Art of the Beat Hotel Featured in New Anthology

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outlaw-coverA new anthology features an essay on the visual artwork created in the early 1960s when expatriate writers were living in Paris at the Beat HotelThe Outlaw Bible of American Art is the final edition in a multi-volume series overseen by author Alan Kaufman, a good friend and admirer of Harold Norse. The series’ first volume which focused on poetry gave the Beat poet prominent exposure.

The latest anthology centers on visual art which has largely been ignored by the establishment. It’s a massive volume that rewards readers with introductions to artists and movements, from the post-WW II to the early 21st century, whose work challenged the complacency and commercialization of the art world. The book opens with Boris Lurie, the No!Art Movement and other New York based artists before moving to the visual art of Beat writers.

outlaw4webThe photographs of Allen Ginsberg were exhibited several years ago at the National Gallery of Art and the paintings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti are familiar to anyone whose visited City Lights Bookstore. Kaufman’s anthology calls special attention to the work done at the Beat Hotel.

While the paintings of Brion Gysin have been exhibited in many venues and William Burroughs’ visual works were the subject of a 1996 exhibit, the Cosmograph paintings made by Harold Norse are relatively unknown, though several were featured in the Whitney Museum’s 1995 exhibit Beat Culture and the New America 1950–1965.

outlaw0webAn essay co-authored by myself and my brother Tate, of Unrequited Records, offers a succinct overview of different artists who lived at the inexpensive, dingy hotel on Paris’ Left Bank where the Cut Up approach to literature was developed. Following an accidental cutting of paper by Gysin, Burroughs and Norse joined in the experiment of cutting up text to create new forms of communication beyond the rational. The essay begins…

“The Beat Hotel has been rightfully enshrined as one of the preeminent sources of avant garde art of the Post-war era. The cut-up method developed at the Hotel acted as a precursor for the radical changes in the way we receive and understand media, from the fast editing of MTV videos of the 1980s to today’s world of texting and social media. Yet little attention has been paid to the visual art created during this fertile time.”

Under the influence of hashish, Norse threw pigment onto coarse paper which was then rinsed in a bidet. These proto-psychedelic works of startling color revealed undiscovered psychic terrains and were singled out by Burroughs who wrote an introduction to an exhibit of the paintings at the Librairie Anglaise that was featured in Life magazine. From Burroughs introduction…

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“Poetry is a place. The drawings of Harold Norse map a place. And anyone can go there who will make the necessary travel arrangements. Poetry is for everyone. Painting is for everyone. Harold Norse reached the place of his pictures by a special route which he is now prepared to reveal so that others can travel there.”

– William Burroughs on Harold Norse’s Cosmographs

The essay concludes with the following paragraph:

“While the influence of literary cut-ups continued to be seen in popular culture, from David Bowie’s use of cut-ups on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs to Thom Yorke selecting lyrics at random for Radiohead’s album Kid A in 2000, the visual art produced at the Beat Hotel remains unjustly neglected. Hopefully future scholars will find interest in these dusty gems from a forgotten time of vibrant North American expatriate activity.”

Reading The Outlaw Bible of American Art was like looking through a creative genealogy where I was reacquainted with artists who had influenced me while introducing artists previously unknown to me, but with whom I felt recognition. It also exposes readers to regional movements such as the Cleveland based artists like D.A. Levy and T.L. Kryss.

Collage by D.A. Levy

One artist I was surprised to not know of is Ben Morea, considering his early alliance with Allen Ginsberg, the Living Theater and the radical arts movement of New York City’s Lower East Side. Harold Norse was involved with the creation of the Living Theater and remained close with its founders Julian Beck and Judith Malina.

With the Becks, Morea joined in serving free food to the poor with Dorothy Day and the radical activists at the Catholic Worker, along with their protests against nuclear warfare. These experiences are documented in Judith Malina’s diaries published in 1984 by Grove Press.

By the mid-1960s, Morea along with Ron Hahne began producing the broadsheet/zine Black Mass whose title was inspired by the rising movement of black intellectuals and radicals. It’s provocative text and cut-and-paste aesthetic echoed the work of The Situationists and looked forward to zine-based movements such as Homocore and Riot Grrl.

