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literature

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Norse, Harold (1916-2009)  
 
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Norse began receiving serious critical attention in the mid-1960s. A 1966 issue of the avant-garde literary journal Ole was devoted to him. It included tributes, letters, and critical notices. Throughout the 1960s, Norse's work appeared in the Evergreen Review, a groundbreaking American literary journal that published the Beats alongside internationally acclaimed experimental writers such as Samuel Beckett, Günter Grass, and Octavio Paz.

San Francisco Years

In 1969 Norse returned to America. He eventually settled in San Francisco, becoming part of the San Francisco literary scene. Reflecting the Gay Liberation movement erupting around him, his poetry of the 1970s contained unapologetically gay and political content. His 1972 poem, "I'm Not a Man," for example, concludes with the quiet but powerful feminist statement, "I am not a man. I don't want to destroy you."

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Two significant books of poetry by Norse appeared in the 1970s. The first, Hotel Nirvana: Selected Poems, 1953-73 (1974; Number 32 in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights pocket poets series), cemented Norse's association with the Beats. The other, Carnivorous Saint, Gay Poems 1941-1976, published by Gay Sunshine Press in 1977, solidified his reputation as a gay poet.

In his introduction to the anthology Orgasms of Light (1977), Winston Leyland describes Carnivorous Saint as "among the five most important books of poetry to be published . . . in the U.S. within the past decade." Notable poems from Carnivorous Saint include the frank "To a Hustler," "This Beautiful Young Man," and "Gas Station," the last a masterly and evocative scene of sexual tension between strangers.

Norse's erotic poems have been included in such anthologies of gay poetry as Ian Young's The Male Muse (1973), Winston Leyland's Orgasms of Light (1977), Stephen Coote's The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (1983), Young's Son of The Male Muse (1983), and David Laurents's The Badboy Book of Erotic Poetry (1995).

Norse began work on his memoirs in the early 1980s, originally casting them in the form of a stage play entitled Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, about the Auden-Kallman-Norse triangle, as well as in episodic vignettes first printed in the City of San Francisco magazine concerning his encounters with such famous people as Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, and Marlon Brando.

In 1989 Memoirs of a Bastard Angel was published not as a play, but as what the subtitle describes as "A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey." In his memoirs, Norse attempted to expose the "false myths and legends" that have been "perpetuated by ardent admirers of famous artists, in the belief that the fictitious creation and the person are one and the same." He added, "The famous men and women I knew were nothing like the public imagined them."

In addition to Auden, Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, and Brando, Norse describes in his book such figures as James Baldwin, Anaïs Nin, John Cage, Ned Rorem, Robert de Niro, Roman Polanski, Ezra Pound, Sir Harold Acton, Dame Edith Sitwell, Paul and Jane Bowles, Dylan and Caitlin Thomas, Paul Goodman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, James Jones, the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII), Marc Chagall, Tristan Tzara, Gore Vidal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, e. e. cummings, Kenneth Patchen, and numerous others.

In 1990 Norse issued his correspondence with William Carlos Williams in a volume entitled The American Idiom: A Correspondence: William Carlos Williams & Harold Norse 1951-61. His letters to and from Charles Bukowski appeared under the title Fly Like a Bat Out of Hell in 2002.

Conclusion

Twice recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Norse received a lifetime achievement award from the National Poetry Association in 1991.

In 2003 Norse published In the Hub of the Fiery Force, Collected Poems 1934-2003, which includes more than 100 previously unpublished works. This volume thus offers an opportunity to view his work as a whole. So seen, it displays a remarkable consistency, particularly in the use of colloquial language and everyday images to celebrate both the commonplace and the exotic. Incorporating Eastern philosophy to enrich a Western homosexual identity, Norse's art expresses a unique vision.

In 1996 Norse suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He continued to live and write in San Francisco until his death on June 9, 2009.

Among the projects he worked on in his last years is a manuscript entitled Homo, which traces the history of in prose and poetry, from the days of early Christianity to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard.

Greg Baysans

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literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  American Writers on the Left

Most gay, lesbian, and bisexual American writers who adhered to Marxist-oriented parties and social movements between 1917 and the 1960s strove to hide their sexual orientation, and some even depicted homosexuals negatively in their fiction and drama.

literature >> Overview:  Beat Generation

The writers of the Beat Generation, many of whom were gay or bisexual, endorsed gay rights as a part of their rebellion against inhibition and self-censorship.

literature >> Overview:  The Bible

Perhaps no other book has been more influential--for better or worse--in determining the construction of gay and lesbian identity in the modern world, as well as social attitudes toward homosexuality, than the Bible.

literature >> Acton, Harold

Although he was a historian, philanthropist, and patron, Harold Acton's true vocation was that of an aesthete with a mission to shock the narrow-minded.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

literature >> Bowles, Jane Auer

American novelist, playwright, and short story writer Jane Bowles spent her life examining lesbian identity with an honest and sardonic wit.

literature >> Bowles, Paul

Gay American expatriate composer, writer, and translator Paul Bowles liked to examine sexuality from a dispassionate perspective for its psychological suggestiveness.

literature >> Burroughs, William S.

