April 1st…April Fool’s Day…Birthday of Ronnie Burk:
Surrealist Poet, Chicano, heretical AIDS activist, prophetic collage artist, Witch.
Ronnie Burk was a visionary creative force who participated in a dizzying number of political and artistic communities. As a student at Naropa University in the 1970s, he studied under Allen Ginsberg and Diane Di Prima. As a resident of the Lower East Side in the early 1980s, he associated with David Wojnarowicz and Tommy Turner and programmed the calendar at NUYORICAN Poet’s Cafe for Miguel Algarín.
In San Francisco in the 1990s, he protested alongside the two most fearless and feared HIV+ activists Michael Bellefountaine and David Pasquarelli. As a Surrealist poet, he called both Phillip Lamantia and Charles Henri Ford friends. As a Chicano artist, he associated with Ana Castillo and Miguel Piñero.
It was Ronnie who first introduced me to Harold Norse in 1999. One night at an ACT UP San Francisco meeting (we were both active members) he showed me a copy of Harold’s cut-up novel Beat Hotel, which I’d only read about but never seen.
When Ronnie died of complications from AIDS in 2003, memorials were held in the two cities he had called home: San Francisco and Manhattan.
It was at the NYC memorial that Ira Cohen read his tribute “Poem for Ronnie Burk” which was later printed in Ira’s chapbook Chaos and Glory. The accompanying video was recorded by Colin Hayle.
Ira Cohen, poet, photographer, filmmaker, magician, first met Harold Norse in Tangier in the early 1960s. It was Ira who first published Harold’s breakthrough cut-up text “Sniffing Keyholes” in his seminal publication Gnaoua.
It was also Ira who photographed Harold in his legendary Mylar Chamber. One of those images later graced the cover of Harold’s classic collection of gay themed poems Carnivorous Saint (Gay Sunshine Press, 1976).
The Mylar Chamber was a series of moveable wood panels covered in mylar which Ira used, in a loft on New York’s Jefferson Street, between 1968 to 1971 to create fantastical psychedelic images of his friends and visitors, such as Jack Smith, Angus MacLise and Vali Myers, dressed up in fanciful clothes and colorful makeup. A collection of these photographs, accompanied by an insightful essay by Ian Macfayden, was published in 2019 by Fulgur Press in the UK.
Among the many cultural contributions of ACT UP San Francisco, which included a pirate radio show, magazine publishing and a TV show, was a monthly poetry reading–OPEN REVOLT! Both Harold Norse and Ronnie Burk were featured poets at the first reading, on August 9, 2000, which was captured on film by the renowned archivist KUSH. At another reading in January 2001, Ronnie read from his review of an exhibition of Ira’s photographs. You can listen to a low-fi recording of it.
Sky*Boat, Ronnie’s selected poems and collages, was compiled and edited thanks to the dedicated work of his close friend and fellow writer Mia Kirsi Stageberg. It was published in 2012 by Kolourmeim Press.
To read more about his life, read my post at arteidolia.
To understand more about Ronnie’s impassioned AIDS activism, read my post at ACT UP Archives.
There remains an abundance of material from Ronnie’s archives which have yet to transfer to the digital realm. In the meantime, his poetry (like Harold’s) continues to guide and inspire us with his ferocious prophecy. Take his poem “Asoka” which can be heard at the clip below. This could be culled from the headlines of panic-stricken 2020.
As today marks the 103rd birthday of the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn, poet Harold Norse, a fantastic new book about the queer history of the New York City borough highlights Harold’s connection to his hometown during his formative years. I had the chance to speak with the author of When Brooklyn Was Queer, historian and writer Hugh Ryan, about his work.
Ryan has stated that when he moved to Brooklyn, he was surprised to discover its local library didn’t have a book that focused on the neighborhood’s queer history, so he set out to write one. When Brooklyn Was Queer is a monumental contribution to growing history of the varied and still little-known experiences of queer people before the advent of the modern gay rights movement.
Among the parts I found most significant about this book is the attention Ryan paid to experiences of gender non-conforming individuals and African-American women. Historically these voices have remained obscured, a reality compounded by the lack of traditional archive resources like photographs, correspondence and diaries. So it was that Hugh had to turn to sources such as newspapers, medical journals and police reports which were written by men who viewed queer people through the lens of criminality or mental illness– a fact that’s still too common in communities dominated by religious fundamentalism. I asked Hugh about the particular challenge.
I think I often had to sit with what was written on the page and, knowing it came from a very biased source, ask myself how were there other ways this scene could have been interpreted from someone else’s point of view. I can only work from the information I have, but can I try to unwind some of the assumptions that were made by these doctors and lawyers and judges? It does take a while and you have to read the things over and over again. For me what was important was highlighting the fact that I was doing that and why I was doing that, so anyone reading that could make their own decision about what I had decided. I didn’t want anyone to think I was making assumptions I couldn’t prove, but more to show possibility than a definite answer.
One particularly fascinating story features a young white trans women who went by the name Loop-the Loop after the popular Coney Island roller coaster. This glimpse into her story came from interviews given to a racist medical doctor whose report on Loop-the-Loop was published under the headline “The Biography of a Passive Pederast.”
