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23 Replies to “Memorial Wall”
Norse and I were friends as fellow poets and publishers. He was the one who encouraged me to finish my book of poems on my military experiences in Panama. I did and he wrote a foreword for it. The book went on to win a PEN Josephine Miles award for excellence in literature. I don’t know if I would have ever put them into a book format, if it were not for Harold. He was a fine poet and a marvelous story teller. We frequently had coffee together and hung out at the old Abandoned Planet Bookstore. I miss him and my old friend Jack Micheline more than words can say.
I cleaned house for Harold Norse in the early 2000s. I was asked by his friend, James, who lived in England, to pop by and do weekly housework for him. I cleaned his kitchen, and his pantry, and his bedroom, and his bed and living room. I scrubbed around his toilet with a toothbrush, and at the base of his stove. He hated to watch that. He tried to clean alongside me, sorting loose socks, and changing bed linens. Harold tried to dissuade me from cleaning his bathroom. He told me that he would clean his bathroom later, on his own.
So, I was his house cleaner. Our relationship ended when he felt that I was removing his clothing when I went to the laundromat, and not returning it. I tried to tell him that I…I tried to tell him that I was not stealing from him. I felt that he knew that I was not stealing his clothing, but that he felt also that I was removing his clothes every time that I left. I didn’t know how to resolve this. I told him that I would bring him new underwear, I told him that I should perhaps stop taking any thing of his out of the house. I wish now that I was a blood relative, so that I could have told him to be quiet, that I was coming over anyhow. Instead, I had to stop cleaning for him.
Harold and I talked as I cleaned. He told me that he loved his mother very much. He told me that he loved children, and especially babies–he liked to see pictures of smiling babies, and he regretted that he never found a life partner with whom he could have children. He told me that he was driven to finish his last book, his last collection of poetry. It contained old poems, and poems that he had to finish before he died.
He was a vegan, and he loved to shop at Rainbow Grocery. He once found a small red cat, and was sad when he discovered that it belonged to the bookstore around the corner from his house.
As I vacuumed dust rabbits from under his bed, and opened his bedroom blinds, Harold read me a poem about a man’s calves, about how beautiful this man’s calves were, how real they were, how he saw and felt them. He read to me about how they must have smelled, how this man was beautiful. Harold told me many pretty things, things that still make me love him. He felt things that I felt, but he knew how to talk about them.
He once told James that when I visited him, it was like having a movie star in his kitchen. That is the best compliment I have ever received.
When I was about 23 or 24 I met him in North Beach, in 1974 or so. I met him in North Beach and he invited me up to his loft. He had tons of interesting Beat drawings/photos/ manuscripts. Told me stories about Anais Ninn. However, he suddenly lunged at me and started kissing me on the mouth. I didn’t like it and told him I was straight, and he told me that was just a label and I should really let him kiss me. I took off. Interesting guy, but really kind of uncouth.
I’m sure this will be censored.
I like some of his poetry, though.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Harold Norse, though I was glad he was free of pain.
I first met him as I began research on a book I was writing on the making of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” based upon the novella by Truman Capote. During the War Harold had been involved in a relationship with Bonnie Golightly, owner of a Greenwich Village book shoppe (and later a published writer herself), who later brought a lawsuit against Truman Capote charging libel and invasion of privacy. The lawsuit was thrown out of court, and Capote biographers ever since have dismissed Bonnie as something of a crackpot trying to ride on the diminutive author’s coattails. Truth to tell, there was more to her story than ever saw the light of day, and Harold was generous enough to share with me his memories of Bonnie. As he was prepping “Memoirs of a Bastard Angel,” he got back in touch with Bonnie, asking her questions about particular names and dates, and she obliged, jogging his memory as well as her own. She was not exactly pleased with the results, questioning not only their accuracy but also their intimacy, but there you go.
