More Norse in International Press

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William Burroughs and Eddie Woods (1985). Photo © by Peter Edel.

International publishers have recently shown a renewed interest in Harold Norse, as detailed in a recent post about a German translation of Karma Circuit. That momentum continues thanks to two recent publications in Scotland and, once more, Germany.

Author and publisher Eddie Woods first met Norse when establishing himself in Amsterdam in the late 1970s. Both native New Yorkers, the writers cemented their friendship during an extended stay in Barcelona.

It’s precisely this time that’s covered in Woods’ prose piece “Remembering Harold Norse” as part of Smugglers Train. A collection of 19 poems in the original English plus German translations of six prose pieces (fiction and non-fiction), beautifully illustrated, it has recently been published by Moloko+ in Germany.

Together with Jane Harvey, Woods launched Ins & Outs magazine and founded Ins & Outs Press who published work by Norse and his friends including William Burroughs, Ira Cohen, Paul Bowles and Charles Henri Ford. The press also recorded readings by Norse, Jack Micheline and Herbert Huncke where were released on audio cassettes.

Harold Norse of Course… was recorded during Norse’s 1984 appearance at the seventh annual One World Poetry Festival.

It has lovingly been made available in digital download and deluxe colored vinyl formats thanks to San Francisco’s Unrequited Records. The CD version has since sold out, becoming one of the more recent Norse collector’s items.

“Remembering Harold Norse” tells the story of the evening when this recording was made, revealing the lingering contention of Harold’s connection with writer and painter Brion Gysin, both of whom resided at the Beat Hotel participating in the development of the Cut Up movement. The full text of the prose piece can be read in English on Woods’ website at this link.

Four years ago, Woods published an account of his time as a journalist in Bangkok during the end of the hippy era where he befriended playwright Tennessee Williams, whom Harold Norse first met in the early 1940s.

Tennessee Williams in Bangkok is less a tell-all memoir of Williams (there’s enough of those already) and more an evocative portrayal of Woods’ relationship with a drag-queen prostitute named Kim. Those who may be disappointed that Woods doesn’t dish the dirt about Tennessee will miss out on a sensitive and engrossing tale of Woods’ exploration of sexuality in a foreign land.

To learn more about Eddie Woods’ colorful life, I recommend a somewhat recent interview that can be found at Urban Graffiti.

Eddie Woods is also part of a recently published anthology from Scottish based author and publisher John Reilly, whose earlier 2003 anthology Shamanic Warriors Now Poets was co-edited with multitalented artist Ira Cohen. Described as “a celebration of now unfolding in all its nakedness, manifested and expressed by a gathering of like souls unfurling the banners of beauty and truth, the poetry of now”, it featured work in a variety of media by four generations of counter culture artists.

Building on that volume’s powerful content, comes The Final Crusade which offers a focused look at the transformative and destructive forces at play in global politics. Reilly has described the anthology as “an unprecedented global gathering speaking out against the destruction of civil liberties, against the destruction of your planet, against the new world order.”

It certainly lives up to that billing with contributions from, among others, Gerard Malanga, Charles Plymell, Neeli Cherkovski and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m pleased to mention an essay I wrote about the history of the medical cannabis movement has been included in The Final Crusade.

“Medical Marijuana Meltdown” takes a historical look at the medical cannabis movement which came out of alternative treatment AIDS activism and its development of patients’ buyers clubs, arguing for the federal rescheduling of cannabis to acknowledge its known and documented therapeutic benefits. A brief analysis of one part of this historic movement can be read at my other blog ACT UP Archives.

Harold is represented with two very strong political poems “Rapist, Racists & Rats” and “Requiem for St. Robbie Kirkland”. Both poems illustrate his ability to combine both an outrage over violent injustice and a sweeping historical knowledge illustrated with personal details.