This offensive report was part of the early twentieth-century eugenics movements which saw social problems as a result of unnatural behavior and genetics of those who weren’t white, heterosexual and Christian. Such psuedo-legitimacy of bigotry under the guise of medical science is a core feature of white supremacy.
Despite the doctor’s biased lens, Loop-the-Loop offers an interesting look into her world. She comes across as not only accepting of herself but defiantly comfortable with her sexuality. As an orphan without education, she worked as a prostitute on the Brooklyn streets around the time that Harold Norse was born.
Two of Harold’s early poetic inspirations Walt Whitman and Hart Crane are also prominently featured in the book, in particular their experiences around Brooklyn’s waterfront which was a site of teeming same-sex and gender nonconforming activity until its demise following World War II. Whitman and Crane had in common a poetry steeped in a mystical voice, one that was unabashedly romantic. Both poets offered Harold, born out of wedlock to an illiterate immigrant, an example of the transformative power of poetry and it was in their footsteps that he began not only to write poems but see himself as a poet.
Though today’s younger readers may struggle to appreciate Whitman’s work, particularly his exaltation of a uniquely American ideal, the issue of his sexuality is still challenging people’s assumptions about sexuality. As Ryan related to me when he was asked by a publication to create a list of 25 queer books that people should read during Pride month.
I included Walt Whitman on it. The editor said, “You should say something there about how there’s debate about his sexuality and no one’s sure that he’s [gay]– and I said,” Nope, there’s no debate. I’m not writing that.” She took it very well. She said, “I had no idea. It was in high school…” I said, “Yep, we all learned some version of that in high school.” It’s so much about getting this information out into the world so it’s easier for people to find it even if they are not taught it in school.
There’s a great deal to write about Harold Norse and Brooklyn but Ryan’s focus is on Harold when he was a student at Brooklyn College. The school had opened at the start of the Great Depression to offer a free education for all city high school graduates. Harold’s gift for language was quickly recognized and he soon became editor of the college literary magazine. It was at this time that he became friends and eventual lovers with another young Jewish boy named Chester Kallman. Harold would often reminisce about Chester as the great love of his love, though their relationship became contentious as Chester turned his attention to his the poet W.H. Auden with whom he became life long partners.
Brooklyn College was also significant in that it gave Harold his first sexual experience with another man thanks to his English-literature professor David McKelvey White. Harold’s version of the story is included in his autobiography Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, though Ryan’s book provides previously unknown information about David McKelvey White.
The son of the governor of Ohio, White grew up well-to-do and well educated. He was outspoken in his sexuality at the time as well as a member of the American Communist Party. He lived openly with his boyfriend who was also a Party member and a professor at Brooklyn College. It was White’s egalitarian politics, accentuated by the radicalism of the day, which led him to a teaching position less illustrious than what his patrician family would’ve hoped for. His time at the school was not long as White eventually left midsemster for Spain and joined the Loyalists as a machine gunner fighting against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco. Upon his return to the U.S.A. two years later, Brooklyn College refused to rehire him. He eventually took him own life in 1945.
Harold’s recollections of David McKelvey White show a man of great intellect and sensitivity and Harold enjoyed the attention of the older professor, who exposed him to art and culture and took him for swimming and fine meals at Brooklyn’s posh St. George Hotel. Even the story of Harold’s deflowering is one of an old school gentleman without the exploitive or predatory aspect that has come under widespread criticism in our era of the #MeToo movement.
Given that Harold and many of his friends who were also gay writers, such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Henri Ford, were known for their intimate relations with underage boys, I asked Ryan about how their experiences could co-exist with today’s changing views.
They lived in a very different time where people who understood their sexuality found each other at much younger ages, in certain ways the only people you could find when older where younger. It wasn’t like there were there were the gay storylines or knowledge there is today. I do think there’s a common part of the queer history that’s fallen out a little bit today.
I think it’s important that these things happened and this is what we know and learned from them, this is the experiences of these people. They don’t necessarily correlate with things today. We don’t know if Harold were a young person today whether he would end up with David McKelvey White. That’s impossible to know and I think it’s best to let them speak about their experiences and trust them as much as possible when Harold said it was a great experience for him.
Unfortunately my phone conversation with Hugh Ryan was cut short by a sudden rainstorm that’s a hallmark of summertime in New York City so we were unable to talk more, especially about Harold’s relationship with Auden whose connection to Brooklyn continued with the esteemed English poet’s residency at 7 Middagh Street which became a short lived queer arts commune. Known as the “February House” due to the winter birthdays of a number of it’s illustrious inhabitants that included writer Carson McCullers and composer Benjamin Britten and ballet and theater designer Oliver Smith.
Though you can learn more about their story and the vibrant, relevant queer history in When Brooklyn Was Queer available from St. Martin’s Press. Ryan’s next book will take a look at the Women’s House of Detention which used to be located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood whose inmates included Dorothy Day, Angela Davis and Harold’s good friend the poet and actress Judith Malina.
