AG: Okay – Are we about ready for Chapter two of the evening ? – Shall we go on now? – Harold Norse is a classic Bohemian figure on the (North) American and European poetry scene, We first met, myself and Harold, in.. on the New York subway, around 34thStreet, in 1944, around Christmas-time, when I came down from Columbia University to visit Greenwich Village all by myself for the first time with a copy of Rimbaud and a red handkerchief tied around my neck. I think I had just met William Burroughs, maybe a few nights before, and this was my first foray into the Village, and there was a young guy sitting across the subway from me and it turned out to be Harold Norse, who, seeing my copy of Rimbaud and my red neckerchief and me reciting poetry in a lonesome subway car with him as the only auditor, introduced himself. And then we walked in Greenwich Village and he showed me where Hart Crane had lived, and told me all sorts of gossip about (W.H.) Auden.
In 1939 when Auden first came to America, he was met at the boat by Harold Norse and Chester Kallman (who became Auden’s lover, and with Auden was Christopher Isherwood, who struck up acquaintance with Harold, who then lived a sort of bohemian life and knew the Brooklyn Heights apartment where Gypsy Rose Lee, (where) Auden lived with a large literary company, the bohemia of pre-War Europe recorded in Auden’s poem “I sit in one of the dives/On Fifty-second Street/ Uncertain and afraid…”, “September 1st, 1939”…Harold had sent him to that gay bar and that was the dive of that celebrated poem. Harold continued writing, was living in Greenwich Village all during the early (19)40’s and mid (19)40s, visited Europe and lived a long time (in) Italy (and) France, traveling around, Greece later on. He translated the Roman Sonnets of G.G.Belli (a brilliant book, published by Jonathan Williams and Jargon Press, which received a great deal of favorable comment by William Carlos Williams, who said of his translations of the vernacular Roman dialect of Belli into vernacular Americanese – “You have breached a new lead, shown a new power of language which makes theories of composition so much blah” No one can do this kind of translation without genius for native language which you have shown, our American speech”.
So that was Williams’ early praise for Harold Norse’s demotic English (he was a student of Williams and one of the followers of that great school – also knew the American Surrealists when they were in New York, was friends with Charles Henri Ford). Over the years, published, here in Denver, his first book, 1953, Allan Swallow – The Undersea Mountain. Then, 1960, was the translations from Belli, Jargon Press. Macmillan, big-time, New York,1962, a book called The Dancing Beasts – Poems, Karma Circuit, done by Nothing Doing Press, London, 1967, Hotel Nirvana (which was selected poems, put out, belatedly, by City Lights, 1974). And then a huge collection of all of his work, put out by Gay Sunshine Press, Carnivorous Saint – Poems 1941-1976. He edited the magazine from San Francisco Bastard Angel – and by (the) Gay, Advocate, one of the.. in a critical review, was termed a “Catullan American”, one of the few Americans who had some of the spark of Catullus’ hardness in dealing with erotic themes. Harold Norse.
HN: Just like to make a few little corrections in this summation. I didn’t go to meet Auden at the boat, I..my friend Chester Kallman who was at Brooklyn College with me came over and said that Auden and Isherwood are coming and they’re going to read in New York. Let’s go and sit in the front row and wink at them! – and that’s how we met.
[Is this…? [Norse addresses the microphone] – it’s popping, yeah… can you hear me now? …no? ..how’s that..? can you hear that? ..ok…more distant? (AG – no, (as you were), maybe six inches..] – [oh, that’s about enough – eight – that’ll stop the popping] – ok thank you)]
“This poem is called “These Fears Are Real Not Paranoid”(I’m walking in silent spring, I do not feel like a million…”..”O Zen masters, quick! do something!’ –
and this is a poem called “In November” which was written, I believe in November of (19)72….when I’d just come to San Francisco, I’d been out of the country fifteen years and I hadn’t had a book published in America for ten years, and.. this is what happened – Norse reads “In November” – (“In November, I lost my food stamps, the computer said I did not exist..”….”… “…fifty-nine cents, a hundred-and-forty-five pounds and two good balls”)
This is a poem called “Remembering Paul Goodman”,in five sections, and the last section actually has a stanza in it about meeting Allen in the subway, this is a poem about the (19)40’s experience with Paul Goodman – (“As I cross a windy street corner waiting for a bus…” ….[“Ginsberg high in the subway red kerchief around his neck recited Rimbaud in eerie dawn of 1944 drowned by the IRT. the flood of words across the isle from me and then departed for mad mindmusic after we greeted the future”]……..”I do not eulogize dead men, he said, I find that fitting.”
I can read you a couple of dirty translations from..Catullus..
This is a cut-up of a picture poem [displays text], some of it has very small print, which I hope I can see, but it has illustrations of bar-bell, boys who are using bar-bells and doing body-building, and… which is part of the poem. You don’t have to see the whole thing, but I hope I can see these words. I’m afraid I really can’t, in this light – oh..oh jesus! – sorry, I can’t see it, it’s done in different-sized print, that’s too bad. I see if I can put some light on this subject.
well, actually, I would like (then) to close with a poem written about twenty-five years ago, which was called, it is..a ballad and it’s called “The Ballad of Beautiful Boys”(“Whatever became of Hans, the German, tall and pale and hard as an oar/And where is Bruce, the college freshman, who made a javelin look small/And the Irish boy in the merchant marine…..”… “Where are the beautiful boys I knew once whose greatest dread was the touch of cunts?’)
[Thannis in Hydra, 1964 – Photograph by Harold Norse]