Though it’s been a while since any new posts to this website, there are exciting new developments around the work and legacy of Harold Norse that will be shared in the coming weeks. First among them is a series of Spanish language translations out of Sevilla, Spain where an energized group of young writers have launched Hojas de Hierba Editorial. A passion project of the young poetry aficionado Javier Romero and his comrades at Bukowski & Co. who are on the move with making the work of writers from the 20th century’s counter-culture accessible to a new generation of Spanish readers.
They recently published the second issue of their flag ship underground art magazine Big Sur that’s described as exploring new discursive and aesthetic territories. It’s packed with 300 + pages of poetry and photography, painting and illustrations, essays and interviews on cinema, music and dance. The section Ars Poetica features Romero’s translation of an essay I wrote about my friendship with Harold Norse and his influence as a mentor along with my ongoing work at preserving his legacy. The splashy layout includes two photos of myself and Harold around the time of his last poetry reading in 2008.
The issue begins with an essay “¿La otra generación Beat? Retazos de las sin ‘sombrero’ de America” that highlights women Beat writers including Hettie Jones, Joyce Johnson and Elise Cowen along with memorial tributes for recently departed ruth wiess and Diane di Prima. Hojas de Hierba Editorial translates as “leaves of grass” in reference to Walt Whitman who was an inspiration to fellow Brooklyn-native Norse. Big Sur also spotlights an essay by poet Eduardo Moga titled “Whitman: en los suburbs de la poesía” about Leaves of Grass. Morga’s translation of the great gay poet’s seminal collection was recently published by Galaxia Gutenberg.
Hojas de Hierba Editorial will publish the first foreign language translation of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: Selected Poems of Harold Norse, translated by Moga, to be released in 2022. This marks the first time that Norse’s poems will be published in an entirely Spanish language edition. Previously his work has been printed in Greek and German translations. Five poems from the collection are featured in Big Sur accompanied by Ira Nowinski’s iconic 1978 black-and-white photograph of Norse sitting, with cigarette in hand, in North Beach’s Caffé Trieste.
With cutting-edge design and brimming with pages of full color photos, the second issue of Big Sur can be purchased online, but with only 1,000 issues printed, copies are certain to sell out, as happened with the premier issue shown below. Harold Norse’s love of language led him to fluency in French, German, Italian and Spanish. It’s inspiring to see a new generation of readers moved by the strength of Norse’s writing to ensure his poetry reaches readers who would otherwise miss out on the opportunity to explore his life and work.
Author and Beat biographer Hilary Holladay has been doing her part to bring more attention to the poetry of Harold Norse. As mentioned earlier this year, Hilary’s interview with writer and publisher Jan Herman highlighted his friendship with Harold. Hilary recently interviewed me about Harold Norse, his relationship with Allen Ginsberg, Bastard Angel magazine and my editing of the selected edition of Harold’s poems. You can read the complete interview at hilaryholladay.com.
“Without Harold, the Beats would not have such a rich international dimension. He lived in Paris in the late 1950s and traveled widely. We read often of New York City and San Francisco, but a great deal of the Beats’ influence came out of what happened in Paris, Tangier, and the Greek Islands, and Harold was part of that scene.”
“Harold embraced his Jewish heritage when the Nazis rose to power. Also, he saw how prejudice arose from baseless stereotypes whether it was blacks, queers, or Jews. For instance, Harold—muscular, hairy, butch—was never suspected of being queer. His swarthy complexion and upturned nose could have him pegged as anything from Italian to English to German.”
I highly recommend Hilary’s biography Herbert Huncke: The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Huncke’s pivotal role in connecting Beat writers with narcotics and criminality has sadly overshadowed the magnificence of his writings. Though he never published as much as his friends Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, Herbert was able to convey the sordid tales of those he knew with a rare empathy, which is the essence of Beat literature.