I know how much Harold would have loved reading Ryan’s book, not only appreciating the coverage of his own story but also the uncovering of hidden histories. There’s still so much to learn about the queer experience of the past and how it can contribute to the struggles we still face today.
A new anthology features an essay on the visual artwork created in the early 1960s when expatriate writers were living in Paris at the Beat Hotel. The Outlaw Bible of American Art is the final edition in a multi-volume series overseen by author Alan Kaufman, a good friend and admirer of Harold Norse. The series’ first volume which focused on poetry gave the Beat poet prominent exposure.
The latest anthology centers on visual art which has largely been ignored by the establishment. It’s a massive volume that rewards readers with introductions to artists and movements, from the post-WW II to the early 21st century, whose work challenged the complacency and commercialization of the art world. The book opens with Boris Lurie, the No!Art Movement and other New York based artists before moving to the visual art of Beat writers.
The photographs of Allen Ginsberg were exhibited several years ago at the National Gallery of Art and the paintings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti are familiar to anyone whose visited City Lights Bookstore. Kaufman’s anthology calls special attention to the work done at the Beat Hotel.
While the paintings of Brion Gysin have been exhibited in many venues and William Burroughs’ visual works were the subject of a 1996 exhibit, the Cosmograph paintings made by Harold Norse are relatively unknown, though several were featured in the Whitney Museum’s 1995 exhibit Beat Culture and the New America 1950–1965.
An essay co-authored by myself and my brother Tate, of Unrequited Records, offers a succinct overview of different artists who lived at the inexpensive, dingy hotel on Paris’ Left Bank where the Cut Up approach to literature was developed. Following an accidental cutting of paper by Gysin, Burroughs and Norse joined in the experiment of cutting up text to create new forms of communication beyond the rational. The essay begins…
“The Beat Hotel has been rightfully enshrined as one of the preeminent sources of avant garde art of the Post-war era. The cut-up method developed at the Hotel acted as a precursor for the radical changes in the way we receive and understand media, from the fast editing of MTV videos of the 1980s to today’s world of texting and social media. Yet little attention has been paid to the visual art created during this fertile time.”
Under the influence of hashish, Norse threw pigment onto coarse paper which was then rinsed in a bidet. These proto-psychedelic works of startling color revealed undiscovered psychic terrains and were singled out by Burroughs who wrote an introduction to an exhibit of the paintings at the Librairie Anglaise that was featured in Life magazine. From Burroughs introduction…
“Poetry is a place. The drawings of Harold Norse map a place. And anyone can go there who will make the necessary travel arrangements. Poetry is for everyone. Painting is for everyone. Harold Norse reached the place of his pictures by a special route which he is now prepared to reveal so that others can travel there.”
– William Burroughs on Harold Norse’s Cosmographs
The essay concludes with the following paragraph:
“While the influence of literary cut-ups continued to be seen in popular culture, from David Bowie’s use of cut-ups on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs to Thom Yorke selecting lyrics at random for Radiohead’s album Kid A in 2000, the visual art produced at the Beat Hotel remains unjustly neglected. Hopefully future scholars will find interest in these dusty gems from a forgotten time of vibrant North American expatriate activity.”
Reading The Outlaw Bible of American Art was like looking through a creative genealogy where I was reacquainted with artists who had influenced me while introducing artists previously unknown to me, but with whom I felt recognition. It also exposes readers to regional movements such as the Cleveland based artists like D.A. Levy and T.L. Kryss.
One artist I was surprised to not know of is Ben Morea, considering his early alliance with Allen Ginsberg, the Living Theater and the radical arts movement of New York City’s Lower East Side. Harold Norse was involved with the creation of the Living Theater and remained close with its founders Julian Beck and Judith Malina.
With the Becks, Morea joined in serving free food to the poor with Dorothy Day and the radical activists at the Catholic Worker, along with their protests against nuclear warfare. These experiences are documented in Judith Malina’s diaries published in 1984 by Grove Press.
By the mid-1960s, Morea along with Ron Hahne began producing the broadsheet/zine Black Mass whose title was inspired by the rising movement of black intellectuals and radicals. It’s provocative text and cut-and-paste aesthetic echoed the work of The Situationists and looked forward to zine-based movements such as Homocore and Riot Grrl.
The publication’s outreach led to establishing the anti-consumerist Free Stores, where people were able to obtain basic goods without currency, which later morphed into the underground anarchist affinity group Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.
Among the anthology’s most extensive essays are those about writer, artist and filmmaker David Wojnarowicz. Best known for his searing narrative memoir Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, Wonjarowicz’s writing takes off where Herbert Huncke and William Burroughs left off.
His sexually provocative writing differed from that of L.A. novelist John Rechy in that Wonjarowicz did not shy away from the political reality of gay oppression. Later he became an active member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power- ACT UP NY.
Wojnarowicz’s visual work defies easy classification. The work varies in format from sculpture, paintings, to stencils, collage and installation. He collaborated with other artists including a series of photographs taken in 1980s New York City with Wojnarowicz wearing a mask of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. He also collaborated with filmmaker Tommy Turner on the unfinished Super 8mm film Where Evil Dwells.
