More Norse in International Press

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William Burroughs and Eddie Woods (1985). Photo © by Peter Edel.

International publishers have recently shown a renewed interest in Harold Norse, as detailed in a recent post about a German translation of Karma Circuit. That momentum continues thanks to two recent publications in Scotland and, once more, Germany.

Author and publisher Eddie Woods first met Norse when establishing himself in Amsterdam in the late 1970s. Both native New Yorkers, the writers cemented their friendship during an extended stay in Barcelona.

It’s precisely this time that’s covered in Woods’ prose piece “Remembering Harold Norse” as part of Smugglers Train. A collection of 19 poems in the original English plus German translations of six prose pieces (fiction and non-fiction), beautifully illustrated, it has recently been published by Moloko+ in Germany.

Together with Jane Harvey, Woods launched Ins & Outs magazine and founded Ins & Outs Press who published work by Norse and his friends including William Burroughs, Ira Cohen, Paul Bowles and Charles Henri Ford. The press also recorded readings by Norse, Jack Micheline and Herbert Huncke where were released on audio cassettes.

Harold Norse of Course… was recorded during Norse’s 1984 appearance at the seventh annual One World Poetry Festival.

It has lovingly been made available in digital download and deluxe colored vinyl formats thanks to San Francisco’s Unrequited Records. The CD version has since sold out, becoming one of the more recent Norse collector’s items.

“Remembering Harold Norse” tells the story of the evening when this recording was made, revealing the lingering contention of Harold’s connection with writer and painter Brion Gysin, both of whom resided at the Beat Hotel participating in the development of the Cut Up movement. The full text of the prose piece can be read in English on Woods’ website at this link.

Four years ago, Woods published an account of his time as a journalist in Bangkok during the end of the hippy era where he befriended playwright Tennessee Williams, whom Harold Norse first met in the early 1940s.

Tennessee Williams in Bangkok is less a tell-all memoir of Williams (there’s enough of those already) and more an evocative portrayal of Woods’ relationship with a drag-queen prostitute named Kim. Those who may be disappointed that Woods doesn’t dish the dirt about Tennessee will miss out on a sensitive and engrossing tale of Woods’ exploration of sexuality in a foreign land.

To learn more about Eddie Woods’ colorful life, I recommend a somewhat recent interview that can be found at Urban Graffiti.

Eddie Woods is also part of a recently published anthology from Scottish based author and publisher John Reilly, whose earlier 2003 anthology Shamanic Warriors Now Poets was co-edited with multitalented artist Ira Cohen. Described as “a celebration of now unfolding in all its nakedness, manifested and expressed by a gathering of like souls unfurling the banners of beauty and truth, the poetry of now”, it featured work in a variety of media by four generations of counter culture artists.

Building on that volume’s powerful content, comes The Final Crusade which offers a focused look at the transformative and destructive forces at play in global politics. Reilly has described the anthology as “an unprecedented global gathering speaking out against the destruction of civil liberties, against the destruction of your planet, against the new world order.”

It certainly lives up to that billing with contributions from, among others, Gerard Malanga, Charles Plymell, Neeli Cherkovski and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m pleased to mention an essay I wrote about the history of the medical cannabis movement has been included in The Final Crusade.

“Medical Marijuana Meltdown” takes a historical look at the medical cannabis movement which came out of alternative treatment AIDS activism and its development of patients’ buyers clubs, arguing for the federal rescheduling of cannabis to acknowledge its known and documented therapeutic benefits. A brief analysis of one part of this historic movement can be read at my other blog ACT UP Archives.

Harold is represented with two very strong political poems “Rapist, Racists & Rats” and “Requiem for St. Robbie Kirkland”. Both poems illustrate his ability to combine both an outrage over violent injustice and a sweeping historical knowledge illustrated with personal details.

The later poem concerns the tragic suicide of a gay youth, composed years before the pressing issue of anti-gay bullying gained recognition by the media. The poem’s emotional punch derives from Harold’s visceral connection to his own bruised youth, some seventy years before Robbie, where he lived in terror of anti-gay violence condoned by parents and teachers.

This was also at the heart of Harold’s final, uncompleted, masterwork HOMO, which examined two millennia of religious and political homophobia through poetry, prose and cut up. An excerpt from the work, published as part of his selected poems, can be read at this link.

Requiem for St. Robbie Kirkland

(1984-1997 martyred by schoolboys)

Teased , punched and kicked,
stoned with rocks since first grade
at age six, he did not choose
to be gay. He knew nothing
of sex, except as kids do,
Nature held sway.

Though girlish in childhood
his family loved him no less.
Boys taunted him, hooted and spat
in his face, yelling sissy and fairy
and sister Mary! They laughed at him,
jeering and sneering all day.