The later poem concerns the tragic suicide of a gay youth, composed years before the pressing issue of anti-gay bullying gained recognition by the media. The poem’s emotional punch derives from Harold’s visceral connection to his own bruised youth, some seventy years before Robbie, where he lived in terror of anti-gay violence condoned by parents and teachers.

This was also at the heart of Harold’s final, uncompleted, masterwork HOMO, which examined two millennia of religious and political homophobia through poetry, prose and cut up. An excerpt from the work, published as part of his selected poems, can be read at this link.

Requiem for St. Robbie Kirkland

(1984-1997 martyred by schoolboys)

Teased , punched and kicked,
stoned with rocks since first grade
at age six, he did not choose
to be gay. He knew nothing
of sex, except as kids do,
Nature held sway.

Though girlish in childhood
his family loved him no less.
Boys taunted him, hooted and spat
in his face, yelling sissy and fairy
and sister Mary! They laughed at him,
jeering and sneering all day.

As they got older they goosed him
while rubbing their crotches, muttering
“Suck this!” and hissing like snakes.
At 14 he put a gun to his head
and ended the torment
before he returned to ninth grade.

The suicide note said, “I hope I can find
the peace in death that I could not find
in life.” Was this what Christ taught?
He who was mocked and nailed
to the cross? Now in His name
false “Christians” dish out the same.

 

To learn more about Robbie’s story, I recommend a tribute website created by his family at robbiekirkland.com.

 

 

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Norse Correspondence in UK Exhibit; Centennial Recap

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As mentioned in a previous post, correspondence from Harold Norse is included in an exhibit at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground features material from the archive of British writer and publisher Jeff Nuttall. His mimeo publication My Own Mag was one of the few outlets that published William Burroughs most experimental Cut Up work of the 1960s.

The letter from Norse to Nuttall was written sometime in 1968, shortly before his repatriation to America following fifteen years abroad. At that time, Norse was living in Regents Park, London, attempting to recover from chronic hepatitis and a broken love affair while busy with the publication of his collection Karma Circuit.

He was also editing an edition of the Penguin Modern Poets Series No. 13 featuring himself, Philip Lamantia and Charles Bukowski, in one of the L.A. poet’s first big exposures outside the small press. William Burroughs, who lived near by on Duke Street, St. James, was hooked on Scientology, offered to analyze Norse with the help of an e-meter and two tin cans.

The letter opens “after the debacle, i.e. anglo-american poetry conference at the American Embassy.” (I am not aware of the conference Harold’s referencing. If any readers have information, please post a comment.)

Harold continues to set the scene: “doors guarded by US Marines–don’t worry, boys, poetry ain’t dangerous here.” A nodding of his head is misread by the poet Edward Lucie-Smith as an agreement with (I assume) Nuttall’s presentation, “but actually was beating time to a tune by that great modern poet, Dylan,––Bob Dylan:

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, Do you, Mister Jooones…”

The reference to “that great modern poet” is a bit tongue-in-cheek as Norse had befriended Welsh poet Dylan Thomas back in New York City in the early 1950s.

From there the letter takes off into freestyle musings of 20th century poetry and arts that is unmistakably Norse, infused with his keen awareness of history which, towards the letter’s closing, connects to the present state of poetics:

& my mind went back to the Cabaret Voltaire (1916) where Hugo Ball chanted nonsense syllables, the Odéon where Tzara, at the end of the world, picked out words from a hat…& knew where it was at…& Gertrude Stein knew, & Ezra knew, & the poet of Finnegans Wake knew…& even Eliot knew but twisted it all back into the hands of the rational boys, who took fright and crept all the way back into the lap of Madame Bovary, as if 2 wars hadn’t happened, as if it wasn’t happening now everywhere…

You can click on the photo of the letter’s display above to view the text in better detail.

The exhibit, which runs through March 5th, is free and the Rylands Library is open every day. While you’re there, make sure to browse through their excellent gift shop or purchase a beverage from their drink bar. Several of Norse’s books are in stock, a rare chance for UK bibliophiles to obtain these pristine, out-of-print copies.