Among the imagery associated with Wojnarowicz’s visual art are children and houses sprouting flames, canvases and bodies covered in maps with their pastel colored countries contrasting with the blue of the oceans, metallic machinery, bugs and serpents, as well as Christian iconography.
His use of sexually explicit (though unapologetic may be a more apt description) homoerotic imagery brought controversy when the hateful and hate-filled conservative group Focus on the Family targeted Wojnarowicz’s participation in an exhibit which received government funding. Though this brought his work into the larger focus of the culture wars of the Reagan and Bush years, his response differed from apolitical gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in that Wojnarowicz fought back. He sued Focus on the Family for misappropriating his imagery in the group’s fundraising material and successfully won an injunction.
While there are a number of worthy artists not included in The Outlaw Bible of American Art, such a collection can never encompass all those who deserve further attention. Alan Kaufman is to be commended for publishing his own extensive curation. Here’s hoping there’s more recognition for the many neglected American artists whose vital work remains hidden. This post will end with some additional works included in the anthology: Winston Smith, Steve Dalachinsky and Jeff Kramm.
Author and Beat biographer Hilary Holladay has been doing her part to bring more attention to the poetry of Harold Norse. As mentioned earlier this year, Hilary’s interview with writer and publisher Jan Herman highlighted his friendship with Harold. Hilary recently interviewed me about Harold Norse, his relationship with Allen Ginsberg, Bastard Angel magazine and my editing of the selected edition of Harold’s poems. You can read the complete interview at hilaryholladay.com.
“Without Harold, the Beats would not have such a rich international dimension. He lived in Paris in the late 1950s and traveled widely. We read often of New York City and San Francisco, but a great deal of the Beats’ influence came out of what happened in Paris, Tangier, and the Greek Islands, and Harold was part of that scene.”
“Harold embraced his Jewish heritage when the Nazis rose to power. Also, he saw how prejudice arose from baseless stereotypes whether it was blacks, queers, or Jews. For instance, Harold—muscular, hairy, butch—was never suspected of being queer. His swarthy complexion and upturned nose could have him pegged as anything from Italian to English to German.”
I highly recommend Hilary’s biography Herbert Huncke: The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Huncke’s pivotal role in connecting Beat writers with narcotics and criminality has sadly overshadowed the magnificence of his writings. Though he never published as much as his friends Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, Herbert was able to convey the sordid tales of those he knew with a rare empathy, which is the essence of Beat literature.
Leslie Winer has been contributing her passion and creativity to Huncke’s estate with the elegant website Huncke Tea Company. I highly recommend perusing their SoundCloud page where you can listen to recordings of Huncke reading along with Leslie’s contemporary interpretations of Herbert’s writings spoken in her dry yet winsome voice. She is currently recording a series of Huncke stories, notebook entries & letters put to some new music co-written with & produced by Christophe Van Huffel which will soon be released on vinyl.
Last year Sloow Tapes began publishing broadsides with eye catching graphics on the front and poetry on the back of A5 size paper. Sloow Tapes Broadside #11 was released last month featuring Harold’s poem “Wise to its Poisoned Condition.” Here’s what Bart had to say about the broadside,
“Between 1960 and 1963 Norse lived in Paris with William Burroughs and Gregory Corso in the hotel in the Latin Quarter known as the “Beat Hotel”. Although initially wary of the Beat writers’ literary credentials, Norse collaborated with Brion Gysin on the cut-up technique and was briefly an acclaimed painter of ink drawings soaked in the hotel bidet, known as Cosmographs. Norse described himself as a “lone-wolf” and he refused to join the pack, at some cost. In many ways he was more “Beat” than the Beats: Jewish, illegitimate, homosexual.
Norse was an outsider who quietly produced some startling and technically accomplished verse from the fringes of the US literary scene. ‘Wise to Its Poisoned Condition’ is an unpublished poem written at the time he lived at the Beat Hotel and illustrated with a mylar portrait by Ira Cohen.”
I just received some copies of the broadside and it is a truly beautiful artifact. The psychedelic photograph was from a series of pictures Ira took of Harold in the early 1970s when he was photographing everyone from Jack Smith to Jimi Hendrix in his mylar chamber.
A black-and-white version of that photograph was used for the cover of Harold’s 1976 anthology of gay poems Carnivorous Saint. It was also featured on the back cover of Harold Norse Of Course…, the double vinyl record release of Harold’s 1984 poetry reading in Amsterdam available from Unrequited Records. This collector’s item is sure to be snapped up in no time, so make sure you procure a copy at this link.
“Harold Norse’s poetry was very much expatriate poetry,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti said. “It was the voice of alienation from modern consumer culture.”
As this week marks the seventh anniversary (June 8, 2009) of the death of Harold Norse–visionary Beat poet, progenitor of gay liberation and oracle of the American Idiom–it’s a fitting time to look back at some of the obituaries published in the weeks after he spoke his last words on this mortal coil, “The end is the beginning.”
