Harold Norse 101st Birthday and Centennial Recap: Beyond Baroque

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Today marks the 101st birthday of Harold Norse whose gutsy and ground breaking poetry in the American vernacular continues to inspire and inform generations of readers. Last year there were a series of events celebrating the centennial of the Bastard Angel from Brooklyn. In this post, we’ll look back at the final Harold Norse 100 event held at Beyond Baroque in Venice Beach, where Norse had lived upon his return to the States in 1968 after fifteen years abroad.

The evening featured remembrances by one of Harold’s oldest friends complemented by interpretations of his poetry by two local L.A. performers. That evening the SoCal skyline was but a hazy layer of smoke and ash from a raging wildfire north of the city, but it didn’t deter a small yet dedicated audience from attending a truly special event.

For decades Beyond Baroque has been a space where performance and creation of new works has remained available to a wide variety of artists. (They celebrate their 50th anniversary next year.) It’s bookstore has a superb collection of poetry titles, including a number of Harold Norse’s books which are out of print.

Richard Modiano, Director of Beyond Baroque, has long been a supporter of Norse’s work. In 2015, they held a reading for the release of Norse’s selected poems, the first posthumous collection of his poetry.

Jason Jenn’s dedication to keeping alive the legacies of ground breaking gay artists from the 20th century are part of his gifted talent of inspiration and information. Following his participation in the two San Francisco centennial events, Jason was on his home turf at Beyond Baroque. Among the poems he chose for that evening’s performance was “California Will Sink“, written while Harold was living in Venice Beach in the early 1970s.

Jason Jenn performing the work of gay poet and filmmaker James Broughton

A work of both hopelessness and regeneration, it interweaves the poet’s initial attempts at restoring his health after decades of cigarettes, booze and boys with an awareness of society’s destruction of the environment and its effects on animals. Further analysis of the poem, and the political perspective in Norse’s poetry, can be read in an essay I wrote for Beatdom.

Longtime Los Angeleno, S.A. Griffin, profiled in a previous post, has been acting and writing for decades. His unique talents were in fine form that evening with a reading from Griffin’s own cut up of Norse’s writing prepared specially for the event.

The cut up method was first developed in the early 1960s at the Beat Hotel where Norse collaborated with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin by physically cutting up text, inserting the element of chance. The rearranged text often resulted in startling new works.

The group’s experimentation continued through the manipulation of tape recorders and into visual art. Harold made what he called Cosmographs by throwing colored ink onto paper which was then rinsed out in a bidet. The vibrantly colorful works, which looked towards the forthcoming psychedelic movement, were recently featured in an anthology The Outlaw Bible of American Art.

For this final centennial celebration, Griffin chose his cuts from a number of Norse’s best known poems including “I’m Not a Man” and “Classic Frieze in a Garage” and adding “Sniffing Keyholes”, the centerpiece to Norse’s novella Beat Hotel, the only cut up book written entirely at the famed hotel. Griffin’s piece, strong and engaging, brings  refreshed perspective to Norse’s work, suitably evocative for a hundredth birthday celebration.

Writer Tom Livingston’s friendship with Norse was previously examined in this post. In 1961, when his first novel had been accepted by Bantam Books, Livingston was living in Palo Alto. Long before its transformation into the immense wealth of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto was still a small town.

It was on a nondescript country street named Perry Lane where the poets and novelists hung out. Ken Kesey lived there while finishing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the gay English poet Thom Gunn was a teaching assistant as Stanford.

Once Tom’s advance money came in, he flipped a coin to decide whether to travel to Tahiti or Paris. It came up heads for Paris. It was through a friend from Palo Alto named Mike Miller that Tom first heard about Harold Norse when New York Times columnist Anatole Broyard invited them to visit the Beat Hotel and meet the expatriate poet.

Thomas Livingston and Harold Norse in Vence, 1963

They first met at the café Deux Magots where Norse offered Livingston a job with the Living Theater who were performing two plays as part of France’s Theater of Nations summer series. Their friendship further developed when Norse learned that Livingston knew Henry Miller. Among Norse’s mentors from his time in New York City was the writer Anaïs Nin who had a long love affair with Miller.