Leslie Winer has been contributing her passion and creativity to Huncke’s estate with the elegant website Huncke Tea Company. I highly recommend perusing their SoundCloud page where you can listen to recordings of Huncke reading along with Leslie’s contemporary interpretations of Herbert’s writings spoken in her dry yet winsome voice. She is currently recording a series of Huncke stories, notebook entries & letters put to some new music co-written with & produced by Christophe Van Huffel which will soon be released on vinyl.
Last year Sloow Tapes began publishing broadsides with eye catching graphics on the front and poetry on the back of A5 size paper. Sloow Tapes Broadside #11 was released last month featuring Harold’s poem “Wise to its Poisoned Condition.” Here’s what Bart had to say about the broadside,
“Between 1960 and 1963 Norse lived in Paris with William Burroughs and Gregory Corso in the hotel in the Latin Quarter known as the “Beat Hotel”. Although initially wary of the Beat writers’ literary credentials, Norse collaborated with Brion Gysin on the cut-up technique and was briefly an acclaimed painter of ink drawings soaked in the hotel bidet, known as Cosmographs. Norse described himself as a “lone-wolf” and he refused to join the pack, at some cost. In many ways he was more “Beat” than the Beats: Jewish, illegitimate, homosexual.
Norse was an outsider who quietly produced some startling and technically accomplished verse from the fringes of the US literary scene. ‘Wise to Its Poisoned Condition’ is an unpublished poem written at the time he lived at the Beat Hotel and illustrated with a mylar portrait by Ira Cohen.”
I just received some copies of the broadside and it is a truly beautiful artifact. The psychedelic photograph was from a series of pictures Ira took of Harold in the early 1970s when he was photographing everyone from Jack Smith to Jimi Hendrix in his mylar chamber.
A black-and-white version of that photograph was used for the cover of Harold’s 1976 anthology of gay poems Carnivorous Saint. It was also featured on the back cover of Harold Norse Of Course…, the double vinyl record release of Harold’s 1984 poetry reading in Amsterdam available from Unrequited Records. This collector’s item is sure to be snapped up in no time, so make sure you procure a copy at this link.
City Lights Books recently published the final edition in their popular set of pocket travel guides about Beat writers. The Beats Abroad, A Global Guide to the Beat Generation completes the previous installments for New York City, San Francisco and America at large. The series was written by Bill Morgan who is best known as biographer and bibliographer for Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
In recent years Bill has brought some overdue attention to lesser celebrated participants in Beat literature. His edition of Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words appeared in 2014. Drawn from journals, correspondence, poems and photographs, this the most comprehensive collection of Orlovsky’s writings in print and the closest we can come to reading Peter’s own story.
In The Beats Abroad, Bill Morgan has added Harold Norse to the list of those Beat writers meriting further attention. The Bastard Angel of Brooklyn pops up a number of times in the book with his own entries for Italy, France and Greece. Though Harold lived in many other countries during his fifteen years abroad, it was in those three countries where some of his most significant work was written.
When he left America in 1953, Harold headed straight to Italy where he spent the next five years. Following a brief stint dubbing American films into Italian, Harold survived on minimal stipends from benefactors that were supplemented by the occasional job teaching English. While in Rome, he translated Italian poets from the pornographic verse of the Classical poet Catullus to the 19th Century anti-papal Roman sonnets of Giuseppe Gioanchino Belli.
The translations success was due to Harold’s use of his native Brooklyn vernacular to convey the essence of Roman dialect. A selection of then were published in 1960 with an introduction by Harold’s mentor William Carlos Williams.
While living in Rome, Norse would often drink coffee at Rosati’s on the Piazza del Popolo with poet, filmmaker and fellow boy lover Pier Paolo Pasolini. One can only imagine the lively conversations shared between these two visionary queer artists.
