Norse Centennial Spotlight: Kevin Killian & Regina Marler

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MI ListAs the Harold Norse Centennial approaches, there will be posts spotlighting the participants in upcoming events, presented by The Beat Museum, to celebrate this historic milestone. On Wednesday, July 6 (Harold’s actual 100th birthday) the Mechanics’ Institute will host a panel featuring San Francisco writers Kevin Killian, Regina Marler and myself, Todd Swindell.

poster_smallFounded in 1854 to serve the vocational needs of out-of-work gold miners, the Mechanics’ Institute is a historic membership library, cultural event center, and chess club in San Francisco’s Financial District. Today it serves readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and others.

In 2013, the Mechanics’ Institute was part of the Allen Ginsberg Festival that coincided with an exhibition of the Beat poet’s photography at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. The one-of-a-kind event featured everything from Beat poet ruth weiss performing in the Institute’s café space to a panel discussion featuring a whose-who of Bay Area authors that have written about the Beats.

Poet, playwright, and queer bon vivant Kevin Killian was a participant in last year’s reading at Alley Cat Books to promote the release of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: Selected Poems of Harold Norse which I edited. This accompanying fantastic photograph of Kevin with Harold and poet and filmmaker James Broughton in San Francisco, 1987 is courtesy of Alex Gildzen’s blog Arroyo Chamisma.

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Harold Norse, Kevin Killian and James Broughton, San Francisco, 1987. Photo © Alex Gildzen.

For many years Kevin has helped preserve the work and legacy of poet Jack Spicer–a key participant in the 1950s San Francisco poetry renaissance that included John Wieners and Robert Duncan and influenced many Beat writers. His acclaimed biography of Spicer, Poet Be Like God, co-written with Lew Ellingham, was published in 1998. Killian also edited, with Peter Gizzi, the collection My Vocabulary Did This to Me-Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer. The title comes from Spicer’s last recorded words; Harold’s were “the end is the beginning.”

RM--Cropped_publicity_squareRegina Marler is the editor of the anthology Queer Beats, How the Beats Turned America on to Sex (Cleis Press, 2004) which features two poems by Harold Norse as well as an excerpt from his memoirs. Even though I’ve read a good amount of Beat literature, I found her inclusion of excerpts from lesser known works by Beat-associated authors like the Paul Bowles and poet Alan Ansen to be enlightening. Additionally there are contributions from female writers like Jane Bowles, Elise Cowen and Diane di Prima.

But it’s not only her sharp selection of writers that elevates Queer Beats head and shoulders above other Beat anthologies. Each of the book’s three sections feature an incisive introduction by Regina. Speaking about the homocentric content of Burroughs and Ginsberg, she writes about their

candid attitude towards sex and the body–towards pleasure. This open confession of their feelings is one of the pivots of the movement, and no less vital to their influence on the rising counter-culture than marijuana reveries and restless literary experimentation.

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Among the selections I found most illuminating was an excerpt from a letter by Jack Kerouac whom Marler describes as a “sensitive, gentle mama’s boy who goaded himself into macho displays…[whose] queer sensibility was most disguised, folded into the hero worship” of Neal Cassady.

Written on October 3, 1948 to Cassady, Kerouac states “Posterity will laugh at me if it thinks I was queer…little students will be disillusioned.” It’s a telling admission that Kerouac couches the censorship of his same-sex desires as protection for future generations. As Marler succinctly puts it, “He wanted the behavior, clearly, but not the identity.”

Of course this is exactly the kind of ignorant, oppressive attitude that Harold Norse sought to make extinct through his lifetime of confessional, open hearted gay poetry that follows the proud lineage of his Brooklyn forbearer Walt Whitman. Thanks to Queer Beats we can see how authors like Norse, Burroughs, Ginsberg and Gore Vidal were gay visionaries who, Marler claims, “stand outside the normalization of gay sex and identity.”

“They were not assimilationist. If the culture could not accept them, the fault lay in the culture.”

This is set to be a perfect evening to celebrate the 100th birthday of Beat poet Harold Norse, the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn. Please note there is a $15 charge for the public but haroldnorse.com readers can wave the fee by stating they are a “Beat Museum Member” either at the online registration or that evening at the event which is from 7-9PM. As the event will be held in the Mechanic’s Institute’s café space, make sure you arrive early to enjoy a drink at the bar.

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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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San Francisco Beat Conference Report Back

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V. Vale of RE/Search Publications displays his copy of Harold Norse Memorial Collection

V. Vale of RE/Search Publications displays his copy of Harold Norse Memorial Collection

Last weekend’s Beat conference, sponsored by The Beat Museum, was two days of well attended presentations and performances including a joint presentation on Harold Norse and Jack Micheline.