Livingston had played ping pong with the Brooklyn born writer’s sons in Big Sur when Livingston had worked as a bartender and chambermaid at what later became the Esalen Institute. Norse revealed that a New York friend named Harry Herskovitz had entrusted him with two boxes of about 500 letters from Miller which had mysteriously disappeared. The loss of correspondence and manuscripts became a reoccurring theme in Norse’s life.

While discussing this mutual association in Norse’s tiny room at the hotel, Livingston suddenly felt a paralyzing chill from the back of his neck down to base of his spine. “Bill is giving you his death ray,” Harold said. Turning towards the doorway, Livingston saw William Burroughs in a three-piece suit, one hand holding an unopened umbrella, who turned away and called “Ian…Ian…it’s time for dinner.” Ian Sommerville was Burroughs’ lover, who helped him get off heroin while also contributing to the development of Cut Ups.

These are but a few of the stories relayed by Livingston; for more of his fantastic talk, take a look at the video link above.

As the evening ended, we drifted out into the nighttime sky whose setting sun glowed red from the still burning Sand Fire. It’s unearthly glow prompted me to recall the final lines from one of Harold’s greatest poems, “I Am in the Hub of the Fiery Force”

obsessed with red as the universe burns
                       i am in the hub of the fiery force
                          the red heat of the conflagration
                               o cosmos turn! turn! thy flaming wheel!

 

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International Norse: Jeff Nuttall Exhibit in Manchester UK

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Correspondence from Harold Norse is featured in a new exhibit Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground at the John Rylands Library as part of the University of Manchester. Jeff Nuttall was, among many activities, a critic, poet and publisher whose mimeo publication My Own Mag was one of the few outlets that published William Burroughs most experimental Cut Up work of the 1960s.

rylands1According to their website, “The John Rylands Library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands. In 1889 the architect Basil Champneys designed the striking gothic building, which took ten years to build and was opened to public readers on 1 January 1900.

The library became part of The University of Manchester in 1972 and currently holds the Special Collections of The University of Manchester Library. Mrs Rylands’ memorial to her husband is now part of the third largest academic library in the United Kingdom, and the Deansgate building houses over 250,000 printed volumes, and well over a million manuscripts and archival items.”

rylands3I had the chance to visit this cathedral of an archive in June while attending the European Beat Studies Network annual conference where I presented a talk on Harold’s involvement with Cut Ups at the Beat Hotel. My impressions of the conference can be read at Beatdom.

The Jeff Nuttall exhibit has been co-curated by Douglas Field and Jay Jeff Jones in collaboration with staff from the Rylands Library. Field, who is a senior lecturer of 20th Century American Literature at the University, recently published All Those Strangers: The Art and Lives of James Baldwin. I asked him for some words about the exhibit.

“hope my last letter was not interpreted in the wrong light—hardly remember what i said,” Harold Norse wrote to Jeff Nuttall in the mid-1960s, “except i was feeling a blowtorch searing my liver and my pharynx seemed stuffed with cottonwool and my head with potato salad.” Despite publishing their work in the most prominent publications of the international underground, including Residu, Jeff Nuttall and Harold Norse remain peripheral figures in accounts of post-war avant-garde writing. “Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground” shows the extent to which Nuttall, the author of Bomb Culture (1968) and the editor of My Own Mag (1963-1967) formed extensive international networks with writers including William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi.

off_beat_leaflet_web1Harold wrote about Nuttall in a post script included in his Cut Up novel Beat Hotel. Completed in London on May 24, 1968, the essay titled “Cut-Up Magic” is perhaps the only contemporary document of the development of the Cut Up method.

Among the younger writers whose talent developed through association with and influence from” fellow Cut Up originators William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Norse singles out Frenchman Claude Pélieu, whose Cut Ups were translated into English by Mary Beach, Carl Weissner, whose German translation of Beat Hotel first appeared in 1974, and Jeff Nuttall, “an English poet, prose-writer and painter, [who] used the technique to enrich a fertile imagination.”

off_beat_leaflet_web2Douglas Field generously offered a description of a letter from Harold included in the exhibit:

Norse and Nuttall corresponded in the 1960s, displaying a warmth and camaraderie. The exhibition displays a letter from Norse to Nuttall in 1965 where the American writer riffs on orange coloured paper, his missive a fine example of Norse’s inimitable surreal poetic prose that he would deploy in the Beat Hotel.

