Norse Centennial Spotlight: Adrian Brooks & Jim Nawrocki

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This post takes a closer look at the participants in the second event celebrating the Harold Norse Centennial. On Saturday, July 9, the Beat Museum will host a panel including poet and writer Adrian Brooks, poet Jim Nawrocki and artist Tate Swindell. All three men were friends of Norse and will bring their personal remembrances to the evening’s discussion.

AngelLightAdrian Brooks has a storied history from his Quaker upbringing, volunteering with Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, involvement in the New York arts scene of the late 1960s, then moving to San Francisco as part of gay liberation. Adrian became a member of the seminal performance troupe the Angels of Light which grew out of the equally legendary Cockettes.

Flights of Angels: My Life with the Angels of Light is his memoir of that glittered encrusted period when gay liberation in San Francisco was a heady mixture of political, social and artistic movements. Illustrated with photographs by renowned gay photographer Daniel NicolettaFlights of Angels is required reading for those interested in radical gay performance in 1970’s San Francisco.

BA3-40 WebHere Brooks relates his initial contact with Harold–upon the suggestion of poet and photographer Gerard Malanga–which led to his involvement with Norse’s literary magazine Bastard Angel, recently profiled in the UK publication Beat Scene.

First, after being put in touch with novelist Christopher Isherwood, who liked my poems and invited me to visit him in Santa Monica, Gerard [Malanga] suggested I telephone a local Beat poet. At fifty-six, Harold Norse was a stumpy ex-bodybuilder with a bad toupee and a huge chip on his shoulder about being overlooked. I loved his earthy New York humor and ballsy work. I also appreciated his praise, and his invitation to serve as the editorial assistant for his cutting edge magazine, Bastard Angel, which featured surrealists and celebrities like Jean Genet, stellar Beats, and on occasion, up and coming “unknowns.”

Adrain Brooks singing "Stormy Weather" in North Pole, in the Angels of Light production Paris Sites, 1975. Photo © Dan Nicoletta

Adrian Brooks singing “Stormy Weather” in North Pole, in the Angels of Light production Paris Sites, 1975. Photo © Dan Nicoletta

In a 2013 interview with Adrian about his friendship with Harold, I was impressed by his insight into Harold’s work and character–imbued with both criticism and compassion. Brooks was in a unique position at that time given his artistic expression straddled both the theatrical performance and poetry scenes.

On September 18, 1974, he organized what may be the first all-gay poetry reading at the Fellowship Church on Larkin Street. Among others, the roster included Norse, poet and publisher Paul Mariah, Pat Parker and Judy Grahn.

Here are some of Adrian’s reflections on the poetry scene at that time:

My perception of the  Bay Area poetry cosmos was shaped by North Beach bars and coffeehouses like Café Trieste. The scene revolved around the City Lights bookstore, but the degree to which one had “arrived” in this tiny yet most egotistical of all art scenes, was how close one got to Allen Ginsberg or twee Lilliputian Bolinas, a coastal town south of Inverness. Against this yardstick, poets measured their importance. I found it ridiculous. For all its much-vaunted status as the coolest hotspot in the country, the San Francisco poetry worlds was sophomoric.

BrooksReadingEven so, I admired the poets, well known names like Jack Hirschman, Gregory Corso, and Diane di Prima as well as lesser-known luminaries such as Jack Micheline, a poet and painter whose bellicose, belligerent manner and crudely fashioned verse–rarely edited–belied an unusual sensitivity. And in the background, Bob Kaufman wafted, a burned-out Beat star, like a disembodied ghoul of Goya.

Adrian’s art and activism continues with The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism, an anthology of essays and interviews edited by Brooks and published last year by Cleis Press. A well worth reading interview with Brooks about his anthology can be read here.

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Jim Nawrocki interviewing Harold Norse

Jim Nawrocki is another San Francisco based poet who was a friend of Norse that will participate in the July 9 event. His poetry has appeared in A&U Magazine and Empty Mirror and he also regularly contributes essays and reviews to the Gay & Lesbian Review. Jim first met Harold in the early 2000s, resulting in a warm and supportive friendship between two gay poets from different generations.

Norse was notorious for exacting demands when it came to publishing his poetry, so it’s a testament to Nawrocki’s connection to Harold that he was instrumental in assembling the hundreds of poems that made up 2003’s collected poems–In the Hub of the Fiery Force–which spanned 70 years .