Following the remarks in the letter to Jeff Nuttall, it’s a good time to begin reviewing last summer’s fantastic series of events commemorating Harold Norse’s 100th birthday. It’s no mere coincidence that the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn was born the same year as Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara and others birthed the revolutionary art movement DaDa in Zurich, Switzerland.

The second centennial celebration was held at the Beat Museum that has, for over a decade, offered an invaluable resource in preserving and sharing the legacy of the Beat generation. It was also the host of Harold’s last public poetry readings.

Upcoming posts will explore the evening’s other participants. For now the focus is on remarks made by poet & writer Adrian Brooks, featured in a previous post, who was introduced to Harold in the early 1970s through poet Gerard Malanga. The two developed a friendship that encompassed Brooks assisting with Bastard Angel magazine as well as participating in Norse’s Master Class taught to a select group of young writers.

After reading a brilliant poem about Harold composed specifically for the event, Adrian joined in adding his comments to questions about various aspects of Harold from poet to scholar to teacher. This post will close with quotes from Adrian’s reflections from that evening which presciently expand upon observations made in Harold’s letter from the Rylands exhibition.

In addition to wanting his own place in the pantheon of modern “greats,” I don’t think it was just his nurturing that was at play. Harold was alive and therefore life spoke to him through the most haphazard signals.

I think he had a tremendous sense of dislocation that any artist has–a loneliness, a haunted-ness­–because he had a great heart.

There’s so much to say. He was never spiritually disciplined, but he absolutely got it. I think if Harold were here tonight, aside from being very pleased that this event was happening, he would also want to connect what’s happening here tonight in honor of him, to what’s happening in this country right now, with the killing of black people and the schism which he saw so clearly. Not only racially and through the lens of having been an expatriate, but really wanting the country to come together and embrace a larger sense of humanity.

He felt chiseled out of that because most artists are. But if he had a spirituality, it was in the recognition of the place of artists and writers in other countries, like Cavafy, or the other people he translated, and people he knew, Anaïs Nin, for example.

He was also propelled by a larger sense of justice. Partly because he had been denied it as a child, and a child who is denied justice either is destroyed by it or fights and Harold was a fighter. He was gutsy.

I feel like we are living, right now, in a catastrophe, which Harold saw and forecast and was right about, even though he missed the ‘60s here. That caused a kind of syncopation in his sense of contact with America. So partly through nurturing young writers, Neeli [Cherkovski] is a perfect example, I guess I am, he created this Master Class and it was a phenomenal experience.

[Audience question as to what was Harold’s focus like.]

When I was listening to the other people [speaking tonight] I was thinking about that. Probably what I am going to say may be offensive, but you asked a question, so I am going to tell you what I think.

Photo by William Childress 1974

I think the two great themes for an artist are sex and death. I think Harold’s focus was sex not death, but I think it wasn’t really sex that was his focus. It was the yearning for love, although he wrote that poem “Friends, if you wish to survive I would not recommend” it.

I think he had a very ambivalent relationship to desire. Harold was friends with Tennessee Williams before Williams was famous. They were in Provincetown together the summer that Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie. I think of desire– sex­– like it’s presented in A Streetcar Named Desire; the opposite of death is desire. But for Harold I think it was the attempt to staunch a wound through the enacting of sex.

That’s why I think there is very little of the “other” in his work. It’s about him and his relationship to it, not another person. Rarely, is there another person in his work. I don’t think that diminishes his art, but when you look at the plight of the homosexual, that Harold was born into and grew up with in America, it was so dangerous to be gay, so challenging to try to be a man, because he was a man, against the odds. He was a short man, a Jewish man, a poor man; the odds were stacked against him. Yet there was a grandness in him.