Saturday, after the débacle, i.e. anglo-American poetry conference,” Norse begins his letter, “doors guarded by US Marines—don’t worry boys, poetry ain’t dangerous here.” Norse appears on another letter, one written by the German translator and avant-garde writer, Carl Weissner, a close friend of Norse, and a collaborator with Nuttall. “Hope you dug Olé 5,” Norse scrawls at top of Weissner’s letter to Nuttall, in reference to a special issue of the magazine which featured Norse’s work.  Norse, as Nuttall recalled in Bomb Culture, was “on the wavelength,” a “formidable and adventurous” writer.

The John Rylands Library maintains a special collections blog that’s well worth a view. I particularly enjoyed a post by a computer science student from the University who designed innovative ways of mapping the connections between Nuttall and the wide variety of artists with whom he collaborated. These dynamic and artful compositions chart the extensive interactions that branched out from the Beat originators of Norse’s time to the burgeoning counter-culture generation of which Nuttall was certainly a ring master.

rylands2The Rylands Library is open seven days a week and admission is free. Their gift shop and café is a lovely, light filled space also deserving of a visit.

The Nuttall related material in their gift shop features a selection of Harold Norse publications including the recently published selected poems and the hard to find first issue of Bastard Angel magazine. This is a rare opportunity for travelers in England to purchase books by Harold Norse, yet another reason to not miss this incredible exhibition.

 

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Norse Cut Ups at EBSN Manchester Conference

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poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyThe European Beat Studies Network (EBSN) annual conference begins in two weeks in Manchester, UK. I’m very excited to attend this year’s conference as a participant in Session 13: Cut Ups, of Course.

My talk, “Cut Out of the Cut Ups: Harold Norse at the Beat Hotel”, will focus on Harold Norse’s involvement in the development of Cut Ups during his residency at the Beat Hotel in the early 1960s. Also presenting in Session 13 are Antonio Bonome, “Polytopy and Burroughs’ Coordinate Points” and Edward Robinson, “Audio Technology, Science and Fiction in Burroughs’ Electronic Revolution”.

Harold Norse in his room at the Beat Hotel. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Harold Norse in his room at the Beat Hotel. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Cut Ups began as an accident when the painter Brion Gysin cut a matte for one of his pictures. Slicing through a stack of newspapers, he was startled to discover new phrases as a result of the altered text.

Gysin eagerly showed the results to his friend and fellow Beat Hotel resident William Burroughs who took up the mantle of this new experimental method in his novels The Soft Machine and Nova Express.

Unfortunately Harold’s role in Cut Ups has been consistently under appreciated.  Norse is of course partly to blame as he never promoted his involvement unlike Brion Gysin who always had a flair for promotion. The relationship between Norse and Gysin was complex. Despite a developing rivalry, the pair were friendly during their time at the Beat Hotel. Gysin was the first to see Harold’s breakthrough Cut Up “Sniffing Keyholes” and immediately brought it to Burroughs’ attention. It later became the centerpiece for Norse’s Cut Up novella Beat Hotel.

Ian Sommerville, Montparnasse, Paris, 1962. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Ian Sommerville, Montparnasse, Paris, 1962. Photo © Harold Chapman.

Harold was also responsible for introducing Ian Sommerville to their scene. As related in Harold’s memoirs, it was in a bookstore in the Latin Quarter that he met the young British mathematical student who “liked older men.”

Despite his icy, anti-social affect, Burroughs was in need of youthful male companionship, something which had been easier to find when living in Tangier. Sommerville’s connection with Burroughs was significant in a number of ways. Ian was instrumental in assisting Burroughs through heroin withdrawal and collaborated with Gysin in the creation of the Dreamachine.

BURROUGHS1097This year’s EBSN conference theme is science and music. One of the sessions is titled “Burroughs – Addiction, Dystopia and Biology”. The conference’s keynote speaker is Andrew Lees, Professor of Neurology at the National Hospital, London. A fascinating interview with Dr. Lees was recently posted at RealityStudio.

His book Mentored by a Madman: the William Burroughs Experiment is described as “drawing on Burroughs’ search for an addiction cure to discover a ground-breaking treatment for shaking palsy, and learns how to use the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes to diagnose patients. Lees follows Burroughs into the rainforest and under the influence of yage (ayahuasca) gains insights that encourage him to pursue new lines of pharmacological research and explore new forms of science.”