The New York Times obituary described him as a poet who “broke new ground beginning in the 1950s by exploring gay identity and sexuality in a distinctly American idiom relying on plain language and direct imagery.” Featuring a great photo Harold taken in 1973 by Neil Hollier, the obit included this quote from Harold’s good friend Neeli Cherkovski:
“Harold was one of the pre-eminent rebel poets of our time,” the San Francisco poet Neeli Cherkovski said. “He was someone who smashed conventions, like Ginsberg, and broke through to what he called a new rhythm, writing the way he talked, using the voices of the street. He also gave voice to homosexuality early on.”
The Los Angeles Times obituary described Norse as a “mentor or peer to many of the greatest talents in 20th century American literature, including Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski” who “was unabashed about being homosexual and poured his experiences into poems that reflected anger, sadness and pride.”
The accompanying photograph of Harold was taken in the kitchen of his apartment at 157 Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District by Norse’s old friend Ginsberg. This time the quote came from Lawrence Ferlinghetti who published Harold’s book Hotel Nirvana in 1974 as part of City Lights Books prestigious Pocket Poets Series.
“He was essentially an expatriate voice in American poetry,” said Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and bookseller who published a volume of Norse’s poems in the mid-1970s. “He had an original voice because he ventriloquized what a lot of other poets were saying. . . . He could sound in one poem like T.S. Eliot . . . or in another poem like William Burroughs.”
Along with William Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris, Douglas is co-chairing next month’s European Beat Studies Network conference in Manchester, where I will be presenting a talk about Harold’s participation in the development of Cut Ups at the Beat Hotel where he lived in the early 1960s.
The San Francisco Chronicle also ran an obituary with the following quote:
“I consider him one of the best poets there was,” said A.D. Winans, a poet and friend. “He was very congenial, very educated. He was also funny. He could hypnotize you with all these stories about the great writers he knew.”
Another of Harold’s poet friends was Andrei Codrescu whose Exquisite Corpse featured two tributes from poet and publisher Eddie Woods.
Closing out this post is an obituary written by myself and Jim Nawrocki who will be part of the Beat Museum event on July 9.
Harold Norse, whose poetry earned both wide critical acclaim and a large, enduring popular following, died on Monday, June 8, 2009, in San Francisco, just one month before his 93rd birthday. Norse, who lived in San Francisco for the last thirty five years, had a prolific, international literary career that spanned 70 years. His collected poems were published in 2003 under the title In the Hub of the Fiery Force, and he continued to read publicly into his 90s, bringing his work to new generations.
Born in 1916 to an illiterate, unwed mother, Harold Norse’s natural gift for language, influenced from the varied dialects of his surroundings, led to a boyhood interest in writing that blossomed into a rich, peripatetic life that he documented in an innately American poetic idiom.
Like Walt Whitman, Norse was a Brooklyn native. He came of age during the Depression, an experience that significantly shaped his voice and endeared him to a varied audience of underdogs and the persecuted. Beginning in 1934, he attended Brooklyn College, where he met and became the lover of Chester Kallman. In 1939, when W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood gave their first reading in America, Norse and Kallman were in the front row winking flirtatiously at the famous writers. Harold soon became Auden’s personal secretary, a role he filled until Kallman and Auden became lovers.
During the 1940s, Norse lived in Greenwich Village and was an active participant in both the gay and literary undergrounds. His close friends at the time included James Baldwin, who was a teenager when he met Norse in 1942. A close friend of Julian Beck and Judith Malina, he was integral in the early foundation of The Living Theater. In the summer of 1944 Norse was introduced to Tennessee Williams in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the two shared a summer cabin while Williams completed the manuscript for The Glass Menagerie.
Abandoning his doctoral work in English in 1953, Norse sailed to Italy, spending the next fifteen years traveling across Europe and North Africa. Living in Rome, Naples, and Florence, Norse immersed himself in the classical culture that had survived the two World Wars. He found a mentor and friend in William Carlos Williams, who encouraged the younger poet to move away from the classical poetics of academia and explore the poetic possibilities of the spoken word of the American streets. The complete correspondence of Norse and Williams, titled The American Idiom, was published in 1990.
Harold’s travels continued in the 1960s, bringing him to Tangier, where he consorted with Paul and Jane Bowles, Ira Cohen, and Mel Clay. In 1959 he traveled to Paris, settling into the infamous Beat Hotel. Through friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident Gregory Corso, Harold met William S. Burroughs then Brion Gysin. It was Norse who introduced Ian Sommerville to Burroughs as the group experimented with the cut-up method of writing. His collection of writing from that period was published in English as a cut-up novella, The Beat Hotel, in 1983.
From Paris Norse moved onward to Greece and Hydra, where he reconnected with the poet Charles Henri Ford, a friend from Greenwich Village days, and smoked pot with the then unknown poet Leonard Cohen. Harold also spent time in Switzerland, Germany, and England. During this time he maintained a close correspondence with Charles Bukowski, who affectionately referred to Norse as “Prince Hal, Prince of Poets.” In 1969 he edited Penguin Modern Poets 13 featuring Norse, Philip Lamantia and, in his first major international exposure, Bukowski.