In any case, he remembered her fondly, and was kind enough to answer my questions about her. In time, partly as a result of Harold Norse, I have been able to track down a wealth of information on Bonnie Golightly, from letters and diaries to unpublished manuscripts and interviews with her surviving friends and family members. Not only am I finishing the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” book, but I am finishing up a full-length biography on Bonnie titled “The Wild One: The big-City Adventures of the Real Holly Golightly,” and I am grateful to Harold Norse who acted as a catalyst for the project.
In recent years Harold was being cared for at an assisted-living facility in San Francisco, and I was able to visit him one last time this past spring. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and though he drifted in and out of present conversations due to the dementia, he seemed to be happy and comfortable enough. In a lucid moment I was able to convey to him how grateful I was for his help, and told him how proud he must be to have written books that have inspired and been enjoyed by so many. He seemed pleased by this, so I was glad that I could bring a bit of joy to his life–even if it was for a moment soon to be forgotten by him.
Harold Norse gave me his time and inspired me, and I am grateful. He was a unique and gifted man. May he rest in peace and happiness.
Beat Angel Blues
To Harold Norse
by Valery Oisteanu
The cosmic hustler is now a pure spirit
And so are the masters of the Dream-machine
Norse continues to whisper from the great beyond
Howling, and writing the story of his crazy karma
O! Hollow America! Hollow America
The harder one hits, the deeper the sound
In the passage underground
The virtual museum of the Beats
They who have forgotten you so soon
Tears drop as red petals off a rose
All roses cry, I wanna die! I wanna die!
There are no degrees of separation
Between him and Ira Cohen
Between him and Leonard Cohen
Between Corso and Norso
His ghost still haunts the island of Hydra
Sex and Marijuana evenings with Zina
Her spirit reincarnated in Harold
Where he performs in the Café Purgatory
For the hip elite of the Generation Beat.
In the fall of 1996 I was living in the Tenderloin and writing and publishing little chapbooks. I can’t recall if Jack Micheline told me about Hal…or maybe Johnny Brewton from X-Ray. I wrote Hal a letter to introduce myself, and we met over at Adobe Bookshop a little later. We became fast friends. I’d spend time with Hal, and I was fortunate enough to sit in his front room while he told stories from his past. Great stories I’ll never forget. Later he let me publish his masterpiece, “Sniffing Keyholes”, as a chapbook. I am really proud of that book. Hal’s terribly underrated as a poet, and I only hope people he will get the readership in death that he deserved while he was alive.
Harold was a great poet. Every poem in his anthologies is a good one. He was a poet of gay sensuality – his poems were as sensual as his lips.
Harold Norse was a revolutionary in every sense of the word. He exemplified honesty, demonstrated veracity and bared his soul in his writings. As a writer and an iconloclast, he dared to be different, to inspire and to influence a generation and beyond with his words, poetry, and sense of humor. As a mother and an educator, I asked my sons and my students to make a positive impact on this world- to make a difference- in one’s thoughts, activities and actions. Harold Norse was the epitome of this philosophy. Harold’s influence and legacy will continue thanks to young people like my sons, Todd, Tate,and Shelley Swindell who revere his words and seek to publish his writings and establish his archives. I met Harold through Todd and cherish thoughts of his impish smile and devilish grin. Live on, Harold, in your writings.
You wrote that you were “not a man” – but Harold Norse, you were brave and strong and a father to so many young poets. Your words remain to provide paternal guidance to all of those who follow, weeks, years, decades from now. Yes – you were a man. You were a man I always wanted to be and a man whose memory and legacy I embrace. Thank you for having the courage to shine the light for all of us before the idea of the sun even existed.
Well, Harold, you always said you regretted not promoting your work, and I’ve taken this as a lesson…
It was a blast listening to your stories as we sat on 16th and Albion, glad you’re not in pain. Say hi to Allen and William if you run into them. We miss you here.
I’ve taken the liberty of making a fan page for Harold on MySpace, http://www.myspace.com/haroldnorse …if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. There is another MySpace page that someone else made, but it hasn’t been accessed since 2007.
Thanks for the good advice!
