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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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.

brooklyn-college-35-Web

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.”

HNBK2

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!

HNBK3

 

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Bird & Beckett Hosts San Francisco Book Release for Norse Selected Poems

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Let me start by thanking Eric Whittington at Bird & Beckett Books and Records for hosting the first release event for the selected edition of Harold Norse’s poems. It’s a great store which hosts many events each month from book readings to live Jazz performances. A festive crowd of thirty folks gathered last Wednesday to celebrate the first publication of Harold’s writing since his death five years ago.

Crowd

A festive crowd gathers at Bird & Beckett Books for a poetry reading to celebrate the release of “I Am Going to Fly Through Glass” on 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

I began the evening by touching upon what lead me to publish a new collection of Harold’s poetry and the inspiration I drew from similar attention that’s being paid to some of his contemporaries. This was followed with some of my favorite poems from Harold including “Now I’m in Vence” and “California Will Sink”.

Neeli Cherkovski entertained the crowd with a number of his lively anecdotes of his the forty years from their friendship and read some of Harold’s best loved poems such as “Classic Frieze in a Garage” and “To Mohammed at the Café Central”. Neeli’s contribution was so great that in the coming days I’ll do a separate post about it.

Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Neeli Cherkovski reads from the work of his friend and fellow poet Harold Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Jim Nawrocki told of first meeting Hal, as he was called by his friends, after reviewing the reprint of his memoirs for the Bay Area Reporter. Jim was so taken by the book’s storytelling personality that he looked up Harold’s name in the phone book and gave him a call.  “The voice [on the phone] sounded just like the book,” Jim warmly recalled. From there grew a rich connection that saw Jim make a significant contribution to the publication of Harold’s Collected Poems in 2003. Among the poems Jim read were “I Would Not Recommend Love” and a moving rendition of “I Am Not a Man”.

SF poet Jim Nawrocki reads from the work of his friend Hal Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Writer Jim Nawrocki reads from the work of his friend Harold Norse at Bird & Beckett Books 12/3/14. Photo by Tate Swindell.

Here’s a short video clip of me reading one of my favorite poems of Harold’s which I see as a declaration of the liberation that can arise from discarding society’s prohibitions against pleasure–– “Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness”.

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Book Release Event for Harold Norse Selected Poems 12/3/14

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Please join us on December 3rd at 7:00 PM for a poetry reading to celebrate the release of I Am going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse at Bird and Beckett Books and Records in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood.

FlyerDraft

The book’s editor Todd Swindell will be joined by San Francisco poets Neeli Cherkovski and Jim Nawrocki. They will be reading from the Selected Poems, in addition to their own work inspired by their friendship with Harold Norse.

For more information about the reading and the book’s release check out this great post from Bird and Beckett at this link. Hope to see you there!

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