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 Francisco EARTHQUAKE was an outlet for writers and artists who were part of Herman’s circle. Among them are painter Mary Beach, writer and artist Claude Pélieu, artist Liam O’Gallagher, collagist Norman Mustill and translator, publisher Carl Weissner.
Weissner, who passed away four years ago, was the German translator for both Norse and Charles Bukowski. Through the publisher Maro Verlag, Weissner was the first to publish Norse’s Cut Up novel The Beat Hotel. The 1975 edition (republished in 1995) featured surrealist, psychedelic collages by Mustill.
Norse’s poem “Hotel Nirvana” was featured in the third issue of The San Francisco EARTHQUAKE published in Spring, 1968. The poem expanded, eventually becoming the title poem of Norse’s 1974 book published in City Lights’ Pocket Poet Series.
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:
- June 27-29 at the European Beat Studies Network Conference Manchester, UK
- July 6 at The Mechanics’ Institute San Francisco, California
- July 9 at The Beat Museum San Francisco, California
- July 23 at Beyond Baroque, Venice, California