Norse Correspondence in UK Exhibit; Centennial Recap

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As mentioned in a previous post, correspondence from Harold Norse is included in an exhibit at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground features material from the archive of British writer and publisher Jeff Nuttall. His mimeo publication My Own Mag was one of the few outlets that published William Burroughs most experimental Cut Up work of the 1960s.

The letter from Norse to Nuttall was written sometime in 1968, shortly before his repatriation to America following fifteen years abroad. At that time, Norse was living in Regents Park, London, attempting to recover from chronic hepatitis and a broken love affair while busy with the publication of his collection Karma Circuit.

He was also editing an edition of the Penguin Modern Poets Series No. 13 featuring himself, Philip Lamantia and Charles Bukowski, in one of the L.A. poet’s first big exposures outside the small press. William Burroughs, who lived near by on Duke Street, St. James, was hooked on Scientology, offered to analyze Norse with the help of an e-meter and two tin cans.

The letter opens “after the debacle, i.e. anglo-american poetry conference at the American Embassy.” (I am not aware of the conference Harold’s referencing. If any readers have information, please post a comment.)

Harold continues to set the scene: “doors guarded by US Marines–don’t worry, boys, poetry ain’t dangerous here.” A nodding of his head is misread by the poet Edward Lucie-Smith as an agreement with (I assume) Nuttall’s presentation, “but actually was beating time to a tune by that great modern poet, Dylan,––Bob Dylan:

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, Do you, Mister Jooones…”

The reference to “that great modern poet” is a bit tongue-in-cheek as Norse had befriended Welsh poet Dylan Thomas back in New York City in the early 1950s.

From there the letter takes off into freestyle musings of 20th century poetry and arts that is unmistakably Norse, infused with his keen awareness of history which, towards the letter’s closing, connects to the present state of poetics:

& my mind went back to the Cabaret Voltaire (1916) where Hugo Ball chanted nonsense syllables, the Odéon where Tzara, at the end of the world, picked out words from a hat…& knew where it was at…& Gertrude Stein knew, & Ezra knew, & the poet of Finnegans Wake knew…& even Eliot knew but twisted it all back into the hands of the rational boys, who took fright and crept all the way back into the lap of Madame Bovary, as if 2 wars hadn’t happened, as if it wasn’t happening now everywhere…

You can click on the photo of the letter’s display above to view the text in better detail.

The exhibit, which runs through March 5th, is free and the Rylands Library is open every day. While you’re there, make sure to browse through their excellent gift shop or purchase a beverage from their drink bar. Several of Norse’s books are in stock, a rare chance for UK bibliophiles to obtain these pristine, out-of-print copies.

Following the remarks in the letter to Jeff Nuttall, it’s a good time to begin reviewing last summer’s fantastic series of events commemorating Harold Norse’s 100th birthday. It’s no mere coincidence that the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn was born the same year as Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara and others birthed the revolutionary art movement DaDa in Zurich, Switzerland.

The second centennial celebration was held at the Beat Museum that has, for over a decade, offered an invaluable resource in preserving and sharing the legacy of the Beat generation. It was also the host of Harold’s last public poetry readings.

Upcoming posts will explore the evening’s other participants. For now the focus is on remarks made by poet & writer Adrian Brooks, featured in a previous post, who was introduced to Harold in the early 1970s through poet Gerard Malanga. The two developed a friendship that encompassed Brooks assisting with Bastard Angel magazine as well as participating in Norse’s Master Class taught to a select group of young writers.

After reading a brilliant poem about Harold composed specifically for the event, Adrian joined in adding his comments to questions about various aspects of Harold from poet to scholar to teacher. This post will close with quotes from Adrian’s reflections from that evening which presciently expand upon observations made in Harold’s letter from the Rylands exhibition.

In addition to wanting his own place in the pantheon of modern “greats,” I don’t think it was just his nurturing that was at play. Harold was alive and therefore life spoke to him through the most haphazard signals.

I think he had a tremendous sense of dislocation that any artist has–a loneliness, a haunted-ness­–because he had a great heart.

There’s so much to say. He was never spiritually disciplined, but he absolutely got it. I think if Harold were here tonight, aside from being very pleased that this event was happening, he would also want to connect what’s happening here tonight in honor of him, to what’s happening in this country right now, with the killing of black people and the schism which he saw so clearly. Not only racially and through the lens of having been an expatriate, but really wanting the country to come together and embrace a larger sense of humanity.

He felt chiseled out of that because most artists are. But if he had a spirituality, it was in the recognition of the place of artists and writers in other countries, like Cavafy, or the other people he translated, and people he knew, Anaïs Nin, for example.

He was also propelled by a larger sense of justice. Partly because he had been denied it as a child, and a child who is denied justice either is destroyed by it or fights and Harold was a fighter. He was gutsy.

I feel like we are living, right now, in a catastrophe, which Harold saw and forecast and was right about, even though he missed the ‘60s here. That caused a kind of syncopation in his sense of contact with America. So partly through nurturing young writers, Neeli [Cherkovski] is a perfect example, I guess I am, he created this Master Class and it was a phenomenal experience.

[Audience question as to what was Harold’s focus like.]

When I was listening to the other people [speaking tonight] I was thinking about that. Probably what I am going to say may be offensive, but you asked a question, so I am going to tell you what I think.

Photo by William Childress 1974

I think the two great themes for an artist are sex and death. I think Harold’s focus was sex not death, but I think it wasn’t really sex that was his focus. It was the yearning for love, although he wrote that poem “Friends, if you wish to survive I would not recommend” it.