Towers Open FireAmong the many presentations relating to music, Frank Rynne’s “On-going Guerrilla Conditions” will feature a live soundtrack to a series of short films from a collaboration between English filmmaker Anthony Balch and Burroughs made in the 1960s.

As Cut Ups brought the use of montage to literature, it was natural for Burroughs to extend his exploration in altering space and time to experimenting with cinema. Though some of the Balch films can be seen online, it will be interesting to see what new experiences occur at this screening.

Photo Paul Beattie, San Francisco, 1960

ruth weiss photographed by Paul Beattie, San Francisco, 1960

Among the other sessions I’m looking forward to include a number of presentations about Beat poet ruth weiss. Still going strong at age 88, ruth’s participation in Beat poetry reaches back to the 1950s, though she continues to perform her poetry in San Francisco as well as internationally.

ruth will be perform June 15 in North Beach with Doug O’Connor (acoustic bass), Rent Romus (saxophones), and Hal Davis (percussion). This event is part of the Beat Museum Presents series which is sponsoring the Harold Norse Centennial events. An impressionistic interview with ruth can be read at Michalis Limnios’ website.

ruth’s cinematic poem will screen along with the work of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. There is even a conference sessiton titled “wiess & co.” featuring two presentations about ruth, in addition to “Elsie Cowen as Feminist Avant-Garde Poet”. It’s wonderful to see EBSN including diverse Beat poets outside of the more familiar and predominantly male names.

Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs

Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs

But there’s even more happening at the EBSN Manchester conference: Ginsberg – Buddhism, Collage, Kaddish; Kerouac’s Tristessa and Mexico City Blues; Philip Lamantia and Jay DeFeo; The influence of John Rechy and Hubert Selby Jr. on the Music of Lou Reed; The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop;  Burroughs the Pussy King: Burroughs, Acker and Punk; The Huncke Papers and Beat Impressions: A Conversation with John Tytell. You can read the full program here.

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Norse Centennial Salutes from Jan Herman & City Lights Books

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“Attention must be paid,” was the famous line from Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. It appears the Harold Norse Centennial has begun to engender some of that past due attention to his legacy.

A couple months ago, I wrote about Harold’s friend Jan Herman, whose recently published The Z Collection contains portraits and sketches of notable 20th Century authors. Jan was also a notable publisher whose Nova Broadcast Press included works by William Burroughs, Carl Weissner and Norman Mustill.

ArtsJournalThese days Jan’s writing can be found at ArtsJournal. His latest post focuses appreciation on the Harold Norse Centennial and my work here at haroldnorse.com. Read the complete article here.

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In addition to Jan Herman’s article, the folks over at City Lights Books gave a shout out to #HaroldNorse100 San Francisco events and ongoing book sale on their Twitter account.

Accessibility of information and material about Harold Norse on the Internet is crucial for introducing him to people who may not have heard of his work or unable to find his books at their local library. Thanks to City Lights Books for using their platform to bring more attention to Harold Norse’s poetry.

There are still a couple weeks remaining for the online Harold Norse book sale at indiegogo. Featuring a selection of rare, out of print works, this is an exceptional chance to obtain copies, in mint condition, of Harold’s books. DSC00018Each book bundle comes with a bevy of extras including commemorative book marks, photographs and text by Norse including his acceptance speech for the 1991 National Poetry Association’s Lifetime Achievement award.

This week’s featured book is Harold’s Cut Up novel Beat Hotel first published in English by Atticus Press in 1983. This one of the few Cut Up publications written entirely at the famous hotel at 9 rue Gît-le-Cœur, on the Left Bank of Paris, and includes a foreword and text by William Burroughs.

These are fast becoming collector’s items, so visit the campaign to purchase your own copy.

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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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Jan Herman’s The San Francisco Earthquake and Norse Centennial Update

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Jan Herman at City Lights editorial office with SF Earthquake No.3, 1969. Photo courtesy Reality Studios.

Jan Herman at City Lights editorial office with SF Earthquake No.3, 1969. Photo courtesy Reality Studios.

