Norse Correspondence in UK Exhibit; Centennial Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by William Childress 1974

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

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

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

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Norse Centennial Spotlight: Beyond Baroque

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

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

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

Thomas Livingston and Harold Norse in Vence, 1963

Thomas Livingston and Harold Norse in Vence, 1963

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harold Norse in LA with Anaïs Nin & Charles Bukowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold and Anaïs Nin Paris

Harold and Anaïs Nin in Paris ca. 1960

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

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

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

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

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