I think he had a very ambivalent relationship to desire. Harold was friends with Tennessee Williams before Williams was famous. They were in Provincetown together the summer that Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie. I think of desire– sex­– like it’s presented in A Streetcar Named Desire; the opposite of death is desire. But for Harold I think it was the attempt to staunch a wound through the enacting of sex.

That’s why I think there is very little of the “other” in his work. It’s about him and his relationship to it, not another person. Rarely, is there another person in his work. I don’t think that diminishes his art, but when you look at the plight of the homosexual, that Harold was born into and grew up with in America, it was so dangerous to be gay, so challenging to try to be a man, because he was a man, against the odds. He was a short man, a Jewish man, a poor man; the odds were stacked against him. Yet there was a grandness in him.

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International Norse: Jeff Nuttall Exhibit in Manchester UK

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Correspondence from Harold Norse is featured in a new exhibit Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground at the John Rylands Library as part of the University of Manchester. Jeff Nuttall was, among many activities, a critic, poet and publisher whose mimeo publication My Own Mag was one of the few outlets that published William Burroughs most experimental Cut Up work of the 1960s.

rylands1According to their website, “The John Rylands Library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands. In 1889 the architect Basil Champneys designed the striking gothic building, which took ten years to build and was opened to public readers on 1 January 1900.

The library became part of The University of Manchester in 1972 and currently holds the Special Collections of The University of Manchester Library. Mrs Rylands’ memorial to her husband is now part of the third largest academic library in the United Kingdom, and the Deansgate building houses over 250,000 printed volumes, and well over a million manuscripts and archival items.”

rylands3I had the chance to visit this cathedral of an archive in June while attending the European Beat Studies Network annual conference where I presented a talk on Harold’s involvement with Cut Ups at the Beat Hotel. My impressions of the conference can be read at Beatdom.

The Jeff Nuttall exhibit has been co-curated by Douglas Field and Jay Jeff Jones in collaboration with staff from the Rylands Library. Field, who is a senior lecturer of 20th Century American Literature at the University, recently published All Those Strangers: The Art and Lives of James Baldwin. I asked him for some words about the exhibit.

“hope my last letter was not interpreted in the wrong light—hardly remember what i said,” Harold Norse wrote to Jeff Nuttall in the mid-1960s, “except i was feeling a blowtorch searing my liver and my pharynx seemed stuffed with cottonwool and my head with potato salad.” Despite publishing their work in the most prominent publications of the international underground, including Residu, Jeff Nuttall and Harold Norse remain peripheral figures in accounts of post-war avant-garde writing. “Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground” shows the extent to which Nuttall, the author of Bomb Culture (1968) and the editor of My Own Mag (1963-1967) formed extensive international networks with writers including William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi.

off_beat_leaflet_web1Harold wrote about Nuttall in a post script included in his Cut Up novel Beat Hotel. Completed in London on May 24, 1968, the essay titled “Cut-Up Magic” is perhaps the only contemporary document of the development of the Cut Up method.

Among the younger writers whose talent developed through association with and influence from” fellow Cut Up originators William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Norse singles out Frenchman Claude Pélieu, whose Cut Ups were translated into English by Mary Beach, Carl Weissner, whose German translation of Beat Hotel first appeared in 1974, and Jeff Nuttall, “an English poet, prose-writer and painter, [who] used the technique to enrich a fertile imagination.”

off_beat_leaflet_web2Douglas Field generously offered a description of a letter from Harold included in the exhibit:

Norse and Nuttall corresponded in the 1960s, displaying a warmth and camaraderie. The exhibition displays a letter from Norse to Nuttall in 1965 where the American writer riffs on orange coloured paper, his missive a fine example of Norse’s inimitable surreal poetic prose that he would deploy in the Beat Hotel.

Saturday, after the débacle, i.e. anglo-American poetry conference,” Norse begins his letter, “doors guarded by US Marines—don’t worry boys, poetry ain’t dangerous here.” Norse appears on another letter, one written by the German translator and avant-garde writer, Carl Weissner, a close friend of Norse, and a collaborator with Nuttall. “Hope you dug Olé 5,” Norse scrawls at top of Weissner’s letter to Nuttall, in reference to a special issue of the magazine which featured Norse’s work.  Norse, as Nuttall recalled in Bomb Culture, was “on the wavelength,” a “formidable and adventurous” writer.

The John Rylands Library maintains a special collections blog that’s well worth a view. I particularly enjoyed a post by a computer science student from the University who designed innovative ways of mapping the connections between Nuttall and the wide variety of artists with whom he collaborated. These dynamic and artful compositions chart the extensive interactions that branched out from the Beat originators of Norse’s time to the burgeoning counter-culture generation of which Nuttall was certainly a ring master.

rylands2The Rylands Library is open seven days a week and admission is free. Their gift shop and café is a lovely, light filled space also deserving of a visit.

The Nuttall related material in their gift shop features a selection of Harold Norse publications including the recently published selected poems and the hard to find first issue of Bastard Angel magazine. This is a rare opportunity for travelers in England to purchase books by Harold Norse, yet another reason to not miss this incredible exhibition.

 

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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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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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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 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.
 

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Display of rare books by Harold Norse & Jack Micheline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Julia Chanler Laurin, Paris 1959

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

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

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Novelist James Jones who befriended Norse in Paris 1959

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

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

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

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More Press for Petaluma Reading

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

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

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

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Another Norse Review, Reading plus a Beat Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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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