New York born and based writer, publisher Jan Herman first met Harold Norse in Paris in the grim, grey winter of 1963. Herman, a recent college grad, had moved to Paris to live the life of an expatriate writer. Poor and lonely, he sat in cafés writing poems on napkins and was noticed by Norse. The pair struck up a conversation leading to an invitation to Norse’s room at the Beat Hotel.

For years, American expatriate Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs had been living amongst the hotel’s small, inexpensive rooms. The painter Brion Gysin had recently cut through a stack of newspapers only to recognize a new language within its butchered text and, along with Burroughs’ collaboration, originated the use of Cut Ups.

“The hotel was miserable, dark, cold, dreary. The walls were sweating. It was winter, you know, they were wet. It was really cave-like. We went to his room. We smoked hash. He put the make on me, of course. I was rather innocent but I was not interested really, sexually, but we had a good time. We talked forever because I didn’t get out of that room until it was late night, dark, late night. I made my way completely loaded back to my hotel room with several books, very thin books… All this expatriate stuff I had hoped for, he personified.”

-Jan Herman interviewed in 2013

z-collection

Herman recently published The Z Collection– portraits and sketches of notable 20th Century authors which has been featured by The International Times. Interviewed by Hilary Holladay, author of the excellent Herbert Huncke biography, Herman’s sharp, insightful, generous observations about Beat writers can be read here.

IT recently featured Jack Foley’s review of the Norse Selected Poems and it’s great to see him popping up again. Holladay’s interview includes a mention of Norse though he is not among the book’s subjects.

Holladay: “You met Harold Norse in Paris when he was living at the Beat Hotel. Did you stay in touch with him after that? Considering what an interesting, well-connected poet he was, why do you think he didn’t achieve the name recognition of the more famous Beat poets?”

Herman: “I wasn’t in touch with him again until 1967, when I started Earthquake. In the third issue I published his long poem “Hotel Nirvana.” It was later included as the title poem of his City Lights collection. When he was living in Venice Beach, we occasionally spoke by phone. At some point he said he wanted to move to San Francisco, so before I left town at the end of 1971, I offered to pass him my railroad flat with all the furniture in it. The rent was only 90 bucks a months. He lived there for the next five years.HN eqk Web

Lack of wide recognition bothered the hell out of him. He was so hurt and so vain about it that he became an awful injustice collector, pissing and moaning to the point of obsession. Hal needed a better PR agent or a better strategy. He was strictly a literary man, which doesn’t cut it. Ginsberg became legendarily famous for his activism. Burroughs became a celebrated cult figure by way of the underground press. Even Gregory Corso’s antics drew attention. But Hal didn’t do too badly in the glory department. His name is right up there, second from the top, on the memorial plaque at what used to be the Beat Hotel.”

Reality Studios, the premier online community of Burroughs enthusiasts, features a superb overview of Herman’s work and Jan’s latest writings can be found at his Arts Journal blog.

Carl Weissner during the recording of UFO 3,1972. Photo courtesy of Reality Studios.

Carl Weissner during the recording of UFO 3,1972. Photo courtesy of Reality Studios.

Though only published for two years, The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE was an outlet for writers and artists who were part of Herman’s circle. Among them are painter Mary Beach, writer and artist Claude Pélieu, artist Liam O’Gallagher, collagist Norman Mustill and translator, publisher Carl Weissner.

Weissner, who passed away four years ago, was the German translator for both Norse and Charles Bukowski. Through the publisher Maro Verlag, Weissner was the first to publish Norse’s Cut Up novel The Beat Hotel. The 1975 edition (republished in 1995) featured surrealist, psychedelic collages by Mustill.

Norse’s poem “Hotel Nirvana” was featured in the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE published in Spring, 1968. The poem expanded, eventually becoming the title poem of Norse’s 1974 book published in City Lights’ Pocket Poet Series.

Claude Pélieu in 1963. Photo courtesy ressacs.hautetfort.com

Claude Pélieu in 1963. Photo courtesy ressacs.hautetfort.com

In addition to writings by fellow Beat Hotel resident and Cut Up participant Sinclair Beiles and the poem “Elegy for Jack Spicer” by poet Robert Duncan, highlights inside the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE are a collection of collages of Beach, Pélieu, Mustill and others.

