When Brooklyn Was Queer and Harold Norse Was Young

As today marks the 103rd birthday of the Bastard Angel of Brooklyn, poet Harold Norse, a fantastic new book about the queer history of the New York City borough highlights Harold’s connection to his hometown during his formative years. I had the chance to speak with the author of When Brooklyn Was Queer, historian and writer Hugh Ryan, about his work.

Ryan has stated that when he moved to Brooklyn, he was surprised to discover its local library didn’t have a book that focused on the neighborhood’s queer history, so he set out to write one. When Brooklyn Was Queer is a monumental contribution to growing history of the varied and still little-known experiences of queer people before the advent of the modern gay rights movement.

Among the parts I found most significant about this book is the attention Ryan paid to experiences of gender non-conforming individuals and African-American women. Historically these voices have remained obscured, a reality compounded by the lack of traditional archive resources like photographs, correspondence and diaries. So it was that Hugh had to turn to sources such as newspapers, medical journals and police reports which were written by men who viewed queer people through the lens of criminality or mental illness– a fact that’s still too common in communities dominated by religious fundamentalism. I asked Hugh about the particular challenge.

I think I often had to sit with what was written on the page and, knowing it came from a very biased source, ask myself how were there other ways this scene could have been interpreted from someone else’s point of view. I can only work from the information I have, but can I try to unwind some of the assumptions that were made by these doctors and lawyers and judges? It does take a while and you have to read the things over and over again. For me what was important was highlighting the fact that I was doing that and why I was doing that, so anyone reading that could make their own decision about what I had decided. I didn’t want anyone to think I was making assumptions I couldn’t prove, but more to show possibility than a definite answer.

One particularly fascinating story features a young white trans women who went by the name Loop-the Loop after the popular Coney Island roller coaster. This glimpse into her story came from interviews given to a racist medical doctor whose report on Loop-the-Loop was published under the headline “The Biography of a Passive Pederast.”

This offensive report was part of the early twentieth-century eugenics movements which saw social problems as a result of unnatural behavior and genetics of those who weren’t white, heterosexual and Christian. Such psuedo-legitimacy of bigotry under the guise of medical science is a core feature of white supremacy.

Despite the doctor’s biased lens, Loop-the-Loop offers an interesting look into her world. She comes across as not only accepting of herself but defiantly comfortable with her sexuality. As an orphan without education, she worked as a prostitute on the Brooklyn streets around the time that Harold Norse was born.

Two of Harold’s early poetic inspirations Walt Whitman and Hart Crane are also prominently featured in the book, in particular their experiences around Brooklyn’s waterfront which was a site of teeming same-sex and gender nonconforming activity until its demise following World War II. Whitman and Crane had in common a poetry steeped in a mystical voice, one that was unabashedly romantic. Both poets offered Harold, born out of wedlock to an illiterate immigrant, an example of the transformative power of poetry and it was in their footsteps that he began not only to write poems but see himself as a poet.

Though today’s younger readers may struggle to appreciate Whitman’s work, particularly his exaltation of a uniquely American ideal, the issue of his sexuality is still challenging people’s assumptions about sexuality. As Ryan related to me when he was asked by a publication to create a list of 25 queer books that people should read during Pride month.

I included Walt Whitman on it. The editor said, “You should say something there about how there’s debate about his sexuality and no one’s sure that he’s [gay]– and I said,” Nope, there’s no debate. I’m not writing that.” She took it very well. She said, “I had no idea. It was in high school…” I said, “Yep, we all learned some version of that in high school.” It’s so much about getting this information out into the world so it’s easier for people to find it even if they are not taught it in school.

There’s a great deal to write about Harold Norse and Brooklyn but Ryan’s focus is on Harold when he was a student at Brooklyn College. The school had opened at the start of the Great Depression to offer a free education for all city high school graduates. Harold’s gift for language was quickly recognized and he soon became editor of the college literary magazine. It was at this time that he became friends and eventual lovers with another young Jewish boy named Chester Kallman. Harold would often reminisce about Chester as the great love of his love, though their relationship became contentious as Chester turned his attention to his the poet W.H. Auden with whom he became life long partners.

