Harold Norse in LA with Anaïs Nin & Charles Bukowski

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

“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 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

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

Today 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

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

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

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

With multiple events scheduled for the same time, it was impossible to attend all the presentations one wanted to. Luckily, my brother Tate and I were able to film a number of them and that footage should be available online in the coming weeks. Of the presentations I’m most eager to watch are those with Gerd Stern who was a patient at Rockland Psychiatric Center with Ginsberg and Carl Solomon. These experiences would form the basis for Part III of Ginsberg’s poem HOWL.
L to R: Tate Swindell, Brian Hassett, Jerry Cimino, Gerd Stern, Levi Asher and James Stauffer, SF Beat Conference, July 28, 2015. Photo by Brian Hassett
L to R: Tate Swindell, Brian Hassett, Jerry Cimino, Gerd Stern, Levi Asher and James Stauffer, SF Beat Conference, July 28, 2015. Photo by Brian Hassett
Stern had been falsely accused by Allen Ginsberg of destroying the infamous “Joan Anderson” letter. Written by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac, the missing pages had become legendary in Beat history as Kerouac cited Cassady’s use of language as crucial inspiration in the writing of On The Road. The letter was discovered last year.
 
Stern was one of the founders of “USCO,” a group of artists, engineers and poets creating multi-media performances and environments which toured the U.S. museum and university venues during the sixties. He also was a friend and manager to composer and creator of musical instruments, Harry Partch. According to those in attendance, Stern spoke of the time he dated author and poet Maya Angelou.
 

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Display of rare books by Harold Norse & Jack Micheline

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

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

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Ginsberg in the back garden of Milvia Street Berkely Cottage, 1955, where Part II of Howl was completed.
I was stuck by how non-plussed Dr. Hicks was by this moment which he saw from an understated perspective. Such empathetic insight was extremely rare during a time when the establishment used psychiatry to discredit men caught expressing their same-sex desires. During the height of McCarthyism, it was possible for such established figures as politicians and prominent businessmen to be institutionalized and forcibly medicated. Even white, male privilege couldn’t protect them from electro-shock therapy where, too often, they were forgotten, abandoned and left to rot.

V Vale 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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California Will Sink

I woke up and looked around—

same old curtainless windows

torn shades thru which the sun

easily broke mornings. roaches romped

in brown paper sacks of garbage

and the pink fridge held

its hopeful vitamins

that would save me

from the smog and Food Conspiracy

and the dawn crept

across the windowsill

like a sick bum

and I thought: all this will change

and dressed and shaved and went down to the beach

and ran along the shore

nodding to the yogis in the lotus position

contemplating their acid navels

—the sun could not rise without their help—

and returned for lunch

and napped in the afternoon…

when I awoke it was evening.

 

I went down to the beach

and the whales were dying on the shore

and the sea lions perishing

and the fish uneatable

and the gulls choked with oil

and the plants withered

and the air brown

and the people irrelevant

victims of enterprise

denied, denied, denied

by the politician, the industrialist

and there was nothing I could do

but wait for the prophecy to be fulfilled:

California will sink overloaded with deathliness

into the Pacific

and what is the coast line now of many a land

will be the bed of the ocean…

the oceans are dying

all pollution goes to the sea

they are not dying of long hair and nudity

but the people cannot understand

they cannot draw sane conclusions

the people are sick

they have been too long poisoned

by lies, by flags, by slogans,

by counterfeit nourishment,

 

they do not know

they do not see

they are with the gull and the sagebrush,

the ocean and the spider,

the sky and the dove.

 

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Harold Norse & Jack Micheline at SF Beat Conference June 27

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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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.

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More Press for Petaluma Reading

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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Harold Norse Book Covers

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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Another Norse Review, Reading plus a Beat Conference

“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.

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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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We Salute Judith Malina- Actress, Playwright and Revolutionary

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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