Here was a man [Norse] who had reneged on the New York life on the literary starship, being published in all the right magazines. He led this gutsy life in Greece, carving out his own life as a literary renegade. Bukowski was distrustful of the beats, and he admired that.”

Poet Jack Foley is among the most knowledge and aware persons when it comes to poetics. Another close friend of Harold’s, his insight is particularly sensitive to the way Norse’s legacy has remain obscured. For many years Jack has hosted COVER TO COVER, a weekly poetry radio show on KPFA 94.1 FM, Wednesdays, 3-3:30 PM. The Sept. 2nd & 9th shows will feature a tribute to Harold Norse. Here is Jack’s overview of the upcoming program:

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 4.46.26 PM“Today’s show is a tribute to the late poet and Gay icon Harold Norse (1916-2009). Talisman Press has recently published a new selected poems by Harold Norse.

Edited by Todd Swindell and with an introduction by Harold’s old friend and cruising buddy, Neeli Cherkovski, it’s an excellent passageway into the work of a man admired by writers as diverse as James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski.

HNCover1The title of the book is I’m Going to Fly Through Glass, and the cover features a remarkable 1938 photograph of the young poet executing a balletic leap, a tour jeté en l’air. Other photographs are contained in the book as well. Jack opens the show with a piece he published soon after Harold’s death and then plays excerpts from an interview he did with Harold in 1991.

I was asked recently, “Who reads or remembers Harold Norse?” It was a good question, and I would have to admit that the answer is very few people—and, further, that these people are much more likely to be Californians than New Yorkers. Yet everyone who reads Norse remarks that he is a very good poet. Why isn’t he better known? Admired people admired his work. William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, many others—all thought he was a fine writer. Charles Bukowski, who admired very few poets, unstintingly admired Norse.

LovePoemsPFMI think the problem is that Norse’s imagination never moved towards what might be called spectacular or scandalous or attention-grabbing modes. Think of the difference between Norse’s excellent, explicit gay poems and a book like Jean Genet’s Nôtre Dame des Fleurs.

The same tension that played itself out on a stylistic level in Norse’s work—should he write formal verse, should he write something freer?—was also present in his psyche. (Note, incidentally, that the concluding, climactic line of the free verse “I’m Not a Man” is a line of almost exact iambic pentameter.)

BeatG1FMFor all Norse’s genuine courage, his risks tended to be in areas others had explored before. Beat Hotel is a very fine book, but there is Naked Lunch. Norse has a fine poem about his mad mother in a rest home—but Ginsberg had already written “Kaddish.” There is no Waste Land, no Howl—and certainly no Maximus Poems—in his oeuvre. Yet is this Norse’s problem or our own? We live at a time when it is almost impossible to praise a poet without calling him “great”! Norse was not a “great” poet, but he was a very good one. Williams, Baldwin, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al could give him praise, but they could not give him their audiences.

Shouldn’t there be a place for a man who, in Auden’s phrase, spent his life in “writing well”? Isn’t it the point of magazines like American Poetry Review (APR) to direct readers towards the little known, the careful, caring writers who kept the flame alive but who never used it to burn anything down?”

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Harold Norse Returns to Venice Beach

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L.A. poet Michael C. Ford stands between Tate Swindell (L) of Unrequited Records and Todd Swindell (R) editor of Norse Selected Poems. Beyond Baroque, Venice Beach, July 17, 2015.

Harold Norse’s connection to Venice Beach runs deep. It was there he chose to repatriate after living fifteen years abroad, a time when Harold poetry developed into a unique combination of his vast knowledge of history and the arts with a uniquely American voice which came from his childhood in early 20th Century Brooklyn. Harold lived in Venice Beach from 1969-71; that vibrant period was covered in a previous post.

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On July 17th, legendary literary arts center Beyond Baroque hosted a fantastic reading for the recently published Norse selected poems. It was a special treat to be able to read poems of Harold’s that were written specifically from his time in Venice Beach such as “I’m Across the Street in the Cemetery, Dead” and California Will Sink.”

