Beatdom features Harold Norse politics and poetry essay

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For some years, David S. Wills has made Beatdom an essential resource and outlet for the varied participants of Beat arts and literature, along with the subsequent generations who’ve taken inspiration from them. Though names like Kerouac and Ginsberg catch readers’ attention, there remains a wealth of experience to be shared. An interview with writer and activist Amiri Baraka from 2013 is an excellent example.

BeatdomMy extensive essay “Harold Norse– the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn” has just been posted to Beatdom. You can read it here. As the current print edition of Beatdom focuses on politics, my piece takes a look at the ways in which Harold’s connection to gay liberation and environmental destruction were expressed in his work.

Unlike his contemporary Allen Ginsberg, Harold was more observer than participant in social movements. Though he was politically enlightened, the distance created by his outsider status as an illegitimate child and queer imbued his work with a voice both empathetic and prescient.

One of the reasons Norse’s work connects with today’s new generation of poetry lovers is the prescient nature of his voice – its observations of gay liberation and environmental destruction. These topics are echoed in his critiques of racism, war, and animal abuse. For Harold, the sexual drive is connected to our animalistic origins, its expression growing from childhood, before repression by religious brainwashing. His poetry demonstrates this universal truth through his rich knowledge of history and literature; he reflected contemporary culture as changing little from the impulses of Classical Greece and Rome.

david-s-wills.scientology-william-s-burroughs-and-the-weird-cultIn addition to posting online essays, Beatdom publishes an annual literary journal as well as operating its own press. Some of the titles include Wills’ Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ which takes a look at Burroughs’ involvement in the controversial movement and the ways it affected his writing.

Burroughs’ interest in Scientology coincided with his exploration of Cut Up writing, which viewed language as a virus of control, and directly influenced his novels The Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. More than a passing interest, this key period in Burroughs literary development has, until now, been ignored by the majority of Burroughs scholarship.

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Another Beatdom book worth reading is Marc Olmsted’s Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg. Olmsted was first fan, then lover and then a student of Allen’s and this collection of letters and his memoir is a much welcomed addition to better understanding the influence Ginsberg’s had on the generation of writers and artists who followed the Beats.

The book inclusion of photographs and copies of correspondence give the collection the feel of mimeograph press where many Beat writers were published in the 1960s. Harold Norse also makes an appearance in Marc’s story. In the coming months, I’ll post a more thorough review of the book, but for now I strongly recommend Don’t Hesitate to those interested in expanding their knowledge of Ginsberg’s biography.

In the meantime, you can take a look at my report back from last summer’s Beat Conference in San Francisco where Marc presented a talk about Ginsberg and other Beat writers who influenced him including William Burroughs and Charles Plymell.

Beatdom has also added an announcement about the Harold Norse Centennial events coming up this summer, along with a plug for the Norse book sale fundraiser, now in its final days. Look forward to more Norse material at Beatdom in the coming future.

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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.

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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