Brooklyn College was also significant in that it gave Harold his first sexual experience with another man thanks to his English-literature professor David McKelvey White. Harold’s version of the story is included in his autobiography Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, though Ryan’s book provides previously unknown information about David McKelvey White.

The son of the governor of Ohio, White grew up well-to-do and well educated. He was outspoken in his sexuality at the time as well as a member of the American Communist Party. He lived openly with his boyfriend who was also a Party member and a professor at Brooklyn College. It was White’s egalitarian politics, accentuated by the radicalism of the day, which led him to a teaching position less illustrious than what his patrician family would’ve hoped for. His time at the school was not long as White eventually left midsemster for Spain and joined the Loyalists as a machine gunner fighting against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco. Upon his return to the U.S.A. two years later, Brooklyn College refused to rehire him. He eventually took him own life in 1945.

Harold’s recollections of David McKelvey White show a man of great intellect and sensitivity and Harold enjoyed the attention of the older professor, who exposed him to art and culture and took him for swimming and fine meals at Brooklyn’s posh St. George Hotel. Even the story of Harold’s deflowering is one of an old school gentleman without the exploitive or predatory aspect that has come under widespread criticism in our era of the #MeToo movement.

Given that Harold and many of his friends who were also gay writers, such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Henri Ford, were known for their intimate relations with underage boys, I asked Ryan about how their experiences could co-exist with today’s changing views.

They lived in a very different time where people who understood their sexuality found each other at much younger ages, in certain ways the only people you could find when older where younger. It wasn’t like there were there were the gay storylines or knowledge there is today. I do think there’s a common part of the queer history that’s fallen out a little bit today.

I think it’s important that these things happened and this is what we know and learned from them, this is the experiences of these people. They don’t necessarily correlate with things today. We don’t know if Harold were a young person today whether he would end up with David McKelvey White. That’s impossible to know and I think it’s best to let them speak about their experiences and trust them as much as possible when Harold said it was a great experience for him.

Unfortunately my phone conversation with Hugh Ryan was cut short by a sudden rainstorm that’s a hallmark of summertime in New York City so we were unable to talk more, especially about Harold’s relationship with Auden whose connection to Brooklyn continued with the esteemed English poet’s residency at 7 Middagh Street which became a short lived queer arts commune. Known as the “February House” due to the winter birthdays of a number of it’s illustrious inhabitants that included writer Carson McCullers and composer Benjamin Britten and ballet and theater designer Oliver Smith.

Though you can learn more about their story and the vibrant, relevant queer history in When Brooklyn Was Queer available from St. Martin’s Press. Ryan’s next book will take a look at the Women’s House of Detention which used to be located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood whose inmates included Dorothy Day, Angela Davis and Harold’s good friend the poet and actress Judith Malina.

I know how much Harold would have loved reading Ryan’s book, not only appreciating the coverage of his own story but also the uncovering of hidden histories. There’s still so much to learn about the queer experience of the past and how it can contribute to the struggles we still face today.

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New Review of Norse Selected Poems; Centennial Recap

“In this selection, Swindell shows how Norse broke new ground through his open exploration of gay identity and sexuality using accessible language in what he referred to as a new rhythm – the voice of the street. Humor, compassion and inner pain are all to be found in equal measure.”

That’s an excerpt from a new review recently published in the online poetry review GALATEA RESURRECTS (A POETRY ENGAGEMENT) of my selected edition of Harold Norse’s poetry. The complete review can be read at this link.

Written by Scottish based author Neil Leadbeater, who has read the Brooklyn born poet for nearly fifty years, this excellent review offers a perceptive appreciation of Norse’s vital yet overlooked role in composing poems that were “raw and straight to the point.”

“For too long, Norse has been the outsider, certainly in the U.K., but, with this publication, the “lone wolf”, as he once described himself, has finally come in from the cold.”