These artists deserve more attention at haroldnorse.com, but for now there are a number of web links that call for further examination. The Beach-Plymell Collection is a superb repository of artwork by Beach and Pélieu. Be warned you could spend days looking at their incredible works. Empty Mirror Books features some remembrances of Mary Beach. For now, let your eyes rattle at some of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE’S collages.

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Claude Pélieu collage, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, page 33

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Norman Ogue Mustill and Mary Beach collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 50-51

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Liam O’Gallagher collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 38-39

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Carl Weissner and Claude Pélieu collages, SF Earthquake No. 3, Spring 1968, pages 54-55

As mentioned in the previous post, July 6th marks the hundredth anniversary of Harold Norse’s birthday. There are a number of events planned this summer to mark this historic occasion and bring greater attention to a great American poet. More information will be posted in the coming days, but for now you might want to mark the following dates on your calendar:

 

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Harold Norse Centennial, Manchester UK Beat Conference and Pocket Poets Anthology

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July 6, 2016, marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Beat poet Harold Norse. From the immigrant streets of his Brooklyn childhood, to mid-century Greenwich Village, to the American expatriates of Europe and North Africa, to his position as one of San Francisco’s best poets, Harold Norse remains a forgotten voice among 20th Century American Poetics. In the coming months, I’ll be announcing a series of events to increase attention and appreciation for the rich legacy of Harold’s like and work.

The European Beat Studies Network website states it “brings together, from across and beyond Europe, those who share an academic or creative interest in the broad field of Beat culture. The EBSN aims to be inclusive; a genuine community of scholars and students, writers and artists, which not only reaches out to all kinds of people who work on the Beats, but also actively invites their participation.”

EBSN barThe organization’s President, Oliver Harris, has overseen expanded publications of many of William Burroughs’ books. In 2014 he edited editions with the restored text of Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy: the cut-up novels The Soft Machine, Nova Express and The Ticket That Explode. Material for these books were written while Burroughs lived at the Beat Hotel collaborating with Harold and Brion Gysin on the development of the cut-up method.

EBSN’s latest conference was held in Brussels, Belgium in late October 2015. Renowned James Baldwin scholar Douglas Field, Lecturer of 20th Century American Lit at the University of Manchester, has taken the lead among academics calling attention to the work of Harold Norse. Douglas presented a paper about Harold and has been generously offered to share the preface to his work.

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Harold Norse & Douglas Field, San Francisco, 2007. Photo © Tate Swindell

“Keen to promote the life and work of Harold Norse, I presented a paper titled “Beat Counterculture in the Digital Age: Documenting Harold Norse” at a plenary panel session with Thomas Antonic (“Ruth Weiss – Beat, Jazz, and the Art of Improvisation”) and A. Robert Lee (“Beat Contenders: Kupferberg, Micheline, Sanders”).

As I’ve found in the past, Norse remains a shadowy figure in the history of Beat lore; he is known to many but read by few. As I talked to people in Brussels, many Beat scholars and poets knew something about Norse’s life and work, but they did not know the extent of his output, or of his craftsmanship as a poet.”

“As Alan Kaufman astutely observes, Anne Charter’s Portable Beat Reader brought attention to many Beat writers—but it also consigned those writers omitted from her anthology to obscurity. Writers like Norse who didn’t make the Portable Beat Reader, it seems, would quickly be forgotten. Thanks to the tireless work of Todd and Tate Swindell, Norse is destined to rise from the ashes… reminding us of this late writer’s incomparable talent as a poet, artist and letter writer.”

poster-ebsn-manchester-20161 copyHarris and Field are organizing this year’s EBSN conference to held June 27-29 in Manchester, England, and the two mains topics will be music and science. Given the cut-up method’s ongoing influence among English musicians such as recently departed David Bowie, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the activities at the Beat Hotel in early 1960s Paris will certainly be among the main discussions.

As Harold was an integral participant in the creation of cut-up (his cut-up novella Beat Hotel was published in 1983), I hope to make sure that his work and legacy are known at the conference.

Hotel Nirvana remains among Harold’s best known collections, responsible for introducing him to a new generation of poets and writers when it was published in 1974. It was among that year’s National Book Award nominees losing to double-winners Allen Ginsberg and Adrienne Rich. As part of the prestigious Pocket Poets Series (edition #32), it unfortunately remained the only collection of Norse’s writing published by City Lights Press.