DSC01318 copyBeyond Baroque features a state of the art performance space that allowed a chance to share some exclusive video footage that included Harold listening to cut recordings that he made while living in Paris at the Beat Hotel with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Additionally there was interview footage from Norse friends the poet Andrei Codrescu and actress and poet Judith Malina.

DSC01328 copyJoining the evening as a featured guest was L.A. poet, playwright and recording artist Michael C Ford who has been active in the L.A. arts scene since the mid-1960s. He was in the same cinema studies class at UCLA that included Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison who would go on to found The Doors and was taught by legendary German film director Josef von Sternberg, celebrated for his collaboration with Marlene Dietrich. To read more about Michael, have a look at this previous post.

In this short video clip, Michael relates a story of a poetry benefit that was organized by Harold in late 1971 to raise legal assistance funds for The Living Theater whose members where then imprisoned in Brazil for the radical advocacy of the political theater. Harold was part of the initial inspiration for the Theater which was founded in mid-1950s New York City by Julian Beck and Judith Malina.

What a blast it was to have Michael’s sonorous poetic voice bring vibrant life to poems such as “Death of Poets” and “Chez Popoff” that were included in the 1969 publication Penguin Modern Poets 13. Harold, who was asked to include two poets in the prestigious publication, chose then relatively unknown L.A. poet Charles Bukowski and San Francisco Surrealist Philip Lamantia.

paul-goodman-changed-my-life-posterThe evening’s highlight was undoubtedly Michael’s powerful reading of the poem “Remembering Paul Goodman“. The bisexual novelist, poet and psychologist ran in similar circles as Harold in 1940s New York City. Judith Malina and Harold were involved in Goodman’s psychotherapy work that resulted in the founding of Gestalt Therapy.

The poem, which was completed in 1973 shortly after Goodman’s death, is not only a tribute to the controversial and influential thinker but also serves as an elegy to the Greenwich Village bohemian scene along with the many poets whose life has been claimed by a hostile, greedy society. Here’s a video clip of Michael’s powerful reading. Enjoy!

 

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Harold Norse in Echo Park at Homo-Centric

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Gay writers Jason Jenn, Hank Henderson, Daniel Foster and Todd Swindell following a reading of Harold Norse's poetry at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park

Gay writers Jason Jenn, Hank Henderson, Daniel Foster and Todd Swindell following a reading of Harold Norse’s poetry at Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park, Los Angeles

Writing, editing, archiving, and the technology that facilitates such work, too often ends up being a solitary experience. Of the many great happenings which have occurred from publishing a selected edition of Harold Norse’s poetry has been the opportunity to share his work with a live audience. The poetic tradition connects to our ancient roots of oral communication and Harold’s work certainly benefits from being shared in spoken form.

Homo-Centric2So it was with much excitement that my brother Tate and I journeyed to Echo Park where, for the last five years, Hank Henderson has curated homo-centric (a monthly reading series for the LGBTQ community) on the third Thursday of each month at Stories Books & Café in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park.

Traditionally homo-centric features writers who have recently published work or seek an outlet to share work in progress. Hank’s interest in and appreciation of Harold’s poetry allowed for a posthumous poet to be featured. Stories Books is a lovely store filled with a wonderful collection of books and the added bonus of a café. One could easily spend the better part of a day there drinking tea and browsing through the shelves.

Homo-Centric3By 7:30 PM a sizable crowd had gathered in the store’s back patio filled with wicker chairs and assorted tables. I was very pleased to see such a diverse gathering of queer people with a broad range in age, from a number of young folks to a few elders. Harold’s poetry is so diverse that it’s not difficult to select poems to interest varied audiences. The chance to participate in a series for the LGBTQ community was particularly pleasing to this veteran queer activist/artist, not to mention that it allowed for highlighting more of Harold’s erotic gay poems.

Following my introductory remarks that included a brief biography of Harold and how I came to know him and publish his selected poems, I eagerly grabbed a chair up front for the all-too-rare occasion of listening to other talented, handsome gay men bring their own voice to Harold’s work. As one of the scheduled readers was unable to make it, Hank did an admirable job of jumping in at the last moment.