I Am Going to Fly Through Glass: Selected Poems of Harold Norse was published in 2014 by Talisman House and is the first posthumous publications of Norse’s influential poetry. Illustrated with photographs of the poet, it includes selections from over sixty years of Norse’s work. Thanks to Neil and GALATEA RESURRECTS for helping more readers become aware of this accessible introduction to the poetry of Harold Norse. Here are a few more excerpts:

“The present selection goes a long way towards putting Norse back on the poetical map, especially for readers in the U.K.  A helpful preface by Todd Swindell and an informative introduction by Neeli Cherkovski helps to place Norse and his colorful life in context by establishing the background to his work and its relationship to the rest of the beat movement in America.”

Gerard Malanga’s photo of Ginsberg and Norse at John Ashberry’s poetry reading at SF MOMA, 1973.

“He could write a protest poem that was the equal of any by Ginsberg…which reveal his engagement with politics and his concern for the environment as well as his commitment to poetry as a vehicle of persuasion to help bring about a better world.”

Continuing from the previous post about the Beat Museum’s Norse Centennial Celebration, here are more excerpts from comments made by poet & writer Adrian Brooks who was a friend of Harold’s. As writer & editor Raymond Foye wrote in the comments section, Brooks reflections offer “a beautiful appreciation of Harold Norse, and perfectly evokes his generous spirit. How marvelous to see his personality presented in the context of his work. He is one for the ages.” I couldn’t agree more.

Todd: I was wondering, Adrian, if you wanted to talk about your experiences with Harold producing Bastard Angel magazine? People are always interested in how Harold was publishing older poets like Kerouac, Di Prima and Corso and then new poets like yourself, Neeli Cherkovski, Andrei Codrescu, Erika Horn. A theme that came up was it wasn’t just who Harold had known, it was always current and melding the past and the present.

Adrian: What am I supposed to say?

Todd: [To Audience] Harold also had a Master Class for young writers when he came back to the United States. Harold was not only a writer; he was also a very good teacher. [To Adrian] So this sense of being able to work with younger poets, bringing the past into the present, but also seemed to be a contemporary in a way. Am I wrong?

Adrian: Harold was complex. There’s that phrase in Whitman, “multiplicity of selves.” He was too complex to say that he was this, and this, and this. It wasn’t that. [Long pause]

His apartment was a mess of manuscripts. People were sending him lots of things because he was publishing a magazine and they wanted to be in it. So Harold wanted to establish [himself] with the other celebrated Beats, with whom he belonged. That was clearly a priority.

I think that where you’re right is that he was always dipping into other channels. He believed in the accidents; he loved Surrealism and the divine inspiration of the haphazard.

I was already fully functioning by the time I met him. I was born in 1947 and didn’t meet Harold until I was 27. By that point I had been involved in the civil rights and anti-war movement, [arts scene in New York City’s] SoHo, I was up and going. Gerard Malanga thought that I would be the perfect partner for Harold. That was wrong.

He was extremely generous with his criticism and feedback; it was an extraordinary thing. Like most artists, I feel that a great deal of what’s necessary is shoveling away the bullshit. So: you find out who you are, then you work from that place if you can tell the truth, which is what he did in his work at his best. Harold told the truth, in his yearning and also his gutsy use of language.

At his best, he was shoveling away whatever obstructed a certain energy at its most crass. It could be a sexual frustration. On a higher level, it was this spiritual desire to participate in the life of culture.

As a teacher, there were two things that happened in his class. I’m not an intellectual or an academic, but his class was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done as a writer. It was divided into two parts. One part was Harold giving a lecture about Modernism and how it began and came all the way through the 19th century, through Yeats and the Surrealists, all the way up to where we were in the 1970s. The point of that was to frame what we’re doing, all of us who write, in a larger context.

What Harold was doing was showing people– it was an amazing thing because his poetry was so personal, so much him…. What was great was that he could completely step out of any egotism and talk about poetry comprehensively. What is language? Why is poetry important? Why is language important? How do we discover who we are and what our culture is? What are the values that are living things, which we can hold on to?

Yes, recognition would have been nice. We’d all love it. He got some; he didn’t get enough. More important than that…

there is a force field in this country that followed Nagasaki and Hiroshima and it blew up with the Beats. We are still seeing the repercussions of that through the revolution of the 1960s, the sexual revolution and the liberation, thank God, of women and other minorities, now transgender people. Harold was so, so conscious that this transformative force was, also, the instrument by which we were being shaped and used.