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Norse Centennial Recap: Mechanics Institute

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Authors Todd Swindell, Kevin Killian and Regina Marler celebrate Harold Norse’s 100th birthday at the Mechanics’ Institute, July 6, 2016

Authors Todd Swindell, Kevin Killian and Regina Marler celebrate Harold Norse’s 100th birthday at the Mechanics’ Institute, July 6, 2016

MI#3 WebAn attentive audience of nearly forty people gathered last Wednesday, July 6 to commemorate the 100th birthday of American Beat poet whose groundbreaking work forged a new voice for gay liberation, free of bigotry and hypocrisy.

The evening was hosted by Laura Sheppard, events director for the Mechanics’ Institute, in the storied San Francisco institution’s performance café. With wine available from the bar, this elegant room with professional light and sound equipment was a beautiful setting to recall and evaluate the life and work of the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn.

MI#2 WebThe festivities began with an invocation of queer poetic spirit by the multi-talented Jason Jenn who performed a selection of poems written by Harold that included “A Man’s Life”, Norse’s translation of a sonnet by the 19th Century Roman poet G.G. Belli.

Here’s a clip of Jason’s performance of “At the Caffé Trieste“, written in the early 1970s at the landmark North Beach coffee house as Harold looks back through the ages to the ways in which the poets’ voice guide us. It ends with the line, “this is the only Golden Age there’ll ever be.”

MI#6 WebThe evening’s compère was Tate Swindell of Unrequited Records who introduced each of the speakers, adding observations into Harold’s life experience. The first speaker was San Francisco based writer Kevin Killian whose friendship with Norse began in the early 1980s.

He spoke with warmth and affection about his friendship with Harold which began when Kevin would wheel his electric typewriter, down Guerrero Street from 24th, over to Harold’s cottage on Albion Street. A speedy typist, Kevin would assist Harold who was compiling material that eventually became his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel. Some of the pieces first appeared in Kevin’s magazine No Apologies which he published with Brian Monte.

Turns out Kevin had been a member of the Mechanics’ Institute at the time he met Harold and had brought him to visit their beautiful library. Earlier Harold had been kvetching to Kevin that none of his books were available at the local branch of the SF Public Library. “It’s only because they’ve been stolen the Public Library,” was Kevin’s clever reply. Here’s a six minute clip of his introductory remarks.

Kevin also remarked on Harold’s youthful spirit when in company with other writers and artists. He spoke of how Harold was always keen on visiting with artists whom he had known from his earlier days, from Tennessee Williams to John Cage, who were passing through San Francisco to participate in one event or another.

MI#5 WebRegina Marler offered insights into the connections between Beat writers and their Mothers which made her anthology Queer Beats a much needed addition to Beat literature scholarship. Her reading of “I’m Not a Man” added another level of appreciation to what is one of Harold’s most well known and well loved poems.

My remarks followed Regina’s sensitive evaluation of how Harold differentiated from his Beat contemporaries in terms of his treatment of women. I quoted from a 1985 letter from Harold to a publisher concerning an updated version of his 1976 collection of gay themed poetry Carnivorous Saint. Here’s an excerpt from the letter concerning Harold’s desire to remove instances of the word “bitch” when the collection was reprinted in 1986 as The Love Poems.

“Such usages do not accurately represent my consciousness now or, indeed, then, if truth be told, as I have always resented slurs of any kind in the language, yet given a macho background have been insensitive to slurs against women, whom I’ve personally always considered the superior sex, in any case…These words are offensive to me and to those I might hurt unintentionally.”

MI#4 WebThanks to Michael Petrelis for snapping the photographs included in this post. The photo to left shows me in an animated conversation with Laura Sheppard and, at the edge of the frame, Count Federico Wardal who attends all the Harold Norse related events in San Francisco.

Harold would certainly have been thrilled that such an event for his hundredth birthday would be hosted at a landmark San Francisco location. Thanks to all those who attended the presentation. Stay tuned for the next report back from the following Saturday’s event at The Beat Museum.

The complete video of the event can be viewed below:

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