With multiple events scheduled for the same time, it was impossible to attend all the presentations one wanted to. Luckily, my brother Tate and I were able to film a number of them and that footage should be available online in the coming weeks. Of the presentations I’m most eager to watch are those with Gerd Stern who was a patient at Rockland Psychiatric Center with Ginsberg and Carl Solomon. These experiences would form the basis for Part III of Ginsberg’s poem HOWL.
L to R: Tate Swindell, Brian Hassett, Jerry Cimino, Gerd Stern, Levi Asher and James Stauffer, SF Beat Conference, July 28, 2015. Photo by Brian Hassett

L to R: Tate Swindell, Brian Hassett, Jerry Cimino, Gerd Stern, Levi Asher and James Stauffer, SF Beat Conference, July 28, 2015. Photo by Brian Hassett

Stern had been falsely accused by Allen Ginsberg of destroying the infamous “Joan Anderson” letter. Written by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac, the missing pages had become legendary in Beat history as Kerouac cited Cassady’s use of language as crucial inspiration in the writing of On The Road. The letter was discovered last year.
 
Stern was one of the founders of “USCO,” a group of artists, engineers and poets creating multi-media performances and environments which toured the U.S. museum and university venues during the sixties. He also was a friend and manager to composer and creator of musical instruments, Harry Partch. According to those in attendance, Stern spoke of the time he dated author and poet Maya Angelou.
 

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Display of rare books by Harold Norse & Jack Micheline

On Saturday afternoon, I attended a talk by Dr. Philip Hicks who was a young psychiatrist in the mid-1950s at San Francisco’s Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic. Among his patients was Allen Ginsberg who at that time lived in North Beach, establishing a love relationship with Peter Orlovsky and completing what would become one of the most influential poems of the 20th Century- Howl. Ginsberg accepted that he was more attracted to men than women but still grappled with society’s rejection.

It was Dr. Hick’s audacious response of “Why not?” which proved to be a turning point, not only in Ginsberg’s life, but in the establishment of Gay Liberation. Ginsberg credited Dr. Hicks with giving the struggling poet “permission, so to speak, to be myself.”

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Ginsberg in the back garden of Milvia Street Berkely Cottage, 1955, where Part II of Howl was completed.

I was stuck by how non-plussed Dr. Hicks was by this moment which he saw from an understated perspective. Such empathetic insight was extremely rare during a time when the establishment used psychiatry to discredit men caught expressing their same-sex desires. During the height of McCarthyism, it was possible for such established figures as politicians and prominent businessmen to be institutionalized and forcibly medicated. Even white, male privilege couldn’t protect them from electro-shock therapy where, too often, they were forgotten, abandoned and left to rot.

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V Vale of RE/Search publications speaks at the SF Beat Conference.

V. Vale & Marcia Wallace of RE/Search Publications have been documenting underground scenes since the days of Punk. The pair presented two panels, one which focused on the work of William S. Burroughs. With a soft-spoken voice, Vale’s Sunday talk (which I attended) saw him relating his time as a student at UC Berkeley during the Hippie days. It was those formative experiences that led him a decade later to become an anthropologist of the creative underground when he began to document the burgeoning Punk scene in his zine Search and Destroy.

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Vale referenced Burroughs’ work with Cut Ups that the writer had developed, along with painter Brion Gysin and Harold Norse, while living at the Beat Hotel. In particular, Vale singled out books such as The Job and The Electronic Revolution as being among Burroughs’ least known but most interesting works. Vale’s connection with poet Philip Lamantia led him further to an interest in Surrealism.

If you have the chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. Vale has a dry humor that’s refreshingly free of the feigned political correctness that passes for critical insight these days. Lamenting the absence of upcoming radical arts underground, Vale commented that the only group capable of recruiting these days was the Islamic State!

single_coverPoet and filmmaker Marc Olmsted gave an early talk Sunday about his friendship with Allen Ginsberg. Olmsted initially contacted the older poet through correspondence hoping to make a connection based upon poetry and an interest in Eastern religions. The two became, for a time, lovers as their friendship developed in tandem with their involvement in Tibetan Buddhism. Marc speaks with refreshing candor about his relationship with Ginsberg that is sure to be a boon to scholars and students of the esteemed poet’s work. I picked up a copy of Marc’s new memoir Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg 1972-1997 – Letters and Recollections, published by Beatdom Press, which I look forward to reading.
Marc Olmsted speak of his friends with Allen Ginsberg

Marc Olmsted speaks of his friends with Allen Ginsberg

It wasn’t all talk as David Amran and ruth wiess closed out both evenings with exceptional performances of music and poetry. Here’s hoping it’s not too long before another event like the Beat Conference happens in San Francisco.

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Harold Norse & Jack Micheline at SF Beat Conference June 27

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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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