Harold Norse recently - click for full picture

Harold Norse: born 1916, New York City. B.A., Brooklyn College 1938; M.A., New York University 1951. At age 22 in 1939 he became a member of W. H. Auden's inner circle, cited by scholar/critic Nicholas Jenkins in The New Yorker, April 1, 1996. William Carlos Williams called him "the best poet of your generation". The 10-year correspondence between Norse and Williams (1951-1961) was published by Bright Tyger, San Francisco 1990. Williams wrote the Preface to Norse's translations of G. G. Belli, the 19th-century Roman dialect poet, published by Jargon Books, 1960; then by Villiers Ltd. London, 1974 and a second US edition Perivale Press 1974. That year City Lights published Norse's Hotel Nirvana: Selected Poems, establishing him among the leading Beat poets. He was nominated for the 1974 National Book Award.

Norse lived in the "Beat Hotel" in Paris, 1960-63, with William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. There he wrote his experimental cut-up novel, Beat Hotel, published in German by Maro Verlag, Augsburg 1973, now in its 30th printing; Atticus, San Diego, Cal. 1983, and in Italian, Caneggio, 1985.


With Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems 1941-1976, Gay Sunshine Press 1977, Norse became the leading gay liberation poet. His Memoirs of a Bastard Angel (William Morrow), 1989, preface by James Baldwin, further established his reputation. The book documents his relationships with W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, e.e. cummings, Tennessee Williams, William Carlos Williams, James Baldwin, Dylan Thomas, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Bukowski, Robert Graves, Anais Nin, Paul and Jane Bowles and many more. Love Poems, Crossing Press 1986, received wide critical acclaim.

Norse has produced 12 books of poetry and 3 of prose. He has received 2 NEA poetry grants and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Poetry Association. His work has been praised by major writers including Robert Graves, James Baldwin, Christopher Isherwood, Charles Bukowski, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Ana´s Nin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti et al.

He has been translated into German, French, Italian, Greek, Dutch, Tamil, Japanese, Arabic, etc., and has appeared in many anthologies: New Directions 13, ed. James Laughlin, 1951; New World Writing 13, ed. Reed Whittemore; Mentor, New American Library, 1958; City Lights Journal, ed. L. Ferlinghetti, #1, 1963; #4 1978; Best Poems of 1968: Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards, ed. Hildegarde Flanner, 1969; Poems from Italy, translations, ed. William Jay Smith, Crowell, 1972; City Lights Anthology, ed. Ferlinghetti, City Lights 1974; A Geography of Poets, ed. Edward Field, Bantam 1979; The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, ed. Stephen Coote, Penguin 1983; An Ear to the Ground, ed. Harris & Aguero, University of Chicago Press, 1989; Big Sky Mind: Buddhism & the Beat Generation, ed. Carole Tonkinson, Riverhead Books, NY, 1995; City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, City Lights, 1995; Mondadori (in Italian) 1997.



The Undersea Mountain, Swallow Press, Denver, Colorado 1953.

The Roman Sonnets of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, trans. by HN, Preface by William Carlos Williams and Introduction by Alberto Moravia, Jargon, Highlands, NC 1960; Villiers Ltd, London,1974; Perivale, Van Nuys, CA 1974.

The Dancing Beasts, Macmillan & Co., NY 1962.

Olé, Open Skull, with tributes to HN by William Carlos Williams, Ana´s Nin, James Baldwin, Charles Bukowski et al., Bensenville, IL 1966.

Karma Circuit: 20 Poems & a Preface by HN, Nothing Doing in London, London 1967; Panjandrum, SF 1974.

Christmas on Earth (Broadside), Minkoff Rare Editions, NY 1968.

Penguin Modern Poets #13 (Charles Bukowski, Philip Lamantia, Harold Norse), Penguin Ltd., Harmondsworth, England 1969.

Hotel Nirvana: Selected Poems, 1953-1973, City Lights, SF 1974.

I See America Daily, Mother's Hen, Berkeley 1974.

Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems, 1941-1976 (HN Illustrations), Gay Sunshine, SF 1977.

Mysteries of Magritte, Atticus, San Diego 1984.

The Love Poems (1940-1985), Crossing Press, Trumansburg, NY 1986.


Beat Hotel (novel), German trans. Carl Weissner, Maro Verlag, Augsburg, West Germany 1975, still in print; (in original English), Atticus,1983 (defunct), Preface by William S. Burroughs; Italian trans. Giulio Saponaro, Stamperia della Frontiera, Caneggio, Switzerland 1985.

Memoirs of a Bastard Angel (autobiography), William Morrow, NY 1989; Bloomsbury, London 1990; French trans. Richard Crevier, Editions du Rocher, Paris & Monte Carlo, 1991; German trans. Carl Weissner and Walter Hartmann, Rogner und Bernhard, Hamburg 1992.

The American Idiom: A Correspondence: William Carlos Williams & HN 1951-61, ed. John J. Wilson, Bright Tyger, SF 1990.


Cross Section Anthology, ed. Edwin Seaver, Simon & Schuster, NY 1947.

New Directions Anthology #13, ed. James Laughlin, New Directions, NY 1951.

New World Writing #13, Poetry ed. Reed Whittemore, New American Library, Mentor, 1958.

Best Poems of 1968: Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards, ed. Hildegarde Flanner, Lionel Stevensen et al., Pacific Books, Palo Alto 1969.