In 1969, gravely ill from hepatitis, Norse repatriated to Venice, California where he was met by Bukowski and the young poet Neeli Cherkovski. He enjoyed the social freedom and political activism of the hippy era, so presciently voiced in his writing, which breathed new life into his body and work. Harold also reconnected with Jack Hirschman (the two had spent time together in Greece during Norse’s expatriate years) as well as Anais Nin who first mentored the Brooklyn born poet in the early 1950s when Norse’s first book was published. Recovering his health, Harold became a vegetarian and a body builder at Gold’s Gym along with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In 1972 Norse moved to San Francisco, ultimately settling in the Albion Street cottage he would occupy for the next thirty years. The 1970s were a productive and fulfilling time for Harold as the personal and sexual liberty he had lived clandestinely now became the cultural norm. City Lights Books published a collection of poems tilted Hotel Nirvana in 1974. It was nominated for a National Book Award. Carnivorous Saint, published in 1977, was an historic collection of poetry that covered Norse’s gay erotic experience from World War II through the Gay Liberation. During this period Harold was a habitué of North Beach coffee houses where he often connected with fellow poet Bob Kaufman.
Norse’s autobiography, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, was published in 1989 to international acclaim. Chronicling his rich life at the cutting edge of twentieth-century literary arts, Norse’s memoirs were republished in 2002. A National Poetry Association Award was bestowed upon him in 1991. At over 600 pages, his collected poems–In the Hub of the Fiery Force–was published in 2003 During his final years, Norse continued to live in his cottage in San Francisco’s gritty Mission District, continually reworking his poems, giving readings, and corresponding with admirers from around the world.
City Lights Books recently published the final edition in their popular set of pocket travel guides about Beat writers. The Beats Abroad, A Global Guide to the Beat Generation completes the previous installments for New York City, San Francisco and America at large. The series was written by Bill Morgan who is best known as biographer and bibliographer for Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
In recent years Bill has brought some overdue attention to lesser celebrated participants in Beat literature. His edition of Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words appeared in 2014. Drawn from journals, correspondence, poems and photographs, this the most comprehensive collection of Orlovsky’s writings in print and the closest we can come to reading Peter’s own story.
In The Beats Abroad, Bill Morgan has added Harold Norse to the list of those Beat writers meriting further attention. The Bastard Angel of Brooklyn pops up a number of times in the book with his own entries for Italy, France and Greece. Though Harold lived in many other countries during his fifteen years abroad, it was in those three countries where some of his most significant work was written.
When he left America in 1953, Harold headed straight to Italy where he spent the next five years. Following a brief stint dubbing American films into Italian, Harold survived on minimal stipends from benefactors that were supplemented by the occasional job teaching English. While in Rome, he translated Italian poets from the pornographic verse of the Classical poet Catullus to the 19th Century anti-papal Roman sonnets of Giuseppe Gioanchino Belli.
The translations success was due to Harold’s use of his native Brooklyn vernacular to convey the essence of Roman dialect. A selection of then were published in 1960 with an introduction by Harold’s mentor William Carlos Williams.
While living in Rome, Norse would often drink coffee at Rosati’s on the Piazza del Popolo with poet, filmmaker and fellow boy lover Pier Paolo Pasolini. One can only imagine the lively conversations shared between these two visionary queer artists.
The Beats Abroad also includes a snapshot of Harold’s apartment in Naples on Via Posillipo, which Morgan described as “what might have been the most spectacular view that any Bear writer ever enjoyed: a panorama of the city, a view of the bay and Mount Vesuvius were all visible from his perch on the side of a cliff.” It was while living in Naples that Harold wrote one of his most famous poems “Classic Frieze in a Garage“.
After Italy, Harold traveled to Paris. Upon the recommendation of Gregory Corso, he took a room at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin Quarter. Known as the Beat Hotel, its dingy but inexpensive rooms provided residence over the years to a number of Beat writers including Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and Norse.
It was there that painter Brion Gysin first discovered the Cut Up method. One day, cutting a matte for a painting, Gysin sliced through a stack of newspapers and discovered startling phrases which appeared from the reordered sections.
William Burroughs was quick to pick up on this innovation which followed upon the shuffled order of sequences in his recently published, and recently banned, novel Naked Lunch. Harold was a significant participant in Cut Ups and his story “Sniffing Keyholes” was singled out by Burroughs and Gysin as a key breakthrough.
Norse’s surviving Cut Ups were eventually published in English as the novella Beat Hotel in 1983. Its first appearance was a 1974 German translation by Carl Weissner with collages by Norman Mustill. It remains the only book composed entirely at the hotel. Selections from Harold’s experiments with reel-to-reel tape recorders at the Beat Hotel were released on cassette by Bart De Paepe’s Sloow Tapes in Belgium under the title Take a Chance In The Void: Harold Norse’s Beat Hotel Recordings.
When the Beat Hotel shuttered its doors in 1963, Harold headed to the Greek Islands and this is where The Beats Abroad logs its final Norse entries. Harold’s first stop was Athens where he found a small apartment just below the Acropolis. Living nearby was the poet Charles Henri Ford whom Harold had known from their Greenwich Village days in the 1940s.