Thomas — I can’t thank you enough for getting Hal into SJSU. We must have just missed each other as I was a journalism major wondering what the heck I was going to do with my life (other than surfing and wrestling) when I signed up for my first creative writing class my senior year with Hal as the instructor. Hal came to many of the wrestling dual matches and watched practices, as well. (SJSU was a top 20 Division 1 wrestling power in those days.) Hal was quick to tell me that Ken Kesey was a champion wrestler. Hal’s personal stories were just as good as his instruction and his poetry. I always get pissed off when I pick up a book about the Beats and there’s no reference or mention of Hal. Just doesn’t seem fair. I missed the poetry wake last Monday and hoping to make the July 12 celebration at the Beat Museum (it’s my granddaughter’s 1st birthday so I have to figure out how I’m going to get up San Francisco by 2pm and be back in Santa Cruz by 4pm!) ALSO: I think Jerry at the Beat Museum needs to make up t-shirts with Hal’s picture on them. Well, I gotta get back to writing my book. Had to stop by this site to get the ol’ creative juices flowing again. I can picture Hal’s big smile slapping me on the back with a laugh and saying, “Just write, Jim. Just write!” OK, OK, Hal. I’m back on it…
I first met Harold in Paris in the summer of 1961 when he was living at the Beat Hotel and when you visited Harold, Burroughs would sometimes come in behind you in Harold’s room and give you his Death Ray stare which would send the shivers down your spine. We became close friends in the autumn of ’62 when he returned from Majorca and I from 10 months in Ibiza. In the summer of ’63, I had a writing fellowship at the Karolyi Foundation in Vence, France, and when the Countess Karolyi, widow of Michael Karolyi, the president of the first Hungarian Republic, kicked out the guy in the cabin adjoining mine because he had been cleaning up her gardens instead of CREATING HIS BOOK, I persuaded her to let Harold who was leaving Paris for Greece stay in the vacant cabin.
Harold and the Countess hit it off big time. We would go to her manse for cocktails and she and Harold would throw around the names of the rich and the second tier dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses barons and baronesses they knew plus Auden and some French poets. Everything was going great until one night Harold and I went into Nice and he picked up a sturdy young stud name Leon, a French railroad worker on holiday, and brought him back to the cabin. The Countess had forbid any hanky-panky in the cabins and she spied Harold sneaking Leon out through a neighbor’s property the next morning. That was the end of Harold at the Karolyi Foundation.
Christina and I went to Portugal, where we got married, and Harold and I stayed in touch by letter. In 1966, back in Paris, Jean Fanchette, the editor of Two Cities introduced me to Anthony Barnett, a bright young English editor and publisher about to launch a new literary magazine called Nothing Doing In London. I showed Anthony some of Harold’s poetry and got the two of them in touch. He not only published two of Harold’s poems in Nothing Doing in London, he published the first edition of Karma Circuit. Later, when Panjandrum Press published the second edition in 1973, Harold dedicated it to Christina and me.
We returned to the States in 1966 and ended up in Palo Alto. Harold and I had corresponded monthly during the late ‘60’s, mainly because I was trying to line up a reading tour for him at American colleges. None of the second rate academic poets who headed the English departments in those days wanted anything to do with him. When he finally moved from Venice to San Francisco in late ’71, we renewed our friendship in person and over the next few years, he spent many weeks at our home, directing our kids, Tracy age 8 and Terence age 6 in dinnertime plays in which Harold would dress up the kids in costumes and ad-lib the plots. In 1974, I decided to give up my job teaching creative writing at San Jose State and took Harold to meet the head of the English Department there, Jim Clark, who hired him to take my place.
Later, I moved to Carmel Valley, and when Jerry Cimino opened the Beat Museum there, I took in two Cosmograph-type poem/paintings that Harold had autographed to me and Christina and asked him if he would like them for the museum. These are the paintings that now hang in the Beat Museum in San Francisco.
One of Harold’s greatest gifts was his sense of humor. I’m sure when he saw the praiseworthy obituaries in the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, he laughed and said, “Well, it’s about time I got the recognition I deserve.”
