Norse, Harold

(1916– )
   An important avant-garde poet, translator, and memoirist, Harold Norse first became connected to the Beat movement while living in the Beat Hotel in Paris in the early 1960s. Having already become a member of W. H. Auden’s inner circle through a mutual lover, Norse had also established a relationship with William Carlos Williams by the early 1950s, one that was later documented in The American Idiom: A Correspondence, William Carlos Williams & Harold Norse 1951-61 (1990). Following the publication of Norse’s first book of poems (The Undersea Mountain 1953), he moved to Rome and began the extremely ambitious project of translating the poems of Guiseppi Gianchino Belli (a task which both James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence had attempted and abandoned). While there, Williams, who was also mentoring a young allen ginsberg, wrote to tell Norse of the European expedition that Ginsberg, jack kerouac, gregory corso, and William S. Burroughs had undertaken. Norse, whose street lifestyle, homosexuality, interest in Zen Buddhism, and spontaneous poetics of lyricism and confession mixed very well with the budding Beat aesthetic, checked into the legendary Beat Hotel in 1960 at the suggestion of Burroughs. Once there, he began a cut-up novel in the style of Burroughs and Brion Gyson, which was later compiled and published as The Beat Hotel (1983). Norse left the Beat Hotel in 1963 and began to receive critical attention by middecade. He continued to publish poems in journals such as the Evergreen Review, a literary review that also published much Beat poetry as well as the likes of Samuel Beckett and Octavio Paz, and in 1966 an entire issue of the avant-garde journal Ole was devoted to his work.
   By 1969 Norse had settled in San Francisco, becoming a key member of the San Francisco literary movement as well as the 1970s gay-liberation movement. In 1974 Beat poet lawrence ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poets series (the same series in which Ginsberg’s Howl and otHer poems first appeared) published Norse’s Hotel Nirvana: Selected Poems, 1953-1973, which was nominated for the 1974 National Book Award. Three years later, his book Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems 1941-1976 was published, maintaining the then 61-year-old poet’s place in 20th-century counterculture. In 1989 his Memoirs of a Bastard Angel was published (James Baldwin wrote the preface), attempting to break down myths and legends about the famous and admired. In it Norse, who was always surrounded by the mythologized, documents encounters with the Beats, as well as with Auden, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Marlon Brando, Ezra Pound, Anaïs Nin, Jackson Pollock, Dylan Thomas, Robert De Niro, paul bowles, charles bukowski, and numerous others. This memoir fits Norse’s style in its frankness and tone, but it also does so thematically as Norse had always strived to create a poetry not of novelty and myth but of lived experience, finding the extraordinary in the deeply genuine.
   Norse received a lifetime achievement award from the National Poetry Association in 1991 and continues to live and work in San Francisco.
■ Norse, Harold. Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1989.
   Chuck Carlise

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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