The Beats Abroad also includes a snapshot of Harold’s apartment in Naples on Via Posillipo, which Morgan described as “what might have been the most spectacular view that any Bear writer ever enjoyed: a panorama of the city, a view of the bay and Mount Vesuvius were all visible from his perch on the side of a cliff.” It was while living in Naples that Harold wrote one of his most famous poems “Classic Frieze in a Garage“.
After Italy, Harold traveled to Paris. Upon the recommendation of Gregory Corso, he took a room at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin Quarter. Known as the Beat Hotel, its dingy but inexpensive rooms provided residence over the years to a number of Beat writers including Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and Norse.
It was there that painter Brion Gysin first discovered the Cut Up method. One day, cutting a matte for a painting, Gysin sliced through a stack of newspapers and discovered startling phrases which appeared from the reordered sections.
William Burroughs was quick to pick up on this innovation which followed upon the shuffled order of sequences in his recently published, and recently banned, novel Naked Lunch. Harold was a significant participant in Cut Ups and his story “Sniffing Keyholes” was singled out by Burroughs and Gysin as a key breakthrough.
Norse’s surviving Cut Ups were eventually published in English as the novella Beat Hotel in 1983. Its first appearance was a 1974 German translation by Carl Weissner with collages by Norman Mustill. It remains the only book composed entirely at the hotel. Selections from Harold’s experiments with reel-to-reel tape recorders at the Beat Hotel were released on cassette by Bart De Paepe’s Sloow Tapes in Belgium under the title Take a Chance In The Void: Harold Norse’s Beat Hotel Recordings.
When the Beat Hotel shuttered its doors in 1963, Harold headed to the Greek Islands and this is where The Beats Abroad logs its final Norse entries. Harold’s first stop was Athens where he found a small apartment just below the Acropolis. Living nearby was the poet Charles Henri Ford whom Harold had known from their Greenwich Village days in the 1940s.
From Athens, Harold periodically traveled to other islands including Poros, Crete, Madouri and Hydra. It was while residing on Hydra that Harold first met the poet and translator Jack Hirschman and the Princess Zina Rachevsky.
As relayed in his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, Harold acted as a mentor for a then unknown Canadian folk singer named Leonard Cohen. He was inspired to write after reading Norse’s “Sniffing Keyholes” which made a big impression on the young writer.
The Cut Up story’s bold approach to sexuality and language inspired Cohen to a burst of writing. Fueled by amphetamines and fasting, he created material which eventually became hiss second novel Beautiful Losers.
Though the sun, the sea and the boys all served to inspire Harold’s poetry, some of it published in 1966 as Karma Circuit, he ended up contracting hepatitis on the island then endemic amongst the expatriate community. Harold’s health flagged for the next couple years, precipitating his return to the United States in 1969.
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.
My 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.
In 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.
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 Hesitateto 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.
“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.
These 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.
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. Each 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.
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.
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.
To 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.
A 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.
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
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.
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.
Though only published for two years, The San FranciscoEARTHQUAKE 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.
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.
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:
I wish I could use the language like you. You have all the words and you use them exactly as they should be spent. I don’t have the words. I’m afraid of them.— Charles Bukowski, letter to Harold Norse, July 6, 1966
Lately some long overdue attention is being directed to Harold Norse. A recently published collection on the topic of writing by Charles Bukowski was reviewed earlier this month in the New York Times.
Significantly Bukowski’s correspondence with Harold is quoted in the review’s second paragraph and he is mentioned again later in the piece.
It’s high time people are made aware of the influential role Harold played in the skid-row operatic narrative of the controversial author. Few know that Norse and Bukowski had a correspondence which spanned two-decades, one that began in 1963 when the L.A based Bukowski was still unknown.
Several years later Harold provided crucial exposure when he included Bukowski along with San Francisco Surrealist Philip Lamantia in the prestigious Penguin Modern Poets series.
The Bukowski/Norse correspondence was transcribed and edited, with a piercingly perceptive introduction by Harold, and given the striking title Fly Like a Bat Out of Hell. Sadly the book was never released and it know rests, complete and ready to publish, in Norse’s archives at the Bancroft Library.