The publication’s outreach led to establishing the anti-consumerist Free Stores, where people were able to obtain basic goods without currency, which later morphed into the underground anarchist affinity group Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.

Among the anthology’s most extensive essays are those about writer, artist and filmmaker David Wojnarowicz. Best known for his searing narrative memoir Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, Wonjarowicz’s writing takes off where Herbert Huncke and William Burroughs left off.

His sexually provocative writing differed from that of L.A. novelist John Rechy in that Wonjarowicz did not shy away from the political reality of gay oppression. Later he became an active member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power- ACT UP NY.

Wojnarowicz’s visual work defies easy classification. The work varies in format from sculpture, paintings, to stencils, collage and installation. He collaborated with other artists including a series of photographs taken in 1980s New York City with Wojnarowicz wearing a mask of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. He also collaborated with filmmaker Tommy Turner on the unfinished Super 8mm film Where Evil Dwells.

Among the imagery associated with Wojnarowicz’s visual art are children and houses sprouting flames, canvases and bodies covered in maps with their pastel colored countries contrasting with the blue of the oceans, metallic machinery, bugs and serpents, as well as Christian iconography.

His use of sexually explicit (though unapologetic may be a more apt description) homoerotic imagery brought controversy when the hateful and hate-filled conservative group Focus on the Family targeted Wojnarowicz’s participation in an exhibit which received government funding. Though this brought his work into the larger focus of the culture wars of the Reagan and Bush years, his response differed from apolitical gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in that Wojnarowicz fought back. He sued Focus on the Family for misappropriating his imagery in the group’s fundraising material and successfully won an injunction.

While there are a number of worthy artists not included in The Outlaw Bible of American Art, such a collection can never encompass all those who deserve further attention. Alan Kaufman is to be commended for publishing his own extensive curation. Here’s hoping there’s more recognition for the many neglected American artists whose vital work remains hidden. This post will end with some additional works included in the anthology: Winston Smith, Steve Dalachinsky and Jeff Kramm.

Collage by Winston Smith

Collage by Steve Dalachinsky

Silkscreen poster by Jeff Kramm

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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 Returns to Venice Beach

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L.A. poet Michael C. Ford stands between Tate Swindell (L) of Unrequited Records and Todd Swindell (R) editor of Norse Selected Poems. Beyond Baroque, Venice Beach, July 17, 2015.

Harold Norse’s connection to Venice Beach runs deep. It was there he chose to repatriate after living fifteen years abroad, a time when Harold poetry developed into a unique combination of his vast knowledge of history and the arts with a uniquely American voice which came from his childhood in early 20th Century Brooklyn. Harold lived in Venice Beach from 1969-71; that vibrant period was covered in a previous post.

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On July 17th, legendary literary arts center Beyond Baroque hosted a fantastic reading for the recently published Norse selected poems. It was a special treat to be able to read poems of Harold’s that were written specifically from his time in Venice Beach such as “I’m Across the Street in the Cemetery, Dead” and California Will Sink.”

DSC01318 copyBeyond Baroque features a state of the art performance space that allowed a chance to share some exclusive video footage that included Harold listening to cut recordings that he made while living in Paris at the Beat Hotel with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Additionally there was interview footage from Norse friends the poet Andrei Codrescu and actress and poet Judith Malina.

DSC01328 copyJoining the evening as a featured guest was L.A. poet, playwright and recording artist Michael C Ford who has been active in the L.A. arts scene since the mid-1960s. He was in the same cinema studies class at UCLA that included Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison who would go on to found The Doors and was taught by legendary German film director Josef von Sternberg, celebrated for his collaboration with Marlene Dietrich. To read more about Michael, have a look at this previous post.

In this short video clip, Michael relates a story of a poetry benefit that was organized by Harold in late 1971 to raise legal assistance funds for The Living Theater whose members where then imprisoned in Brazil for the radical advocacy of the political theater. Harold was part of the initial inspiration for the Theater which was founded in mid-1950s New York City by Julian Beck and Judith Malina.

