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.
So 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.
By 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.
Standing 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 Cavafy. 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.
The 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.