I had the priviledge to know Harold Norse when i was around 8 years old. He would come to our house and recite poetry with other friends. He is one of few people who gave me a life larger than life. An appreciation for art, dramatics and literature at a very young age. Because of this I have met people in the arts that I would have never met had it not been for my dad and mom including him in our lives.
PEACE Harold…………”you are just begining………….”
Sorry to hear about Harold Norse’s death. He certainly was an exceptional poet. I photographed Harold in San Francisco just prior to the publication of “Memoirs of a Bastard Angel.” We spent a memorable afternoon together. One of the photos was used on the cover of “Christopher Street Magazine,” and Harold wanted to use the same photo for the cover of “Bastard Angel,” but, since it was about to go to press, Harvey Ginsberg, his editor at William Morrow, refused to change the concept, resulting in a battle royal between them.
Harold Norse, R.I.P.
He died earlier this week in San Francisco just short of his 93rd birthday. I met him on a bitterly cold winter day in Paris, in 1962. I was keeping warm sitting in a seedy little cafe behind the Place de l’Odeon. It was a neighborhood hangout where you could buy pot and waste your time all day. I was writing on a napkin when I felt someone hovering over my shoulder. He asked what I was writing. A poem, I told him. He said he was a poet, too, and introduced himself. I no longer recall what we talked about, but it didn’t take long for him to invite me back to his room at 9 rue Git-le-Coeur, the so-called Beat Hotel. He broke out his hashish and regaled me with stories of the expat life. I was 20, just out of college, trying to become an expat myself. He was more than twice my age and seemed to know everyone I knew only from books and magazines. Not just his former inmates at the Beat Hotel — Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg and, most notably, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, all of whom had recently moved out — but also William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, Anais Nin, Tennessee Williams … the names went on and on. He gave me a slim volume — it was “The Roman Sonnets of G. G. Belli” in his translation (with a preface by Williams) — and I staggered home dazzled by our encounter. Years later, in 1968, he offered to let me publish his poem “Hotel Nirvana” in The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE, a little magazine I edited. City Lights republished it in 1974 as the title poem in “Hotel Nirvana: Selected Poems 1953-1973,” now out of print. When I left San Francisco in the fall of 1971, he was about to leave Venice, California. We arranged for him to take over my flat and furniture. He stayed on there for five years. If you’ve never read his “Memoirs of a Bastard Angel,” do so at once. As James Baldwin wrote in the preface, “… if light ever enters the hearts of men, Harold will be one of those who has helped to set it there.” So long, Hal.
I met Hal in 1972 when I was publishing Second Coming. We read together a couple of times at North Beach spots. He was part of my Special Charles Bukowski issue and I later published him in my California Bicentennial Poets Anthology and an anthology of San Francisco poets. We frequently had coffee at a cafe near his small apartment on Albion Street, near l6th and Valencia Street. He and I also freqauented the Abandoned Planet Bookstore, near where he lived. He wrote a foreword for my book, This Land Is Not My Land. He was a one of a kind guy, liked by all who knew him. He will be solely missed.
I was truly saddened to learn of Harold Norse’s passing – I had read his Hotel Nirvana poems and have his Memoirs of A Bastard Angel (in German “Bastard”, Zweitausendeins) – it would be interesting if the current governor of Kalifornia would have anything to say about Harold – after all, Harold had known Arnold in his early Venice Beach muscle-builder days and Harold had worked out with him.
Another Beat soldier has passed from us.