As they got older they goosed him
while rubbing their crotches, muttering
“Suck this!” and hissing like snakes.
At 14 he put a gun to his head
and ended the torment
before he returned to ninth grade.

The suicide note said, “I hope I can find
the peace in death that I could not find
in life.” Was this what Christ taught?
He who was mocked and nailed
to the cross? Now in His name
false “Christians” dish out the same.

 

To learn more about Robbie’s story, I recommend a tribute website created by his family at robbiekirkland.com.

 

 

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Revisiting Harold Norse Obits 7 Years Later

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“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.”

NYT090613 WebThe 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.”

LAT090613 WebThe 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.”

GRD090617 WebUnder the headline “Striking Beat writer and artist later feted as one of America’s leading gay poets“, the UK Guardian newspaper published an appreciation by Douglas Field, renowned James Baldwin scholar and a friend of Norse.

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.”

EQCRPSAnother of Harold’s poet friends was Andrei Codrescu whose Exquisite Corpse featured two tributes from poet and publisher Eddie Woods.

First up was “Harold Norse Is Dead! Long Live the Carnivorous Saint!“, culled from emails about his death from myself and San Francisco poet Jim Nawrocki among others. The second,”Remembering Harold Norse“, is a lengthy piece by Eddie of his many adventures with Harold that is well worth reading.

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.

brooklyn-college-35-Web

Harold Norse as a student at Brooklyn College in 1935

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 in Crete 1963 by Thanassis

Harold in Crete 1963 by Thanassis

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.

Photo © Nina Glaser

Harold Norse in the 1980s Photo © Nina Glaser

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.

Harold Norse in the bedroom of his Albion Street cottage, November 11, 1999 © Todd Swindell

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Jack Foley Review of Selected Poems in International Times

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Int. TimesInt. Times 2Following the recent mention of Harold Norse’s correspondence with Charles Bukowski in The New 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.

 

Int. Times 3Founded 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.

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Harold Norse & Jack Micheline at SF Beat Conference June 27

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BeatConfPost

 

As mentioned two months ago, The Beat Museum is hosting their first conference on June 26-28 at Fort Mason Center. Located in the heart of North Beach, the Museum features a broad collection of photos and ephemera associated with the Beat Movement. Harold Norse’s last readings were held at the Museum and they were celebrated affairs.

Here’s Harold at the Museum reading his poem “I Am in the Hub of the Fiery Force.”

Jack Micheline & Harold Norse: The New York to San Francisco Connection will be a joint presentation between myself and my brother Tate who runs Unrequited Records. Our presentation will look at how growing up in New York influenced their development as poets. Harold was several years older than Micheline and had left for Italy in the early 1950s when Jack moved from his Bronx hometown to Greenwich Village. However they shared a number of mutual connections including Julian Beck and Judith Malina of The Living Theater and Beat poet Bob Kaufman, whom Harold later befriended in San Francisco.

Photo by Emil Cadoo

Jack Micheline photo by Emil Cadoo

Micheline’s first collection of poems, Rivers of Red Wine, was published in 1957 by Troubadour Press with an introduction y Jack Kerouac. By the early 1960s, he settled in San Francisco which became his permanent home. For the next three decades, he was known as one of the city’s celebrated street poets as well as a painter. Skinny Dynamite, a collection of his stories, was published in 1980 by A.D. Winan’s Second Coming Press. His archives, like Harold’s, are housed at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.

TheHNOCvinly presentation will include a display of rare books and ephemera by both poets along with audio clips and never before screened video. Unrequited Records has released poetry recordings that were originally issued on cassette by Eddie Woods’ Ins & Outs Press, among them a captivating reading by Herbert Huncke.

Harold’s 1984 Amsterdam reading, Harold Norse Of Course, was released not only on CD but also in a luscious double vinyl album with a gatefold collage of Norse photographs. A bottle of wine, some candlelight and these colorful beauties on your stereo will transport you back in time when Harold was in fine voice.

The rest of the conference features and impressive line up that includes Hilary Holladay, whose biography of Huncke will be published in its second edition this summer by Schaffner Press. Marc Olmstead, whose book about his friendship with Allen Ginsberg was published last year, will be speaking about learning Buddhism from Ginsberg. Neeli Cherkovski is hosting a poetry workshop. Plus all three of Neal Cassady’s children will be speaking in a panel that includes Neal’s Denver pal Al Hinckle who was featured in Kerouac’s On The Road.

This is an amazing and historic collection of Beat related events. If you are in the Bay Area during the last weekend of June and would like to attend, you can purchase tickets here. Hope to see you there!

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