Homo-Centric4Standing together in front of a brightly colored mural, the three men each took turns reading a poem of Harold’s bouncing from one reader to the next. Jason Jenn is an artist who works in many disciplines from performance to writing to photography. Recently he wrote and performed in a piece about the great gay poet C.P. Cavafy as well as presenting an evening of poetry by Harold’s friend poet and filmmaker James Broughton.

Among the poems of Harold that Jason chose to  perfrom was “Parable” which was published in the September 1953 issue of Poetry magazine. The poem, which still bears the influence of Modernism before Harold turned towards William Carlos Williams’ American idiom, was well suited for Jason’s unique voice.

The highlighting of Harold’s poems outside those in the recently published selected edition continued with writer and visual artist Daniel Foster, who was familiar with Harold’s work. In fact he brought along his personal copy of Harold’s collected poems, complete with pre-marked pages of his favorite selections, from which he read a strong array of Norse poems including “First Love” and “To a Young Man in Torremolinos.” The latter was written in 1962 when Harold traveled through the town located on Andalusian coast of Southern Spain. In the poem, Harold’s imagery manages to convey both erotic fantasy and social commentary.

Homo-Centric5The evening however did not end with the last poem read as one of the purposes of homo-centric is to bring community together to share and connect. I had a terrific time hanging out afterwards answering questions, hearing what other creative queers are up to and even signing a couple copies of the selected poems.

All this would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of Hank Henderson. Having put on a number of readings myself, I am inspired and appreciative of Hank’s hard work. If you’re happen to be in Los Angeles on a third Thursday, make sure to come out for homo-centric. If you’re a queer writer traveling through town, look into the possibility of participating in homo-centric.

 

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Harold Norse in LA with Anaïs Nin & Charles Bukowski

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VeniceHomoIn anticipation of two Harold Norse poetry readings happening next week in Los Angeles, let’s take a look back at Harold’s time in living in Venice Beach. After traveling for 15 years in Europe and North Africa, Harold returned to the West Coast in the summer of 1968. America had changed a great deal during his absence and Harold’s attention began to focus on environmental destruction and the blossoming of gay liberation.

To recuperate from a debilitating hepatitis infection, a significant factor in his repatriation, Harold became a lifelong vegetarian and started lifting weights with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the world famous Gold’s Gym. He also availed himself of friendships with other writers then residing in Los Angeles. Among them, old friends who were teaching at universities like poet Jack Hirschman, who had met Harold in 1965 on the island of Hydra, and the writer Paul Bowles, whom Harold knew from his time in Tangier.

UnderseaFMThe writer Anaïs Nin first recognized Harold as rising talent in New York in the summer of 1953. In Harold’s must-read autobiography, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, he recounts an evening at her Greenwich Village penthouse apartment on West Thirteenth Street. When, during the evening, she produced a copy of Harold’s first book of poems, The Undersea Mountain, and her praised continued. “You have an extraordinary power to express feeling by breaking down the barriers that surround it,” she told him. “It is very rare, especially in America. Americans are afraid of feeling, or expressing it. You do it wonderfully.”

Their connection continued during Harold’s time in Venice as he recounts further on in Memoirs of a Bastard Angel:

Harold Norse when he lived in Venice Beach, ca. 1970

Harold Norse when he lived in Venice Beach, ca. 1970

“Occasionally I visited Anaïs Nin in Silver Lake, a suburb of Los Angeles, where she lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright House with Rupert Pole, the stepson of a great architect. It was a wonderful house made of boulders, with a spacious living room; it felt alive, like an animal—a living room, Anaïs suggested I submit a new volume of poems to New York publishing houses and compile a list of comments on my work from established authors, which I did, quoting Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, Robert Graves, Ginsberg and others. It made me feel like a venerable Old Master. When I told here that Robert Giroux of Farrar, Straus & Giroux had described the volume as “raw meat” poetry, “although,” he added, “the poems are magnificent,” she was indignant. “That is absolutely untrue,” she said, “your poetry is racé!”