Both in his life and his novels, American writer William S. Burroughs was an outlaw and a provocateur, focusing on sexual repression as the fundamental element of social control and writing in a surrealistic and bitterly satirical mode.

arts >> Cage, John

The music of controversial American composer John Cage contains little autobiographical or gay content, but his ironic emphasis on the importance of silence in music may comment on the imposed silence of the closet.

literature >> Eliot, T[homas] S[tearns]

Although Eliot tried to suppress the fact, The Waste Land is an elegy for a young Frenchman whom he met and loved in Paris and who died in the Great War in 1915.

literature >> Ginsberg, Allen

The forthrightly gay Allen Ginsberg is probably the best-known American poet to emerge in the post-World War II period.

literature >> Goodman, Paul

The candor with which the bisexual Paul Goodman wrote about the homosexual libido in his poetry and fiction made him an important and highly visible advocate of gay liberation.

literature >> Isherwood, Christopher

A major Anglo-American novelist and a pioneer in the gay liberation movement, Christopher Isherwood created gay characters whose homosexuality is a simple given, an integral part of the wholeness of personality and an emblem of their common humanity.

literature >> Kerouac, Jack

The bisexual Jack Kerouac omitted references to his homosexuality from his otherwise autobiographical works.

literature >> Nin, Anaïs

The bisexual novelist Anaïs Nin is best known for her sexually frank diaries and the erotica published after her death.

literature >> Pasolini, Pier Paolo

Most of the fiction and much of the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the great Marxist homosexual artists of the twentieth century, was shaped by his fascination with the lives of subproletarian youths.

literature >> Rimbaud, Arthur

Because his writing stresses liberation, the French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud, whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics.

literature >> Rorem, Ned

The American composer Ned Rorem has achieved literary prominence by publishing a series of diaries that include candid descriptions of homosexual love affairs and relationships.

social sciences >> Shepard, Matthew

Matthew Shepard led an unremarkable life, but his shocking death transformed him into an icon of the glbtq movement for equality.

literature >> Sitwell, Edith

Throughout her life, poet and novelist Edith Sitwell surrounded herself with gay men, some of whom became her artistic collaborators. Although it is not clear that she ever experienced a sustained sexual relationship with anyone of either sex, her closest emotional bond was with another woman.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

The multifaceted Gore Vidal is important in the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work.

literature >> Williams, Jonathan

Jonathan Williams was the author of more than a hundred books and booklets of gay poetry that merges flesh and spirit with a sense of history.

literature >> Williams, Tennessee

Conflicted over his own sexuality, Tennessee Williams wrote directly about homosexuality only in his short stories, his poetry, and his late plays.


    Bibliography
   

Athitakis, Mark. "The Return of the Bastard Angel." SF Weekly (November 8, 2000): www.sfweekly.com/issues/2000-11-08/news/feature_1.html.

Charters, Ann, ed. The Portable Beat Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Coote, Stephen, ed. The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

"Harold Norse." www.beatmuseum.org/norse/haroldnorse.html.

Laurents, David, ed. The Badboy Book of Erotic Poetry. New York: Masquerade Books, 1995.

Leyland, Winston, ed. Orgasms of Light. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1977.

Norse, Harold. Beat Hotel. San Diego: Atticus Press, 1983.

_____. Carnivorous Saint, Gay Poems 1941-1976. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1977.

_____. Hotel Nirvana, Selected Poems, 1953-73. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1974.

_____. In the Hub of the Fiery Force, Collected Poems 1934-2003. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003.

______. The Love Poems, 1940-1985. Trumansburg, N. Y.: The Crossing Press, 1986.

______. "Memoirs of a Bastard Angel." No Apologies #4 (Spring 1984): 7-22.

______. Memoirs of a Bastard Angel. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1989.

Rosset, Barney, ed. Evergreen Review Reader 1957-1966. New York: Blue Moon Books, 1993.

Young, Ian, ed. The Male Muse. Trumansburg, N. Y.: The Crossing Press, 1983.

_____. Son of The Male Muse. Trumansburg, N.Y.: The Crossing Press, 1983.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Baysans, Greg  
    Entry Title: Norse, Harold  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated June 16, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/norse_h.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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