Harold Norse’s 102nd Birthday; Remembering Poet Jim Nawrocki

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Today marks the 102nd birthday of Harold Norse whose gutsy and ground breaking poetry in the American vernacular continues to inspire and inform generations of readers. Among those readers was the talented San Francisco poet Jim Nawrocki who died on May 31st of this year.

Jim Nawrocki interviewing Harold Norse

SF poet Jim Nawrocki reads from the work of his friend Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Jim was a highly talented writer whose poetry appeared in A&U Magazine and Empty Mirror and he also regularly contributed essays and reviews to the Gay & Lesbian Review.

He first encountered Harold’s work in 2002 while writing book reviews for San Francisco LGBT newspaper the Bay Area Reporter. Harold’s scintillating Memoirs of a Bastard Angel were republished that year by Thunder’s Mouth Press and it brought Jim into Harold’s life and work as it has for many readers, both gay and straight.

Jim was instrumental in assisting Harold with compiling his life’s work for what became In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems 1934-2003. This was no small feet, as Jim recounted during an event at North Beach’s Beat Museum celebrating Norse’s 100th birthday. Harold had often described himself not only as a writer but a re-writer. Jim would often arrive at the aged poet’s Albion Street cottage for a day’s work only to discover Harold was more interested in revising a decades old poem instead of focusing on the gargantuan task of assembling the manuscript.

Jim was himself an immensely talented poet. When he was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago, Jim continues writing poems that captured much of the hope and despair that surrounds our time. Three of those poems, called The Joy Sequence, were published online at the literary journal The New Engagement. Two final poems, The Hex Shank and Moby, were posthumously published online at IDK magazine.

The Joy Sequence by Jim Nawrocki

Love

Love lives at the corner
of Prince Street and Broadway
amid dishrag air and the shrill of renovation
where the beverage cart man
pushes annoyance across the heat
and a father leans toward his boy
in a shadowed doorway.

I carry a copy, just bought,
of Islamic mystical poetry,
entreaties to a God impatient,
a God unseen, a stolid God who sits
as each new day sends up its tendrils
of prayer.

Down here in the throng
youth blazes towards us
and I tell you it’s okay as it passes
incarnate along these brown boards
that skirt gaping holes of excavation
where sun sears old pipes and the scurry
of displaced rats, and we know we’re as old
as we’ve ever been.

I’ll take this year and its tentativeness.

I’ll read Rumi in the clouds
as we fly out from this city
into the all-too-shallow pool
of blue and pollution
far above the absent towers
and new ones trying for heaven.

Love is our arc across the continent
over states we imagine empty.
Love is all the furrowed rows of seed.
Love is each little pearled light
nudging across the crooked, worried quilt
that is the land’s darkness.

Lifeline

Nothing reached me except
a death sentence and doubt.

I knew that black cables
pulse on the bottom of the ocean

crossing the great darkness
between the continents

with voices other than mine,
a multitude of ambition and hunger.

I crumbled against a wall of transit
and cried

amid all that thundering on
toward silence.

And then the tunnel
opened into a muted daylight,

peaked rooftops under
a sky pewtered with ribbons and rain.

My dead mother and father
surfaced in memory, each one

looking down with me
at the tableaux of their last beds

and last days. Their faces said:
It won’t be the same for you.

On my way home, I passed torn-open
garbage bags, sidewalks of flotsam.

We make such bright things
and hope.

Spills of green glass,
recent plunders, crunched underfoot.

I stood at the bleak intersection,
the bottom of the hill that looks up

to the sky’s emerging canvas of blue.
A sugared white moon hung, traced there

almost like a whisper:
There are other worlds than this.

Autobiography

A coverless book at the edge of the yard.

It must be winter and it must be at the margins

of what I know.

A biting wind turns the gray pages

without looking at them.

And of course, the wind cannot see,

at least not in this poem.

This book holds all of my rooms.

It holds those days that rose up

and pushed their obstinacy

like a cold car working along a path

plowed through deep snow.

I had my secrets; so did you.

Mom, there you are, staring

through me, out the window.

Dad, there’s you, years later,

standing secretly outside

my closed bedroom door, straining

to hear the music I fed myself

when I thought I was alone.

SF poet Jim Nawrocki reads from the work of his friend Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Among the many gifts that friendship with Harold Norse offered me was the continued opportunity to connect with other talented authors such as Jim.

I’m grateful for the friendship he and I shared through a mutual appreciation of gay history along with a colorful postal correspondence. (Jim had a knack for finding the best notecards.) It’s a testament to Harold Norse’s legacy that his poetry continues to illuminate the life path for many of us who encounter his life and work.

This post closes with a clip of Jim reading one of Harold’s most celebrated poems, “I’m Not a Man.” This video was recorded on Dec. 3, 2014 at Bird and Beckett Books during a poetry reading to celebrate the release of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: Selected Poems of Harold Norse.

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Celebrating Harold Norse’s 99th Birthday

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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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Neeli Cherkovski on His Friendship with Harold Norse

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Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

One of the highlights from the first release event for I Am Going to Fly Through Glass was the opportunity to listen to Neeli Cherkovski share stories from his forty year friendship with fellow poet Harold Norse. From their start of their friendship, palling around with Bukowski in Los Angeles in the late 1960s to Harold helping Neeli come out as a gay man in mid–1970s San Francisco, their relationship as friends and fellow poets continued to blossom through their grey years. Here’s a clip of Neeli talking about those times.

Poets Neeli Cherkovski & Harold Norse in the basement of City Lights following the publication of Norse's Hotel Nirvana in the Pocket Poets Series. Photo by Raymond Foye.

Poets Neeli Cherkovski & Harold Norse in the basement of City Lights following the publication of Norse’s Hotel Nirvana in the Pocket Poets Series. Photo by Raymond Foye.

In 1968 Harold returned from fifteen years in Europe to Venice, CA where he was met by a young Neeli and his friend Charles Bukowski. Neeli shared a great story of the three of them out to dinner one night.  Carnivores Neeli and Bukowski were chowing down on t-bone steaks while Harold noshed on a salad. Bukowski’s competitive nature edged him to growl at Harold, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you eat like a man?” Harold. still chewing his salad, replied in his Brooklyn accent, “Let’s see who lives longer.” Neeli’s summation–– “Needless to say it was my dear friend.” Neeli wrote a poem about Harold’s survival as an elder poet titled “Slicing Avocados” where Harold advises “you have to eat like a rabbit/in order to survive.” More of these wonderful anecdotes are included in Neeli’s brilliant introduction to the new collection of Harold’s poetry.

IdiomHFMAfter Walt Whitman, one of the greatest influences on both Neeli and Harold was William Carlos Williams whose poetry broke from academic convention to celebrate common American speech. In the early 1950s, Williams singled out Harold amongst the upcoming Beat poets and acted as a mentor, encouraging him to write in the American idiom. Their correspondence was collected and later published under that title. It remains an insightful document worth searching out. In this last clip Neeli reads, from the selected edition, Harold’s poem “William Carlos Williams” which he characterizes as “one of the greatest tributes from one poet to another.”

 

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Norse Selected Poems Stocked in Bay Area Bookstores

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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

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Let me start by thanking Eric Whittington at Bird & Beckett Books and Records for hosting the first release event for the selected edition of Harold Norse’s poems. It’s a great store which hosts many events each month from book readings to live Jazz performances. A festive crowd of thirty folks gathered last Wednesday to celebrate the first publication of Harold’s writing since his death five years ago.

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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