Harold Norse: In the hub
of the fiery force:
a beautiful kingsize volume (620 pp.) of
collected poems (1934-2003)
Explicitly Beat gay educated engaged sub/countercultural, Harold Norse is
“a major poet who has been ignored by succeeding generations. A major poetic voice in articulating mid-century American consciousness” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti)…and I think even more than this, especially because of his experience with so many different literary cycles and developments over several decades…:
see, above all, his autobiographic “Memoirs of a Bastard Angel” for this (description of literary and sub-cultural life in the pre-AIDS era as some have called it), e.g. interesting and partly funny receptions in
amazon, with all the Parisian literary circles,
Beat Hotel, Bohême and all, in it -
from his relationship with W. H. Auden, praise from William Carlos Williams, both from William S. Burroughs, to Charles Bukowski: “Old William C. Williams knew a poet when he saw one. I wish I could use the language like you. You have all the words and you use them exactly.”, and even up to Senator Arnold Schwarzenegger with whom he lifted weights.
And his poems breathe this ‘bohemian security’, grown from all the (often sexual) relationships, with Beats, and many more (Living Theatre, L. Cohen, J. Baldwin, D. Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Pasolini, Moravia..Anais Nin). Not only in the preface, You feel his pride of these acquaintances (why not), interestingly different from Ginsberg, e.g., and of the rustling which was related also to his work with the poetic expression as well as contemplations about cultural influences, in their functionality w/r to time and geography, era of society.
The poems contain different impressions over a long time span, and from various habitats in Europe, Northern Africa, America, and a recurring theme is showing how/that ‘the life of the past (is) still protruding into the present with similar myths and symbols, the same unchanging human nature from antiquity to the present with the new modern speech’ (and another cloak of social categories).
In the preface to his volume of poems, he also discusses his experience with free verse, encouraged by W.C.Williams, the battle with the dominant academic schools – the freedom in the measure giving the opportunity to underline the actual phrasal breath units of speech, colloquial American, liberated from rules of convention, open to make poems effect like chants, grasp the visceral level, reaching beyond the conscious mind (for which, on the other hand, a scientific treatment would be more adequate) (and its associativity longing for context, for a sensoric meaning). In chants, religion and art tend ‘to inspire awe because of elevated quality’ (heeh, compare the quotation in my profile) ‘as of beauty, nobility or grandeur’. (Apparently, there’s a similarity to the role of poetry as ‘memory song’ like Pinsky describes it; communication in life, essentially human spirit.)
For this, he also likes to use elements of ‘everyday reality and its bizarre contrasts and contradictions’ as well as webs ‘emblematic of life and its mysteries’, grouping for a ‘kind of autobiography in verse’, showing the ‘fiery force’, life force itself, the ‘flame of desire and love, of sex and beauty, of pleasure and joy as we consume and are consumed, as we burn with pleasure and burn out in death. It’s about living and dying, about heaven and hell on earth.’
He strongly underlines the role of the counter-culture and the force of the ‘movement’ of his ‘Beat generation brothers’ (which is now established as that, but remains ground-breaking / innovative as a method of expression, a vision).
And the many poems in this volume comprise all these aspects, which just cannot be bad.
Sometimes, the wide variety gives ‘too much of everything’, and is a bit too mellow, also stressing, however important, sexual aspects a tiny bit too much, unnecessarily (even for me)(maybe a sign of the times, of the sub-culture). Then, the claim for an outstanding Beat vision cannot be fulfilled, the view is blurred in grandeur or education, and impulses are damped as if in interfering strains – which, for my perception, is only very rarely the case in the writing of Ginsberg, diPrima, Corso, Kerouac.
But nevertheless, this collection is offering a very interesting world of poetry, a lively trip and voyage.