Many years ago the loathsome San Francisco Weekly published a cover piece on Harold at the time his Collected Poems was published. Though histrionic and loose with facts about the radical AIDS activism of ACT UP San Francisco, the piece brings attention to the, at that time, pending publication of the Bukowski/Norse letters. It’s worth reading (link here), especially for the references to Fly Like a Bat.
This quote by poet Neeli Cherkovski, a close friend to both writers, is especially perceptive:
“Bukowski was very enamored of Harold’s writing early on,” says Neeli Cherkovski. “He loved both the experimental quality of it and the street-level quality of it. Here was a man [Norse] who had reneged on the New York life on the literary starship, being published in all the right magazines. He led this gutsy life in Greece, carving out his own life as a literary renegade. Bukowski was distrustful of the beats, and he admired that.”
Poet Jack Foley is among the most knowledge and aware persons when it comes to poetics. Another close friend of Harold’s, his insight is particularly sensitive to the way Norse’s legacy has remain obscured. For many years Jack has hosted COVER TO COVER, a weekly poetry radio show on KPFA 94.1 FM, Wednesdays, 3-3:30 PM. The Sept. 2nd & 9th shows will feature a tribute to Harold Norse. Here is Jack’s overview of the upcoming program:
“Today’s show is a tribute to the late poet and Gay icon Harold Norse (1916-2009). Talisman Press has recently published a new selected poems by Harold Norse.
Edited by Todd Swindell and with an introduction by Harold’s old friend and cruising buddy, 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 title of the book is I’m Going to Fly Through Glass, and the cover features a remarkable 1938 photograph of the young poet executing a balletic leap, a tour jeté en l’air. Other photographs are contained in the book as well. Jack opens the show with a piece he published soon after Harold’s death and then plays excerpts from an interview he did with Harold in 1991.
I was asked recently, “Who reads or remembers Harold Norse?” It was a good question, and I would have to admit that the answer is very few people—and, further, that these people are much more likely to be Californians than New Yorkers. Yet everyone who reads Norse remarks that he is a very good poet. Why isn’t he better known? Admired people admired his work. William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, many others—all thought he was a fine writer. Charles Bukowski, who admired very few poets, unstintingly admired Norse.
I think the problem is that Norse’s imagination never moved towards what might be called spectacular or scandalous or attention-grabbing modes. Think of the difference between Norse’s excellent, explicit gay poems and a book like Jean Genet’s Nôtre Dame des Fleurs.
The same tension that played itself out on a stylistic level in Norse’s work—should he write formal verse, should he write something freer?—was also present in his psyche. (Note, incidentally, that the concluding, climactic line of the free verse “I’m Not a Man” is a line of almost exact iambic pentameter.)
For all Norse’s genuine courage, his risks tended to be in areas others had explored before. Beat Hotel is a very fine book, but there is Naked Lunch. Norse has a fine poem about his mad mother in a rest home—but Ginsberg had already written “Kaddish.” There is no Waste Land, no Howl—and certainly no Maximus Poems—in his oeuvre. Yet is this Norse’s problem or our own? We live at a time when it is almost impossible to praise a poet without calling him “great”! Norse was not a “great” poet, but he was a very good one. Williams, Baldwin, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al could give him praise, but they could not give him their audiences.
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 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?”
I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: The Selected Poems of Harold Norse has received its first write up thanks to the Allen Ginsberg Project. The project, an extension of the Ginsberg estate, features regular updates on all things related to Allen Ginsberg. As richly described in Harold’s Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, he first met a teenage Allen Ginsberg on a deserted, late night New York subway in 1944.
Featuring a cornucopia of photos and web links, the post will hopefully bring some new admirers to Harold’s work. We’re grateful to Peter Hale and Simon Pettet for their accolades to haroldnorse.com and encourage you to visit the Allen Ginsberg Project often.