Harold and Anaïs Nin Paris

Harold and Anaïs Nin in Paris ca. 1960

Giroux had used Robert Lowell’s designation for Ginsberg’s poetry. At the same time poetry fell into neatly under two labels: “raw meat” or “cooked meat.” I held that cooking deprived food of all its life-giving nourishment. In 1970, however, the major publishers still got indigestion from Beat, raw-meat writing. Today it has become kosher. “They never had faith in me,” said Anaïs as I looked out of the window at a cat with a live bird in its mouth. “My French publisher still can’t believe that my Diaries are a best-seller in France, where I have won prizes for it. Harcourt, Brace published only twenty-five hundred copies of the first printing. So I know how you must feel when they turn you down.””

Harold and Charles Bukowski had begun a correspondence in the late 1960s. Their letters were collected for publication by Harold in the late 1990s under the title Fly Like a Bat Out of Hell and was meant to be published by Thunder’s Mouth Press following the release of his Collected Poems in 2003. The letters remain unique among the volume of Bukowski material that continues to be published.

In his correspondence with Norse, Bukowski emerges as a still struggling writer finding inspiration and comradeship from the Brooklyn born poet- now exiled. At that time, Harold was near death from hepatitis which charged his writing with the raw directness of the poet struggling to survive. Continuing from his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel:

“We were talking about being an artist. “Writers and artists are selfish bastards,” said Bukowski. Nobody disagreed. I dug up a correspondence we’d had for the past two years. It was a scheme of Bukowski’s to make money—we’d write letters to each other, sending only the carbons, and keeping the originals for collectors. It was to be published eventually as a book. Like all his schemes it fizzled out because he was too worried about his own rank, too competitive.

BeatConf29He said he pulled out because my letters were so much better they made him look bad; I felt it was the other way around. Mine were anecdotal, intense, colorful; his were gutsy, vibrant, caustic, a stylistic event. “All right, baby, there’s no competition between van Gogh and Gauguin,” he drawled. Presumably, he was van Gogh to my Gauguin. He said I had only one fault: I had read too much Dante and Shakespeare. I countered by saying his fault was he hadn’t read enough of them.”
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Celebrating Harold Norse’s 99th Birthday

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Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs at the Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photo © Michael Kellner

Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs at the Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photo © Michael Kellner

HNCover1Today would have been Harold Norse’s 99th birthday. Though he’s been gone for six years, Harold’s legacy is more alive than ever, as the recent release of his selected poems by Talisman House,  has introduced Harold’s life-story and poems to yet another generation of readers.

Next week, there will be two separate readings in Los Angeles where Harold had lived four and a half decades ago. Later this week, I’ll post some stories and photos from Harold’s time in Venice Beach.

In the meantime, why not take a look at Harold’s autobiographical essay Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 18? The 1993 entry, which can be viewed here, provides an excellent overview of Harold’s fascinating life.

Also here’s a short clip of yours truly reading one of my favorite poems of Harold’s, “Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness”, last December at San Francisco’s Bird and Beckett Records and Books.

Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness by Harold Norse

Let go and feel your nakedness, tits ache to be bitten and sucked
Let go with pong of armpit and crotch, let go with hole a-tingle
Let go with tongue lapping hairy cunt, lick feet, kiss ass, suck cock and balls
Let the whole body go, let love come through, let freedom ring
Let go with moans and erogenous zones, let go with heart and soul
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go with senses, pull out the stops, forget false teachings and lies
Let go of inherited belief, let go of shame and blame, in brief
Let go of forbidden energies, choked back in muscle and nerves
Let go of rigid rules and roles, let go of uptight poses
Let go of your puppet self, let go and renew yourself and be free
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go this moment, the hour, this day, tomorrow will be too late
Let go of guilt and frustration, let liberation and tolerance flow
Let go of phantom worries and fears, let go of hours and days and years
Let go of hate and rage and grief, let walls against ecstasy fall for relief
Let go of pride and greed, let go of missiles and might and creed
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

As a number of his contemporaries recently had events around the centenary of their births, including Herbert Huncke, William Burroughs and James Broughton, there’s certain to be some exciting and informative happenings next summer. If anyone is interested in being involved in such events, please contact me through this site.