From Athens, Harold periodically traveled to other islands including Poros, Crete, Madouri and Hydra. It was while residing on Hydra that Harold first met the poet and translator Jack Hirschman and the Princess Zina Rachevsky.
As relayed in his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, Harold acted as a mentor for a then unknown Canadian folk singer named Leonard Cohen. He was inspired to write after reading Norse’s “Sniffing Keyholes” which made a big impression on the young writer.
The Cut Up story’s bold approach to sexuality and language inspired Cohen to a burst of writing. Fueled by amphetamines and fasting, he created material which eventually became hiss second novel Beautiful Losers.
Though the sun, the sea and the boys all served to inspire Harold’s poetry, some of it published in 1966 as Karma Circuit, he ended up contracting hepatitis on the island then endemic amongst the expatriate community. Harold’s health flagged for the next couple years, precipitating his return to the United States in 1969.
For some years, David S. Wills has made Beatdom an essential resource and outlet for the varied participants of Beat arts and literature, along with the subsequent generations who’ve taken inspiration from them. Though names like Kerouac and Ginsberg catch readers’ attention, there remains a wealth of experience to be shared. An interview with writer and activist Amiri Baraka from 2013 is an excellent example.
My extensive essay “Harold Norse– the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn” has just been posted to Beatdom. You can read it here. As the current print edition of Beatdom focuses on politics, my piece takes a look at the ways in which Harold’s connection to gay liberation and environmental destruction were expressed in his work.
Unlike his contemporary Allen Ginsberg, Harold was more observer than participant in social movements. Though he was politically enlightened, the distance created by his outsider status as an illegitimate child and queer imbued his work with a voice both empathetic and prescient.
One of the reasons Norse’s work connects with today’s new generation of poetry lovers is the prescient nature of his voice – its observations of gay liberation and environmental destruction. These topics are echoed in his critiques of racism, war, and animal abuse. For Harold, the sexual drive is connected to our animalistic origins, its expression growing from childhood, before repression by religious brainwashing. His poetry demonstrates this universal truth through his rich knowledge of history and literature; he reflected contemporary culture as changing little from the impulses of Classical Greece and Rome.
In addition to posting online essays, Beatdom publishes an annual literary journal as well as operating its own press. Some of the titles include Wills’ Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ which takes a look at Burroughs’ involvement in the controversial movement and the ways it affected his writing.
Burroughs’ interest in Scientology coincided with his exploration of Cut Up writing, which viewed language as a virus of control, and directly influenced his novels The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. More than a passing interest, this key period in Burroughs literary development has, until now, been ignored by the majority of Burroughs scholarship.
Another Beatdom book worth reading is Marc Olmsted’s Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg. Olmsted was first fan, then lover and then a student of Allen’s and this collection of letters and his memoir is a much welcomed addition to better understanding the influence Ginsberg’s had on the generation of writers and artists who followed the Beats.
The book inclusion of photographs and copies of correspondence give the collection the feel of mimeograph press where many Beat writers were published in the 1960s. Harold Norse also makes an appearance in Marc’s story. In the coming months, I’ll post a more thorough review of the book, but for now I strongly recommend Don’t Hesitateto those interested in expanding their knowledge of Ginsberg’s biography.
In the meantime, you can take a look at my report back from last summer’s Beat Conference in San Francisco where Marc presented a talk about Ginsberg and other Beat writers who influenced him including William Burroughs and Charles Plymell.
Beatdom has also added an announcement about the Harold Norse Centennial events coming up this summer, along with a plug for the Norse book sale fundraiser, now in its final days. Look forward to more Norse material at Beatdom in the coming future.
The most recent issue of UK based Beat Scene features a lengthy piece about Harold Norse’s magazine Bastard Angel. Though it only ran for three issues in the early 1970s, Bastard Angel is remembered as an eclectic mix of writers and artists from the earlier generation of Beat writers to then up and coming authors.
Harold founded the magazine shortly after his arrival in San Francisco in 1971. Energized by the city’s poetry scene and his contact with a younger generation of authors, Harold wanted an outlet for these creative voices. The title Bastard Angel was something of an avatar for the bard from Brooklyn, who never knew his birth father.
The image to the left is an excellent example of the magazine’s mixture of collage and poetry, in this case Harold’s ode to Cut Up progenitor Kurt Schiwtters. The vibrant layout of the publication added to its attraction. Harold had also been inspired by the underground publications he read while living in Venice Beach including the L.A. Free Press and John Bryan’s Open City.
To gather material, Harold was able to draw for his associations with writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Gerard Malanga, Julian Beck, Judith Malina and Diane Di Prima—and that’s just the short list!
But it wasn’t only writers form the early Beat days who made the editorial cut, as Harold welcomed the voices of rising talent like Neeli Cherkovski, Andrei Codrescu, Erica Horn and Adrian Brooks. The gathering of seasoned and emerging voices is part of what made the magazine so strong.
A major coup was the inclusion of what I believe to be previously unpublished poems that were provided by Allen Ginsberg. The poet Jack Hirschman translated a long poem by French author Jen Genet by using alexandrian lines. The magazine also featured literary reviews and correspondence.