What a blast it was to have Michael’s sonorous poetic voice bring vibrant life to poems such as “Death of Poets” and “Chez Popoff” that were included in the 1969 publication Penguin Modern Poets 13. Harold, who was asked to include two poets in the prestigious publication, chose then relatively unknown L.A. poet Charles Bukowski and San Francisco Surrealist Philip Lamantia.

paul-goodman-changed-my-life-posterThe evening’s highlight was undoubtedly Michael’s powerful reading of the poem “Remembering Paul Goodman“. The bisexual novelist, poet and psychologist ran in similar circles as Harold in 1940s New York City. Judith Malina and Harold were involved in Goodman’s psychotherapy work that resulted in the founding of Gestalt Therapy.

The poem, which was completed in 1973 shortly after Goodman’s death, is not only a tribute to the controversial and influential thinker but also serves as an elegy to the Greenwich Village bohemian scene along with the many poets whose life has been claimed by a hostile, greedy society. Here’s a video clip of Michael’s powerful reading. Enjoy!

 

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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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Alley Cat Books Hosts Reading from Norse Selected Poems

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Poets Neeli Cherkovski, Todd Swindell and Kevin Killian following a reading of poetry by their friend Harold Norse at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco.

A crowd of three dozen poetry lovers gathered in San Francisco’s Mission District at Alley Cat Books and Gallery to hear poems from I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse. This reading featured three writers who were all close friends with Norse and who shared various tales of their time with the master poet.

AlleyCatz1 copyThe evening began with the book’s editor Todd Swindell who explained how he met the acclaimed Beat poet through the introduction of Chicano Surrealist poet Ronnie Burk, whom Swindell knew through his involvement with the AIDS protest group ACT UP San Francisco. There was also a brief tribute to Harold’s good friend Judith Malina, founder of The Living Theater, who had died the day before. Swindell continued with an excerpt from Norse’s lengthy prose poem “HOMO” which described the history of homophobia and the transformative power of gay love.

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San Francisco author Kevin Killian followed by reading a poem not featured in the selected edition titled “Rescue Remedy” which he first published in the premier issue of the literary arts magazine Mirage. Written in the early 1980s, the poem begins as an elegy to the city’s gay men who were dying from AIDS and continues as a playful list of the healing properties of various herbs and elixirs. The work draws on Harold’s extensive knowledge of alternative healing and his frequent visits to San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery.

crab apple for those who feel something is not
quite clean about themselves
gorse for feelings of hopelessness and futility
holly for negative feelings
and a need for love

 

AlleyCatz3 copyRenowned lyrical poet Neeli Cherkovski began with his tribute poem to Norse, “Hydra”, about the famed Greek island where Norse lived in the mid 1960s. It was during that time he befriended the young unknown Canadian folk singer Leonard Cohen who was working on his soon to be published novel Beautiful Losers. The poem is featured in Cherkovski’s latest collection The Crow and I.

Another reading celebrating Norse’s work is coming up in Sonoma County on May 9th at 1:30 PM at Copperfiled’s Books in Petaluma.

 

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We Salute Judith Malina- Actress, Playwright and Revolutionary

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“I think in the 1960s, by the 1960s, most people thought by now in the 2010s we would have abolished prisons, abolished wars, abolished police, abolished national boundaries. We didn’t abolish any of that. It’s still around and the work remains to be done.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

Judith Malina in front of a portrait of her by Mary Beach. May 10, 2013. Photo© Tate Swindell

Though she was quite old and in very poor health, word of Judith Malina’s death seems implausible. Surely someone so filled with the fire of liberation could transcend even death, yet none of us escape that final curtain. Harold Norse’s history was intimately entwined with Judith and her partner Julian Beck. He was integral in the creation of the Living Theater and befriended many in their circle like Paul Goodman, Ira Cohen, Hanon Reznikov and Mel Clay.

I had the opportunity to meet Judith two years ago for a film project about Harold which my brother Tate and I have been working one for some years. It was the afternoon of a partial solar eclipse and the astral energy was strong. I recall a nervousness, thrilled to meet one of my inspirations, absurdly hoping to capture everything about her and Harold’s relationship within the few dozen minutes we spent on camera.