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Harold Norse Poetry Readings in Venice Beach & Echo Park

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VeniceFlyerAfter spending fifteen years living in Europe and North Africa, poet Harold Norse returned to American soil in 1969 settling in Venice Beach. It’s fitting then that the Bastard Angel returns to Southern California for a series of poetry readings heralding the publication of I Am Going to Fly through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse.

On Friday, July 17 at 8PM, legendary Venice literary arts venue Beyond Baroque will host a very special event that will include not only poetry but exclusive video footage and audio clips. At this reading, I’ll be joined by my brother Tate, of Unrequited Records, and Los Angeles poet Michael C Ford. Please note this is a ticketed event.

BeyondBaroque1982This won’t be Harold’s first time at Beyond Baroque. In 1982 he read with his old friend Allen Ginsberg who was promoting the release of his first record album, First Blueswhich featured Bob Dylan, David Amran and Arthur Russell. Allen and Harold first met in 1944 late at night on a deserted subway car. When stopped at a station, Harold heard an inebriated young man across the aisle reciting Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat in French. “Rimbaud,” he exclaimed to which the 18-year-old Ginsberg replied, “You’re a poet!” This event listing was discovered amongst Harold’s archives which are housed at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

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Poet and playwright Michael C Ford

Publishing steadily, since 1970, Michael C Ford is credited with 28 volumes of print documents and numerous spoken word recordings. He received a Grammy nomination in 1986 and earned a Pulitzer nomination in 1998.

His most recent volumes of work are the pamphlet edition of music related poetry entitled Atonal Riff-Tunes to a Tone-Deaf Borderguard [2012] and a 2013 volume entitled Crosswalk Casserole: both of which are published by Lawn Gnome Books in Phoenix, AZ.  

Michael was a student of Kenneth Patchen & Kenneth Rexroth both of whom influenced the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s. He’s also performed with Michael McClure and the surviving members of The Doors including a numerous performances with Ray Manzarek.

Michael Limnios’s website Blues.gr, which contains interviews with many poet friends of Harold’s, includes an excellent exchange with the poet. This interview indicates the distinctive talent in store for July 17th’s reading:

11540852_10153406179019293_7461043767373234656_oI’m also pleased to be part of Hank Henderson’s homo-centric which hosts monthly queer literary events in Echo Park at Stories Books and Cafe. Hank has gathered a talented group of artists including writer and filmmaker Daniel Foster, performance artist Jason Jenn and poet Anthony Moses Sanchez.

This will be an exciting opportunity for Harold’s poetry to be brought to life by a unique selection of gay male voices. homo-centric will be held on Thursday, July 16th at 7:30 PM. Please come early so you can browse the bookstore or enjoy a beverage at the café.

Next week haroldnorse.com will feature more material on Harold’s time in Venice Beach in the early 1970s which  included his friendships with such diverse writers as Charles Bukowski and Anaïs Nin. Make sure you check back for it!

 

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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.
 

Norse Table

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 Speaking

V Vale of RE/Search publications speaks at the SF Beat Conference.

V. 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 Eastern 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 speaks 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.

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Harold Norse & Jack Micheline at SF Beat Conference June 27

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BeatConfPost

 

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!

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Petaluma Poetry Reading and an Old Friend of Harold Norse

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Copperfields1

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.

james-jones

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.

Copperfields2

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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.

BeatConf

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.

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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.

AlleyCatz2 copy

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.

 

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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.
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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.

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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.

AlleyCat

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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.

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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.”

 

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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.

NorseDisplay

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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!

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Celebrating Harold Norse’s 97th Birthday

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Photo © Nina Glaser

Photo © 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

 

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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.

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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 © 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

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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

Todd Swindell and Harold Norse San Francisco 2008

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Harold Norse’s essay in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series

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In 1993, Harold Norse contributed to the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series with this 10 page entry of his life and work. Like a condensed version of his much acclaimed Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, this witty and concise overview is a wonderful read. The complete document can be viewed in the Writings section.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

brooklyn-college-35-WebLike 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. Harold 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, he 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 1953, 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. He 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.