John Owens, Leutershausen, Germany
Hal was both a friend and one of my best…ABSOLUTE BEST…Creative Writing instructors. In 1974 at San Jose State he took me from a sophomoric dribbling cliche-enamored pontificator supreme to an actual writer/poet. I was somewhat shy about writing about surfing (it wasn’t the “cool” activity then as it is now with the upwardly mobile set). Hal said Hemingway wrote about boxing and fishing so go ahead and write about surfing. Write about what you know. After graduating from SJSU and entering the advertising profession I finally got the nerve to submit a story. I had poems and stories Hal had marked up from my class sunmissions. I used those as a guide for my writing. I ended up with a ten year gig writing for SURFER MAGAZINE. That grew into other freelance articles all over the place. After 33 years in the corporate world I gave it up to become a teacher (teaching English and Creative Writing at Pajaro Valley High School in Watsonville.) I pull out my papers with comments from Hal, I read his poems in class, I use his cut up style to motivate my creative writing students. And now I’m writing poetry again. I called Hal a couple of years ago to let him know what I was up to, let him know that one of his students was actually publishing their written words. I could hear his smile over the phone. He was a great guy. I looked up to him and cherished everything he taught me. His stories were pretty darn funny, too. I miss his sharp wit but at least I still have my papers with his comments on them imagining those written words booming out of his smiling face to help a student down the path of becoming an accomplished writer. Thanks, Hal. Look over us. I’ll stop by the Beat Hotel this summer in Paris and lift a toast to you and your buddies. Cheers, my friend – Lucas
We at Poetry magazine, to which Harold Norse had been a frequent contributor, are saddened to learn of his passing. We were very lucky to have his work in our pages.
harold norse was a very kind soul. i knew him briefly years ago in san francisco. i admired his passion for life and his compassion for others. maybe that was what helped him to live such a long life, rich with so many memories. i also really admired and was inspired by his singular commitment to his craft, to his own voice as a poet and writer, despite all the ups and downs in his life. he was a very special person and life in his presence seemed somehow to be more magically alive. all those who knew him like that were truly blessed.
Rest in Peace, Harold.
Jan Hallers, co-editor of Buk Scene,
a magazine inspired by the works of Charles Bukowski,
his Friends, the Small Press and the new Poets.
poem for harold
Neeli and I visit the ancient warrior
Praised by William Carlos Williams
And other literary giants
90 years old
Early stages of dementia setting in
Playing hide and seek inside
His solitary room
Now an old man trapped
In death’s shadow
He reads us a poem from
His collected works
His voice still loud and clear
Like Sunday Church Bells
He puts down the book becoming
Frail and vulnerable again
This rock of ages with peaked hat
Walking slowly with us to the
Cafe across the street
Complaining about the loud music
As Neeli orders him a cup of coffee
“Make mine black,” he says then
Wants to know why I didn’t put
Milk in it
This forgotten warrior
Walking back to the care facility
Neeli shielding him with an umbrella
To ward off the cold rain
“That’s my hotel the
Hotel Nirvana racing inside
He stops says,
“I can’t go on”
Out of breath
As if the next step
Might be his last
He is like a bird
His eyes nesting
In my soul
Feeding on poetry the
Sum total of his life
© A.D. Winans
Godspeed Harold, memories of your employ and our friendship have nourished me down all these years. Such a vivid, brilliant, warm, funny and tough old soul. What did we do, about thirty or forty minutes work and then “leave the rest for the scholars of the 21st century” for a couple four hours of Great Discussions, solving all the world’s problems over tea and giving Dylan Thomas a listen on your phonograph long past the city winter sundown.
We sure didn’t know how good we had it in that First Age Of The House Of Bush.
Grandson of Whitman, Godson of Rimbaud, Cousin of Big Al, and Great Uncle to Buk, you were always right about everything, so psychic and sane. A Great American bearing the Mettle Of Freedom. Citizen Of The Spheres. Carnivorous Saint and Surrealistic Sinner.
I’ll never forget hanging out that joyous and beautiful Christmas Day in Golden Gate Park. The gleam in your eye as we hugged goodbye for the last time is like a Star in a cobalt western sky.
Bastard Angel, you will Shine on Forever
Harold was a friend and teacher who made it all worth while. If you are an old acquaintance please leave a note. If your new to the world the works of Harold Norse, investigate further. Read his books and feel inspired to speak your own voice. Poetry is the true history. Long Live the Carnivorous Saint. Love is the Law!