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.

Jim&Hal Web

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.

HNOC Vinyl Web

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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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.
 

Norse Table

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.”

MilviaSt

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.

V Vale Speaking

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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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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