“At Albion” is a poem Jim wrote for a memorial collection which I published following Harold’s death in 2009.  Evocative and graceful in its heartfelt sorrow, Jim conveys the impression and emotions which arose when visiting Norse’s home on Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District where the Beat poet lived for several decades.

At Albion

 

the steps up to your place

were blue hours in Tangier,

haunted Roman shadows,

a Paris hotel rank above

the street of the heart –

so many young men,

skin olive, gold, brown,

dragging with you

on white cigarettes

like a sacrament,

in Barcelona, Naples –

one more shaded room,

sleeping streets. A smile

from an afternoon corner:

 

Who is this American,

who speaks the mother tongue

so well?

 

Just near your door, one step

worn through, almost gone,

a broken Brooklyn, hanging,

like a page or a reverie

You’d warned me about it –

and each time I’d step over,

looking down into its eye.

 

Memory can swallow you up.

 

You meet me with your gaze

but your mouth wavers,

at play, undecided:

 

What language now,

to recite again

the beautiful words?

 

Tate Swindell and Harold Norse at the Caffé Trieste. Photo © Todd Swindell.

Tate Swindell and Harold Norse at the Caffé Trieste. Photo © Todd Swindell.

Tate Swindell is a poet, photographer, filmmaker, as well as the founder of Unrequited Records where he makes available poetry and spoken-word recordings by Beat authors such as Herbert Huncke and Jack Micheline.

Originally released in 1984 on cassette by Eddie Woods’ Ins & Outs Press, Harold Norse, Of Course… is a poetry reading which Harold gave in Amsterdam. In fine form, it remains one of the premier recordings of Harold reading his work.

Unrequited Records has made the original recording available as both a digital download and double record album. The vinyl release is a work of high craftsmanship featuring deluxe colored discs and a stunning gatefold collage of Harold’s snapshots. It’s a must for collectors of Beat era artifacts.

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This once in a lifetime line up is a fitting way to continue the centennial celebration of Harold Norse. The Beat Museum was the site of Harold’s final poetry readings, so it is fitting that his spirit returns to North Beach. The event, which runs from 7-9 PM, is free.

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Centennial Poster and Book Sale

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The folks at the Beat Museum have done it again. Following last year’s fantastic Herbert Huncke Centennial event, the Beat Museum has designed another sensational promotional poster. It features a photo of Harold taken in 1961 outside the Beat Hotel where he was living along with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, who were practicing the Cut Up- a process of applying montage to writing.

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As previously mentioned, three Harold Norse Centennial events are happening in California during the month of July. The Beat Museum is co-sponsoring these dates as a kick off to a year of events which they will be curating. Harold’s final poetry readings were hosted by the Beat Museum, so it’s great to be returning to North Beach on July 9.

Also there has been a change in the July 9th line up, as poet and writer Adrian Brooks has offered to participate in the evening’s panel. He first met Harold in the early 1970s, upon the suggestion of Gerard Malanga, and the pair became friendly, with Adrian assisting in some of the preparation for Harold’s Bastard Angel magazine. Adrian’s public speaking engagements are rare, so I’m thrilled he’s agreed to join a truly special presentation, as all the #HaroldNorse100 events will be.

DSC00027For those interested in obtaining copies of Harold Norse’s rare, out of print books, such as Beat HotelMemoirs of a Bastard Angel, and Hotel Nirvana, there is an online book sale happening during the month of May.

Each Book Bundle comes with rare Norse ephemera and material created exclusively for Harold’s hundredth birthday. All proceeds support the Harold Norse Centennial. With a number of offers reasonably priced, including 3 commemorative bookmarks for $5, there is something for everyone. Find out more about the book sale here.

 

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Bastard Angel Magazine in Beat Scene

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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.

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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.

BA2-20To 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.

BA2-44A 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.

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Harold Norse and Gerard Malanga 1973

Poets Gerard Malanga and Harold Horse, Union Square, San Francisco, 1973. Photo by Frances McCann.

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Harold Norse & Gerard Malanga 1995

Photo by Ira Cohen, “For Harold, It was great to see you. Here’s one photo of you w/ the great SHMOOZER. Mr. Gerard Malanga, who surprised you by not knowing that a BJ was “ALL THE WAY.” Best, Ira 1995″

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