Though frail and bent, her presence remained luminescent. Dressed in black, her lips painted bright red and a colorful shawl draped across her shoulders, Judith wasn’t much interested in recalling the past. It was the present, the next play that intensified the light in her eyes. She was immensely patient with my list of names and dates. It wasn’t until Tate suggested i jettison my printed notes that the exchange began to swing.

Judith was a performer, an artist. Born in Germany, her family immigrated to the United States in 1929.  With a mother who was an actress and a father who was a rabbi, there was no separation for Judith between the artistic and the spiritual. For her, everything was political. This was the young girl who, during the second World War, beseeched her parents that we must show the Nazis we love them. No enemies, no fear.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theater photogrphaed by Iran Cohen.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theater photographed by Ira Cohen.

Judith Malina was a new Yorker to the bone. As a student of The New School, she had the chance to study with many of the artist refugees fleeing Europe. An early mentor was the dramatist Erwin Piscator who, along with Bertolt Brecht, was the foremost proponent of “epic theater” which espoused that theater should be a force for social change.

“Harold introduced Michael Fraenkal who brought a word into my life that’s really been central. Michael Fraenkal said the problem is the system. We began to analyze what is the system? It sounds like some kind of abstraction you know? The System. Well the system is the money and the form of give and take we practice with each other, the form of how to make a living in the world, how to live in the world. It’s all part of the system. We can’t entirely get out of it.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

It was Judith’s friendship, love affair and collaboration with Julian Beck that ignited the spark of theatrical revolution. Julian and Harold had become friends during the summer of  1944 in Provincetown. Beck at that time was a painter. Harold lived in a cottage with Tennessee Williams who was finishing his “pot boiler” The Glass Menagerie.

Judith1Readers are encouraged to seek out Judith Malina’s diaries which tell many tales of the Living Theater’s early days. Harold’s input was integral as it was his reading of an essay by W.B. Yeats essay on The Theater, which suggested that a stage wasn’t required in order to perform, a stage could be anywhere, that lead to the first Living Theater performance in the Beck’s apartment on West End Avenue.

 

Harold’s then lover was the composer Dick Stryker, whose music accompanied a number of early Living Theater performances. They also shared a mutual friend in the poet William Carlos Williams whose play Many Loves was the Living Theater’s first production. It should be noted that Judith and Julian were instrumental in promoting the dramatic works of Gertrude Stein.

 

“[William Carlos] Williams liked my English. Wrote me a letter in fact saying…how impressed he was to hear an American voice. Now I never thought of myself that way but Dr. Williams flattered me with that appellation. I like to have an International accent. I don’t want to be American. I want to be planetary, cosmic maybe even, post-planetary.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

Her diaries also record her and Julian’s resistance to Cold War paranoia and their radical opposition to nuclear weapons. During the 1950s it was common to hear air raid sirens blasting in lower Manhattan, so called civil defense alarms. At these times, you were required by law to take shelter indoors. Peace activists saw this ruse for what it was- the government’s desire to normalize Armageddon. Joining such illustrious company as gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and radical Catholic worker Dorothy Day, the Beck’s refused to go inside during a mid-day air raid drill and were arrested. Judith’s diaries continue the story with her incarceration at the infamous Women’s House of Detention on Greenwich Avenue.

Judith3A second volume of the diaries covering the years 1968-69 when the Living Theater returned from several years in Europe to which they’d fled following persecution by the IRS that had closed their theater location. They toured college campuses filled with radical students performing such pieces as Paradise Now and The Mysteries. Featuring an all black cover, the second volume of diaries was appropriately titled The Enormous Despair.

When I visited her in 2013, Judith mentioned that she was working on another volume of her diaries. She continued to keep her daily journal in addition to working on two new plays, one of which was to performed with the fellow residents at the Lillian Booth Actors Home just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
Judith’s energy expanded as she related how much she had grown in the last twenty years of her life, how much she learned in her 80s compared to her 70s and how different that was from her 60s. She was still discovering, still at work, working for the beautiful non-violent anarchist revolution. That task is still ours to continue but with her reminder that the work should be playful, thoughtful and most of all loving.
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