Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
Harold Norse passed away in June 2009 in San Francisco at the age of 92. For certain “lucky” artists or writers, one of the quirks of old age is that the longer you live the more relevant you become. The critical establishment can no longer ignore you because you slowly become one of the few remaining links to a bygone age and a valuable source of information. Norse was a living library and, it should be remembered, a talented poet. As Memoirs of a Bastard Angel attests, Norse seemingly rubbed shoulders (and more) with everybody who was anybody in 20th century art and letters, particularly in gay circles.
Norse got his start in the literary world as a part of W.H. Auden’s coterie in the late 1930s. At the time, Auden was the premier poet in the post-Eliot universe. By the 1950s, Norse switched teams, poetically, and came under the influence of William Carlos Williams, who called Norse one of the finest poets of his generation. At this time, Williams attracted young poets like moths to the flame. Ginsberg came under Williams’ influence in a similar manner. Norse met Ginsberg at the Beat Hotel in the late 1950s. At the Hotel, Norse came under the influence of Burroughs and, for a brief time, experimented with the cut-up. Beat Hotel is the major example of Norse’s toying with the technique. Norse continued to wander and eventually landed in San Francisco. Norse met and corresponded with Charles Bukowski, eventually settling into the Left Coast literary scene for good.
Given the fact that you could play Six Degrees of Harold Norse, it should have been no surprise that Norse corresponded with Jeff Nuttall. Like Norse, Nuttall was an underappreciated artist and poet who knew everybody in the international underground. Robert Bank, RealityStudio.org European correspondent, passed along a few letters from Norse to Nuttall from the late 1960s. These letters capture a moment in time and give some sense of Norse as an individual and of his interests as a writer.