Harold Norse when he lived in Venice Beach, ca. 1970

As personal as he was, and as human as he was, as much himself as he was, he could also take a very long-range cultural look going all the way back to the Greeks and Romans, to Catullus and the people he translated, and come up through to modern times, with a great sense of fidelity to what was possible, through being an artist, as long as people were being honest. I don’t know what he would have done with a dishonest person.

Harold chose people to impart this sense of belonging to– you talk about family; he made us believe we were part of a family. It was an incredible thing because his mind was on that level, quite apart from ego. It was clear, like a prism. That shows through what he did in [his magazine] Bastard Angel too.

There was the historical element and then there was the welcoming of wildness.

There was the Apollonian and the Dionysian. I would say Harold would always come down on the Dionysian for himself, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a real sense of the Apollonian because he could feel it in inanimate objects even like unopened parcels. For example, saying: “That’s not going to be good. It’s shit.” [Audience laughs] He would know.

There were about twelve people in the class. It was in one room of his flat. It was about a three or four hour evening… every other week. I really wish it had been recorded because…

You know, I know more about painting than writing, so I always saw Harold as a kind of abstract expressionist like Franz Kline or Jackson Pollock in the way that he used his materials. How gutsy it was. His love and appreciation of the various branches of twentieth century art movements– cut ups, Surrealism, Dada– things that never appear in his work, to the best of my knowledge, like Tristan Tzara, and how that related to the Living Theater or the Angels of Light, which was an underground culture here in San Francisco.

Harold totally got how different groups of artists created their survival systems and then created, call it whatever you will, schools or movements or styles, which were their way of finding a tribe.

So he wanted that very much for himself and he appreciated it very much when other people had done it, sometimes under the aegis of people like the Steins in Paris, but in theater and painting and poetry.

He also had a profound appreciation for people like, at the most extreme, Emily Dickinson, although she wasn’t the subject of one of his lectures, who could only function within a very small bandwidth. It wasn’t a question of being out there; it was a question of the quality of the focus. Harold had a wonderful, generous way of appreciating how we got to where we are.

I think that, like most of the people in this room, he would feel horror at what we’re seeing out there now because it is so different than what he wanted for our country.

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Art of the Beat Hotel Featured in New Anthology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

outlaw3web

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

– William Burroughs on Harold Norse’s Cosmographs

The essay concludes with the following paragraph:

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

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

Collage by D.A. Levy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collage by Winston Smith

Collage by Steve Dalachinsky

Silkscreen poster by Jeff Kramm

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Jack Foley Review of Selected Poems in International Times

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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More Norse Media- New York Times and KPFA

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

NYT150810-C4 copy 3

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:

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 4.46.26 PM“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.

HNCover1The 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.

LovePoemsPFMI 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.)

BeatG1FMFor 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?”

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Another Norse Review, Reading plus a Beat Conference

“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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Rain Taxi publishes first review of I Am Going to Fly Through Glass

Part2RTcvrI Am Going to Fly Through Glass, the selected poems of Harold Norse, has received it’s first published review in the Minneapolis based independent literary review Rain Taxi courtesy of New York Surrealist poet Valery Oisteanu, originator of Jazzoetry. He also creates fantastic Dada Pop collages some of which can be seen here.

Here are a couple excerpts from the review: “Norse’s verse is authentically voiced but without pretension…From a contemporary perspective Norse is unclassifiable, on one hand a psychic energy detective reporting from the edges of perception, on the other a gay playboy reporting from an orgy (“Carnival in Athens,” 964)…traveled to exotic islands, seeking ways to break through into the subconscious realm, often by way of blue kif smoke.” To read the review along with other interesting pieces consider purchasing a issue from Rain Taxi or looking for a copy through your local bookstore.

whiteFLYERDon’t forget if you’re in the Bay Area to make it out to Alley Cat Books for the reading from the selected edition of Harold Norse’s poetry, I Am Going to Fly Through Glass, featuring Kevin Killian, Neeli Cherkovski and the book’s editor Todd Swindell who were all friends with Norse. This is sure to be a special gathering so check back for follow ups from the event.

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