Jan Herman’s The San Francisco Earthquake and Norse Centennial Update

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Jan Herman at City Lights editorial office with SF Earthquake No.3, 1969. Photo courtesy Reality Studios.

Jan Herman at City Lights editorial office with SF Earthquake No.3, 1969. Photo courtesy Reality Studios.

New York born and based writer, publisher Jan Herman first met Harold Norse in Paris in the grim, grey winter of 1963. Herman, a recent college grad, had moved to Paris to live the life of an expatriate writer. Poor and lonely, he sat in cafés writing poems on napkins and was noticed by Norse. The pair struck up a conversation leading to an invitation to Norse’s room at the Beat Hotel.

For years, American expatriate Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs had been living amongst the hotel’s small, inexpensive rooms. The painter Brion Gysin had recently cut through a stack of newspapers only to recognize a new language within its butchered text and, along with Burroughs’ collaboration, originated the use of Cut Ups.

“The hotel was miserable, dark, cold, dreary. The walls were sweating. It was winter, you know, they were wet. It was really cave-like. We went to his room. We smoked hash. He put the make on me, of course. I was rather innocent but I was not interested really, sexually, but we had a good time. We talked forever because I didn’t get out of that room until it was late night, dark, late night. I made my way completely loaded back to my hotel room with several books, very thin books… All this expatriate stuff I had hoped for, he personified.”

-Jan Herman interviewed in 2013

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Herman recently published The Z Collection– portraits and sketches of notable 20th Century authors which has been featured by The International Times. Interviewed by Hilary Holladay, author of the excellent Herbert Huncke biography, Herman’s sharp, insightful, generous observations about Beat writers can be read here.

IT recently featured Jack Foley’s review of the Norse Selected Poems and it’s great to see him popping up again. Holladay’s interview includes a mention of Norse though he is not among the book’s subjects.

Holladay: “You met Harold Norse in Paris when he was living at the Beat Hotel. Did you stay in touch with him after that? Considering what an interesting, well-connected poet he was, why do you think he didn’t achieve the name recognition of the more famous Beat poets?”

Herman: “I wasn’t in touch with him again until 1967, when I started Earthquake. In the third issue I published his long poem “Hotel Nirvana.” It was later included as the title poem of his City Lights collection. When he was living in Venice Beach, we occasionally spoke by phone. At some point he said he wanted to move to San Francisco, so before I left town at the end of 1971, I offered to pass him my railroad flat with all the furniture in it. The rent was only 90 bucks a months. He lived there for the next five years.HN eqk Web

Lack of wide recognition bothered the hell out of him. He was so hurt and so vain about it that he became an awful injustice collector, pissing and moaning to the point of obsession. Hal needed a better PR agent or a better strategy. He was strictly a literary man, which doesn’t cut it. Ginsberg became legendarily famous for his activism. Burroughs became a celebrated cult figure by way of the underground press. Even Gregory Corso’s antics drew attention. But Hal didn’t do too badly in the glory department. His name is right up there, second from the top, on the memorial plaque at what used to be the Beat Hotel.”

Reality Studios, the premier online community of Burroughs enthusiasts, features a superb overview of Herman’s work and Jan’s latest writings can be found at his Arts Journal blog.

Carl Weissner during the recording of UFO 3,1972. Photo courtesy of Reality Studios.

Carl Weissner during the recording of UFO 3,1972. Photo courtesy of Reality Studios.

Though only published for two years, The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE was an outlet for writers and artists who were part of Herman’s circle. Among them are painter Mary Beach, writer and artist Claude Pélieu, artist Liam O’Gallagher, collagist Norman Mustill and translator, publisher Carl Weissner.

Weissner, who passed away four years ago, was the German translator for both Norse and Charles Bukowski. Through the publisher Maro Verlag, Weissner was the first to publish Norse’s Cut Up novel The Beat Hotel. The 1975 edition (republished in 1995) featured surrealist, psychedelic collages by Mustill.

Norse’s poem “Hotel Nirvana” was featured in the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE published in Spring, 1968. The poem expanded, eventually becoming the title poem of Norse’s 1974 book published in City Lights’ Pocket Poet Series.

Claude Pélieu in 1963. Photo courtesy ressacs.hautetfort.com

Claude Pélieu in 1963. Photo courtesy ressacs.hautetfort.com

In addition to writings by fellow Beat Hotel resident and Cut Up participant Sinclair Beiles and the poem “Elegy for Jack Spicer” by poet Robert Duncan, highlights inside the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE are a collection of collages of Beach, Pélieu, Mustill and others.

These artists deserve more attention at haroldnorse.com, but for now there are a number of web links that call for further examination. The Beach-Plymell Collection is a superb repository of artwork by Beach and Pélieu. Be warned you could spend days looking at their incredible works. Empty Mirror Books features some remembrances of Mary Beach. For now, let your eyes rattle at some of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE’S collages.

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Claude Pélieu collage, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, page 33

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Norman Ogue Mustill and Mary Beach collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 50-51

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Liam O’Gallagher collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 38-39

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Carl Weissner and Claude Pélieu collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 54-55

As mentioned in the previous post, July 6th marks the hundredth anniversary of Harold Norse’s birthday. There are a number of events planned this summer to mark this historic occasion and bring greater attention to a great American poet. More information will be posted in the coming days, but for now you might want to mark the following dates on your calendar:

 

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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.

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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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