Bastard Angel’s final issue, No. 3, coincided with a major exhibition on the Beats at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum. Though the publication proved to very popular, finding a home inside libraries and universities, its success was also part of its downfall. Like with most creative endeavors, funding was an ongoing concern. Ultimately Harold’s poetry work took precedence as he began work on many poems in the mid-1970s which are among his strongest.
As momentum builds for Harold’s 100th birthday this summer, it’s fitting that Bastard Angel should take flight once again. Stay tuned for more updates about the Norse Centennial celebrations including an online book sale of rare and out of print Harold Norse books. In future posts, I’ll delve more into the Bastard Angel archives but, in the mean time, here’s the article from Beat Scene, with thanks to Kevin Ring. Click on the images to enlarge them to reading size.
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.”
The 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.
“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.”
Harris 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.
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).
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.
Following the recent mention of Harold Norse’s correspondence with Charles Bukowski in TheNew York Times, the latest review of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse is now available online at International Times– the newspaper of resistance.
This fantastic review was penned by Harold’s good friend the poet Jack Foley, who has been doing a great job lately of shinning a light on Harold’s poetry. Yesterday the first half of his two part radio show, Cover to Cover, a weekly fixture on KPFA, 94.1 FM, was dedicated to Norse and featured excerpts from a 1991 interview that Jack recorded with Harold. The concluding episode will air Sept. 9th at 3:30 PM. The show is continually available online at this link.
Talisman House Publishers has recently published I’m Going to Fly Through Glass, a new Selected Poems by Harold Norse. Lovingly edited by Todd Swindell and with an introduction by Neeli Cherkovski, it’s an excellent passageway into the work of a man admired by writers as diverse as James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski. The cover of I’m Going to Fly Through Glass features a remarkable 1938 photograph of the young poet executing a balletic leap, a tour jeté en l’air. I’m sure it’s the hope of Todd Swindell that Harold Norse’s reputation will perform a similar leap because of this book.
Not only a wonderful review of the book, it’s a thoughtful appreciation of Harold’s life. Furthermore Jack’s piece, which is more of an essay in length, provides an insight to the reasons Harold’s work has been unjustly neglected in the continued examination of 20th Century poetics, particularly among Beat poets.
Shouldn’t there be a place for a man who, in Auden’s phrase, spent his life in “writing well”? Isn’t it the point of magazines like The American Poetry Review (APR) to direct readers towards the little known, the careful, caring writers who kept the flame alive but who never used it to burn anything down? May Todd Swindell’s carefully-edited libellus (“little book,” as Catullus put it) bring Harold the readers his work deserves.
Founded in London in 1966, International Times was part of the radical underground press in England through the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Among its contributors were poet and social commentator Jeff Nuttall along with Harold’s friends and fellow Beat writers William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Among its editors were Mike Lesser, Chris Sanders, the poet Eddie Woods (another of Harold’s close friends) along with poet, actor and dramatist Heathcote Williams who continues the paper online, including a complete digital archive of its earlier issues.
I’m grateful to Heathcote Williams and the staff of International Times for highlighting the vibrant life and work one of America’s under appreciated poets- Harold Norse.
After 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.
This 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 Blues, which 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.
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 poetryentitled Atonal Riff-Tunes to a Tone-Deaf Borderguard 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:
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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 & 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.
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!
Poet 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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!
“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
For 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.
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.
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.
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.
I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse has received its first write up thanks to the Allen Ginsberg Project. The project, an extension of the Ginsberg estate, features regular updates on all things related to Allen Ginsberg. As richly described in Harold’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, he first met a teenage Allen Ginsberg on a deserted, late night New York subway in 1944.
Featuring a cornucopia of photos and web links, the post will hopefully bring some new admirers to Harold’s work. We’re grateful to Peter Hale and Simon Pettet for their accolades to haroldnorse.com and encourage you to visit the Allen Ginsberg Project often.
On the occasion of what would have been Harold Norse’s 98th birthday, I have a couple video clips to share after stumbling upon on a Greek YouTube page dedicated to poetry. I’m not aware of the source for these rare clips of Harold interviewed in the side room of his back cottage on Albion Street, where he lived in San Francisco’s Mission district.
The first clip shows Harold talking about the influence of William Carlos Williams on the development of his mature poetic voice. Williams encouraged him to move away from academic poetry and instead follow the spoken language that Harold heard on the streets of his native Brooklyn. Williams called it the American Idiom, which served as the title for the collection of their correspondence.
The clip closes with Harold recounting his first meeting with a then teenage Allen Ginsberg on a deserted, late night New York subway. The full story is descriptively conveyed in Norse’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel.
In the second clip, Harold reads his famous poem “At the Café Trieste,” composed at the North Beach landmark. Having recently repatriated from fifteen years in Europe and North Africa, Harold describes his return to the West Coast poetry scene from the timeless perspective of the poet.
While your at mpakana’s channel check out some more of the amazing poetry footage including extremely rare clips of North Beach’s great poet Bob Kaufman.