Harold in Crete 1963 by Thanassis

Harold in Crete 1963 by Thanassis

Harold’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 he traveled to Paris, settling into the infamous Beat Hotel. Through friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident Gregory Corso, Harold met William S. Burroughs then Brion Gysin. It was Norse who introduced Ian Sommerville to Burroughs as the group experimented with the cut-up method of writing. His collection of writing from that period was published in English 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. Harold also spent time in Switzerland, Germany, and England. During this time he maintained a close correspondence with Charles Bukowski, who affectionately referred to Norse as “Prince Hal, Prince of Poets.” In 1969 he edited Penguin Modern Poets 13 featuring Norse, Philip Lamantia and, in his first major international exposure, Bukowski.

In 1969, gravely ill from hepatitis, Norse repatriated to Venice, California where he was met by Bukowski and the young poet Neeli Cherkovski. He 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. Harold also reconnected with Jack Hirschman (the two had spent time together in Greece during Norse’s expatriate years) as well as Anais Nin who first mentored the Brooklyn born poet in the early 1950s when Norse’s first book was published. Recovering his health, Harold became a vegetarian and a body builder at Gold’s Gym along with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Photo © Nina Glaser

Photo © Nina Glaser

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 fulfilling time for Harold 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. During this period Harold 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 1989 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. At over 600 pages, his collected poems–In the Hub of the Fiery Force–was published in 2003 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.

Harold Norse in the bedroom of his Albion Street cottage, November 11, 1999 © Todd Swindell Web

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Elegy for St. Matthew Shepard

(1976-1998, martyred by criminal bigots blinded by hate)

 

Matthew, dear brother, sweet kid, a slip of a lad, 5’ 2”, effeminate youth,

your parents loved you and knew you were gay and were born that way like

children all over the world in all countries, all times, barely visible in a

child though predestined in puberty. Jesus never condemned you. But the

Church hasn’t heard the Good News: Love is no crime. It’s a force of attract-

tion beyond choice or will. For this you were killed, lashed to a fence like

a scarecrow, stripped, savagely beaten and left to die.

 

Crucified like Jesus who also looked like a scarecrow nailed to a cross, who

most likely was not blue-eyes and pink-skinned with Breck-shampooed

hair, who was also perhaps 5’2” – but awesome and wondrously gentle and

holy. Jesus Christ didn’t wear a white collar, preach sermons of hate crimes

of violence versus the innocent. Perhaps he was always high on the mind-

blowing sacred mushroom in his saintly Essene youth. He did not get

uptight about sex. He preached charity, decency, love.

 

A poor Jew born in a manger, a stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem, he

taught that each life was sacred, more precious than gold; and although he

may have had dirty feet, long hair, hippie sandals, he made the ultimate sac-

rifice for his merciful teachings that conquered the pagan religion of Rome.

O false Christians. You do not love Jesus, you love to exploit him, to sell him,

for profit, get rich in his name. “No queers or dykes welcome in church!”

You laugh and you mock as you murder Jesus, Matthew and Dr. King.

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War Poem

On the beach we talk of war

as the sun bleaches the sand.

They say it will be over in a year.

He says it’s the fault of the banks.

I say it’s the decline of the West.

It’s the rise of the East, he says,

We’ll be white bones like fossils and shells.

He speaks on infantry, aircraft and tanks.

It could last five years, I say.

He says it’s the fault of the Jews.

I say it’s irrational fears.

It’s the fault of the reds, he says.

I say it’s the red, white and blue,

and the fault, my friend, is you.

 

Miami Beach, ca. 1941/42

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The Queer Killers

He is looking for peace

& freedom? Kick the fag

in the nuts. Says he wants

Love & Beauty? Bash

out his brains: they’re not

doing him much good.

He’s a loser. Queer.

Shut his eyes for the last

time. The fag says

he’s a poet. That

figures. Break the fag’s

goddam ass. Let him go on

writing about a broken

face & two crushed balls.

The law won’t touch us, chum.

Venice, CA, circa 1970

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