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To celebrate last year’s 60th anniversary of the Pocket Poets Series, City Lights editor Lawrence Ferlinghetti released an anthology from all 60 editions. Harold’s poems are included among his friends Allen Ginsberg (Howl #4), Gregory Corso (Gasoline #8), Frank O’Hara (Lunch Poems #19) and Bob Kaufman (Golden Sardine #21).

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Customers at City Lights are likely to receive a complementary bookmark featuring stamp size reproductions of all 60 editions of the Pocket Poets Series. Harold would be rightly proud to see Hotel Nirvana prominently featured. Let’s hope City Lights chooses to republish an updated edition of this essential Norse collection in the future.

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Jack Foley Review of Selected Poems in International Times

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Int. TimesInt. Times 2Following the recent mention of Harold Norse’s correspondence with Charles Bukowski in The New York Times, the latest review of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse is now available online at International Times– the newspaper of resistance.

This fantastic review was penned by Harold’s good friend the poet Jack Foley, who has been doing a great job lately of shinning a light on Harold’s poetry. Yesterday the first half of his two part radio show, Cover to Cover, a weekly fixture on KPFA, 94.1 FM, was dedicated to Norse and featured excerpts from a 1991 interview that Jack recorded with Harold. The concluding episode will air Sept. 9th at 3:30 PM. The show is continually available online at this link.

Talisman House Publishers has recently published I’m Going to Fly Through Glass, a new Selected Poems by Harold Norse. Lovingly edited by Todd Swindell and with an introduction by Neeli Cherkovski, it’s an excellent passageway into the work of a man admired by writers as diverse as James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Bukowski. The cover of I’m Going to Fly Through Glass features a remarkable 1938 photograph of the young poet executing a balletic leap, a tour jeté en l’air. I’m sure it’s the hope of Todd Swindell that Harold Norse’s reputation will perform a similar leap because of this book.

 

Not only a wonderful review of the book, it’s a thoughtful appreciation of Harold’s life. Furthermore Jack’s piece, which is more of an essay in length, provides an insight to the reasons Harold’s work has been unjustly neglected in the continued examination of 20th Century poetics, particularly among Beat poets.

 

Shouldn’t there be a place for a man who, in Auden’s phrase, spent his life in “writing well”? Isn’t it the point of magazines like The American Poetry Review (APR) to direct readers towards the little known, the careful, caring writers who kept the flame alive but who never used it to burn anything down? May Todd Swindell’s carefully-edited libellus (“little book,” as Catullus put it) bring Harold the readers his work deserves.

 

Int. Times 3Founded in London in 1966, International Times was part of the radical underground press in England through the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Among its contributors were poet and social commentator Jeff Nuttall along with Harold’s friends and fellow Beat writers William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Among its editors were Mike Lesser, Chris Sanders, the poet Eddie Woods (another of Harold’s close friends) along with poet, actor and dramatist Heathcote Williams who continues the paper online, including a complete digital archive of its earlier issues.

I’m grateful to Heathcote Williams and the staff of International Times for highlighting the vibrant life and work one of America’s under appreciated poets- Harold Norse.

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Celebrating Harold Norse’s 99th Birthday

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Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs at the Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photo © Michael Kellner

Today would have been Harold Norse’s 99th birthday. Though he’s been gone for six years, Harold’s legacy is more alive than ever, as the recent release of his selected poems by Talisman House,  has introduced Harold’s life-story and poems to yet another generation of readers.

Next week, there will be two separate readings in Los Angeles where Harold had lived four and a half decades ago. Later this week, I’ll post some stories and photos from Harold’s time in Venice Beach.

In the meantime, why not take a look at Harold’s autobiographical essay Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 18? The 1993 entry, which can be viewed here, provides an excellent overview of Harold’s fascinating life.

Also here’s a short clip of yours truly reading one of my favorite poems of Harold’s, “Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness”, last December at San Francisco’s Bird and Beckett Records and Books.

Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness by Harold Norse

Let go and feel your nakedness, tits ache to be bitten and sucked
Let go with pong of armpit and crotch, let go with hole a-tingle
Let go with tongue lapping hairy cunt, lick feet, kiss ass, suck cock and balls
Let the whole body go, let love come through, let freedom ring
Let go with moans and erogenous zones, let go with heart and soul
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go with senses, pull out the stops, forget false teachings and lies
Let go of inherited belief, let go of shame and blame, in brief
Let go of forbidden energies, choked back in muscle and nerves
Let go of rigid rules and roles, let go of uptight poses
Let go of your puppet self, let go and renew yourself and be free
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go this moment, the hour, this day, tomorrow will be too late
Let go of guilt and frustration, let liberation and tolerance flow
Let go of phantom worries and fears, let go of hours and days and years
Let go of hate and rage and grief, let walls against ecstasy fall for relief
Let go of pride and greed, let go of missiles and might and creed
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

As a number of his contemporaries recently had events around the centenary of their births, including Herbert Huncke, William Burroughs and James Broughton, there’s certain to be some exciting and informative happenings next summer. If anyone is interested in being involved in such events, please contact me through this site.

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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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Another Norse Review, Reading plus a Beat Conference

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“What the evolution of these poems speak to me is of Harold Norse becoming even more vociferous in detailing the life of a gay man in his times.”

Review of Norse selected poems in Beat Scene- Winter 2015, page 54

BeatSceneRevFor the last twenty-five years, UK based Beat Scene magazine has covered the legacies and influences of Beat associated writers and artists. The Winter 2015 issue features an excellent review by Sophia Nitrate of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass which she describes as a “fresh volume” whose arrangement of poems “bring out his stylistic evolution.”

Following a concise overview of Harold’s travels and associates, Miss Nitrate offers her insightful perceptive about Harold’s legacy as one of 20th Century America’s great gay poets.

“He was a cheerleader for acceptance and equality for gays. In some ways this is doubly unfortunate, it could overshadow his talents, his keen observational skills. Where he forgets his sexual orientation he becomes a poet, not a champion for a cause. But he is Harold Norse, he took up the banner.”

Thanks to Kevin Ring at Beat Scene for helping UK readers of Beat literature know more about the life and poetry of Harold Norse. Make sure you don’t miss Kurt Hemmer’s interview with Herbert Huncke.

BeatConf

The folks at North Beach’s Beat Museum have organized their first Beat Conference that will be held at Fort Mason during the last weekend of June. I’m excited to announce that there will be a panel featuring Harold and Jack Micheline. Both began writing poetry in their native New York City and both ended their years in San Francisco.

MichelineCover

Micheline, who was more a poet of the streets than Harold, was known for his dynamic poetry readings- performances really. Joining me will be my brother Tate who, through his Unrequited Records, had released two recordings by Jack Micheline. The presentation will feature an exclusive screening of Harold Norse video footage from our forthcoming film project as well as rare recordings and books.

51FRW6DDHFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The rest of the schedule includes some very interesting presentations. San Francisco publishing luminary V. Vale will be speaking about William Burroughs. Vale’s influential RE/SEARCH publication featured the cut up works of Burroughs and his connection to the British music and art collective Throbbing Gristle in their 1982 issue.

Also there will be a session with Dr. Phillip Hicks who was Allen Ginsberg’s psychiatrist in 1955 when the young poet was at work on Howl. Those familiar with Ginsberg’s story will recall those sessions were instrumental in Ginsberg’s decision to unburden the gay voice within his poetry and establish his relationship with Peter Orlovsky. Plus Herbert Huncke biographer Hilary Holladay will be returning to San Francisco to share more about this under appreciated Beat storyteller. View the full schedule here.

If you’re near Sonoma County, you won’t have to wait until June to hear more Harold Norse poetry. Hot on the heels of the recent knock out San Francisco event, Petaluma’s Copperfield’s Books will host the next Norse selected poems reading on Saturday, May 9th at 1:30PM.

Along with Neeli Cherkovski, this event will feature San Francisco born poet A.D. Winans has been in the publishing industry for over five decades. As the founder of Second Coming Press, he published a 1973 special issue on Charles Bukowski that included Norse’s poem “The Worst Thing You Can Say to Him is I Love You.” His latest book, Dead Lions, was published last year by Punk Hostage Press.

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Harold Norse & William S. Burroughs 1980

Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs at Naropa Institue, July 1980. Photo by Michael Kellner.

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