Norse Cut Ups at EBSN Manchester Conference

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poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyThe European Beat Studies Network (EBSN) annual conference begins in two weeks in Manchester, UK. I’m very excited to attend this year’s conference as a participant in Session 13: Cut Ups, of Course.

My talk, “Cut Out of the Cut Ups: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel”, will focus on Harold Norse’s involvement in the development of Cut Ups during his residency at the Beat Hotel in the early 1960s. Also presenting in Session 13 are Antonio Bonome, “Polytopy and Burroughs’ Coordinate Points” and Edward Robinson, “Audio Technology, Science and Fiction in Burroughs’ Electronic Revolution”.

Harold Norse in his room at the Beat Hotel. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Harold Norse in his room at the Beat Hotel. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Cut Ups began as an accident when the painter Brion Gysin cut a matte for one of his pictures. Slicing through a stack of newspapers, he was startled to discover new phrases as a result of the altered text.

Gysin eagerly showed the results to his friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident William Burroughs who took up the mantle of this new experimental method in his novels The Soft Machine and Nova Express.

Unfortunately Harold’s role in Cut Ups has been consistently under appreciated.  Norse is of course partly to blame as he never promoted his involvement unlike Brion Gysin who always had a flair for promotion. The relationship between Norse and Gysin was complex. Despite a developing rivalry, the pair were friendly during their time at the Beat Hotel. Gysin was the first to see Harold’s breakthrough Cut Up “Sniffing Keyholes” and immediately brought it to Burroughs’ attention. It later became the centerpiece for Norse’s Cut Up novella Beat Hotel.

Ian Sommerville, Montparnasse, Paris, 1962. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Ian Sommerville, Montparnasse, Paris, 1962. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Harold was also responsible for introducing Ian Sommerville to their scene. As related in Harold’s memoirs, it was in a bookstore in the Latin Quarter that he met the young British mathematical student who “liked older men.”

Despite his icy, anti-social affect, Burroughs was in need of youthful male companionship, something which had been easier to find when living in Tangier. Sommerville’s connection with Burroughs was significant in a number of ways. Ian was instrumental in assisting Burroughs through heroin withdrawal and collaborated with Gysin in the creation of the Dreamachine.

BURROUGHS1097This year’s EBSN conference theme is science and music. One of the sessions is titled “Burroughs – Addiction, Dystopia and Biology”. The conference’s keynote speaker is Andrew Lees, Professor of Neurology at the National Hospital, London. A fascinating interview with Dr. Lees was recently posted at RealityStudio.

His book Mentored by a Madman: the William Burroughs Experiment is described as “drawing on Burroughs’ search for an addiction cure to discover a ground-breaking treatment for shaking palsy, and learns how to use the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes to diagnose patients. Lees follows Burroughs into the rainforest and under the influence of yage (ayahuasca) gains insights that encourage him to pursue new lines of pharmacological research and explore new forms of science.”

Towers Open FireAmong the many presentations relating to music, Frank Rynne’s “On-going Guerrilla Conditions” will feature a live soundtrack to a series of short films from a collaboration between English filmmaker Anthony Balch and Burroughs made in the 1960s.

As Cut Ups brought the use of montage to literature, it was natural for Burroughs to extend his exploration in altering space and time to experimenting with cinema. Though some of the Balch films can be seen online, it will be interesting to see what new experiences occur at this screening.

Photo Paul Beattie, San Francisco, 1960

ruth weiss photographed by Paul Beattie, San Francisco, 1960

Among the other sessions I’m looking forward to include a number of presentations about Beat poet ruth weiss. Still going strong at age 88, ruth’s participation in Beat poetry reaches back to the 1950s, though she continues to perform her poetry in San Francisco as well as internationally.

ruth will be perform June 15 in North Beach with Doug O’Connor (acoustic bass), Rent Romus (saxophones), and Hal Davis (percussion). This event is part of the Beat Museum Presents series which is sponsoring the Harold Norse Centennial events. An impressionistic interview with ruth can be read at Michalis Limnios’ website.

ruth’s cinematic poem will screen along with the work of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. There is even a conference sessiton titled “wiess & co.” featuring two presentations about ruth, in addition to “Elsie Cowen as Feminist Avant-Garde Poet”. It’s wonderful to see EBSN including diverse Beat poets outside of the more familiar and predominantly male names.

Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs

Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs

But there’s even more happening at the EBSN Manchester conference: Ginsberg – Buddhism, Collage, Kaddish; Kerouac’s Tristessa and Mexico City Blues; Philip Lamantia and Jay DeFeo; The influence of John Rechy and Hubert Selby Jr. on the Music of Lou Reed; The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop;  Burroughs the Pussy King: Burroughs, Acker and Punk; The Huncke Papers and Beat Impressions: A Conversation with John Tytell. You can read the full program here.

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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.

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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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Harold Norse Centennial Events

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HNBK1July 6, 2016 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of master American poet Harold Norse. Known for his association with Beat literature and gay liberation, Norse’s work retains its pertinence in today’s fractured world of politics and despair. This has been reflected by increased attention to Norse’s legacy from The New York Times to the International Times.

Since April is National Poetry Month there will be further posts this month to kick off the Harold Norse Centennial. In the meantime, here is information about upcoming events so you can make sure to mark your calendars.

poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyThe European Beat Studies Network is hosting its annual conference in Manchester, England June 27 to 29. Co-chaired by renowned Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris and Manchester University professor Douglas Field, whose All Those Strangers: The Art and Lives of James Baldwin will be published this summer by Oxford University Press.

The conference program is packed with presentations on all aspects of Beat writers and artists. It’s inspiring to see a number of presentations about Beat poet ruth weiss, who at age 87 continues to perform her poetry in San Francisco.

As part of Session 13 on the second day of the conference, I will be presenting a talk titled “Cut Out of the Cut Ups: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel.”

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The EBSN Manchester conference is merely the kick off for the Harold Norse Centennial. Beginning on Harold’s actual 100th birthday, July 6, there will be two separate dates of discussion panels in San Francisco co-sponsored by The Mechanics’ Institute and The Beat Museum.

These will be followed by a return to Harold’s old stomping grounds of Venice Beach at Beyond Baroque. Each of these events will feature a short performance of Harold’s poetry by Los Angeles based multi-talented artist Jason Jenn who has previously performed works about gay poets James Broughton and C.P. Cavafy.

Wednesday, July 6 from 7-9 PM at the Mechanics’ Institute, SF

  • Kevin Killian – Poet, Author & Friend of Norse
  • Regina Marler – Editor of Queer Beats
  • Todd Swindell – Editor of Norse Selected Poems

Saturday, July 9 from 7-9 PM at The Beat Museum, SF

  • Adrian Brooks – Poet, Writer & Friend of Norse
  • Jim Nawrocki – Poet & Friend of Norse
  • Tate Swindell – Founder of Unrequited Records

Saturday, July 23 from 4-6 PM at Beyond Baroque, LA

  • Tom Livingston – Author & Friend of Norse
  • Michael C Ford – Poet & Audio Journalist
  • S.A. Griffin – Poet & Actor

Check back in the coming weeks for detailed information about the events and the authors who will be participating. Also keep on the lookout for a Centennial fundraiser featuring bundles of rare Harold Norse books for sale.

Happy Hundredth Birthday Harold Norse!

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Harold Norse Centennial, Manchester UK Beat Conference and Pocket Poets Anthology

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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.”

EBSN barThe 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.

Harold & Doug (4)

Harold Norse & Douglas Field, San Francisco, 2007. Photo © Tate Swindell

“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.”

poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyHarris 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.

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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).

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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.

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