Acid Anthology, ed. Brinkmann and Rygulla, Maro Verlag, Darmstadt, Germany 1969.

Poems from Italy, Belli trans. HN, ed. William Jay Smith, Crowell, NY 1972.

The Male Muse, ed. Ian Young, Crossing Press, Trumansburg, NY 1973.

Panjandrum Anthology, ed. Denis Koran, Panjandrum, SF, 1973.

City Lights Anthology, ed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights, 1974.

Angels of the Lyre, ed. Winston Leyland, Gay Sunshine, SF 1975.

Poets West, ed. Lawrence Spingarn, Perivale, Van Nuys, 1975.

The Beat Diary, ed. Arthur and Kit Knight, Tuvoti, 1977.

Gay Sunshine Interviews Vol.1, ed. Winston Leyland, includes Norse, Genet, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Isherwood, Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Gay Sunshine, 1978.

City Lights Journal, ed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights, No. 1, 1963, No. 4, 1978.

A Geography of Poets, ed. Edward Field, Bantam, NY, 1979.

Orgasms of Light, ed. Winston Leyland, Gay Sunshine, 1980.

The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, ed. Stephen Coote, Penguin, London, 1983.

The Maverick Poets, ed. Steve Kowit, Gorilla Press, San Diego, 1988.

Am Ear to the Ground, ed. Marie Harris, Kathleen Aguero, U. of Georgia Press, Athens, 1989.

City Lights Review Number 4, ed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy Peters, City Lights 1990.

Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation, ed. Carole Tonkinson. Part One: Norse, Kerouac, Ginsberg, di Prima; Part Two: Snyder, Whalen, Bob Kaufman; Part Three: McClure, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti; Part IV: Rexroth, Waldman. Riverhead Books, NY 1995.

City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, ed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights 1995.

Contributor to periodicals, including Antaeus, Art News, Beat Angels, Christopher Street (Cover photo and featured excerpts from Memoirs), Commentary, Evergreen Review, Exquisite Corpse, Harpers and Queen (U.K.), Hudson Review, Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review, Quarterly Review, Partisan Review, Paris Review, Saturday Review, Transatlantic Review, Poetry, The Nation, Poetry Now, etc. HN Editor, publisher, Bastard Angel (magazine), 1972-74.

Norse's work has been translated into many languages: French, German, Greek, Dutch, Italian, Arabic, Tamil, Japanese, etc., with pending translations into Spanish, Serbo-Croat. His manuscripts are housed at the Lilly Library, Special Collections, Indiana University, Bloomington.

From books, book reviews and testimonials:

Christopher Isherwood, letter to HN 1977: "I realized that [Carnivorous Saint] shouldn't be dipped into but read from beginning to end, as an autobiography. So that's what I've done, with great admiration and enjoyment."

San Francisco Sentinel, August 11, 1977, Carnivorous Saint: Harold Norse, The Great Gay American Poet? "Somewhere along the line he became a great poet.... For a long time it appeared that Allen Ginsberg was the Great Gay Poet of Twentieth Century America, the Whitman of our times. Recently there has been considerable suggestion that the title might go instead to Frank O'Hara.... Now Harold Norse's collection of thirty-five years' worth of gay poems puts him also into contention for the title. Norse's work has qualities which Ginsberg and O'Hara lack.... Norse writes direct easy-reading poems which operate, quite casually, on two or more levels...and in this his greatness lies, as did Cavafy's before him.... Norse's range is immense...and he is a prolific writer...."

Poetry Flash, Oct. 1977, review of Carnivorous Saint by Neeli Cherkovski: "Whitman said of Leaves of Grass, 'Who touches this book touches a man.' That's how these 240 pages achieve their radiance. There was always something marking Norse off from others.... He took risks long before the postwar 'contemporaries'. He was beat before the Beats, hip before the hippies and out of the closet long before gay liberation. Now that he has become a kind of saint of gay poetry I pronounce him...the Bastard Angel of poetry today (this is the name he gave his poetry magazine). I think of Rexroth, Patchen and Bukowski at their freest. Like them Norse is not classifiable...right there with warmth and humor through it all. A line back to Catullus...."

The Advocate, October 19, 1977 cover story: "An American Catullus" by W. I. Scobie aka Tony Sarver: "I know of no other collection of homoerotic poetry by one author spanning an entire lifetime of writing--some four decades.... Norse has told the story of his life in Carnivorous Saint.... Most of the 200-odd poems succeed triumphantly...a satisfying wholeness about it....You could almost read it as you might a novel...a seething flow of language that gives an extraordinary portrait of one soul's passage through our times.... He does succeed in catching that magical, latent element that touches something older than the present organization of man's nature.... Norse does not seek to destroy tradition but to renew it. Perhaps the ultimate importance of the book is that it carries on, in pioneering fashion, a tradition of homoerotic literature that stretches back 3000 years to the first recorded poetic saga, celebrating the love of Enkidu and Gilgamesh.... Homosexuality is a spontaneous and enduring part of human nature, as Harold Norse, our American Catullus, reminds us."

Christopher Street, Vol 2, No. 5, Nov. 1977, review of Carnivorous Saint by Rudy Kikel: "His work is part--indeed, one of the foundations--of a post-World War II tradition of blasted poetic forms and scapegoat heroes in exile, a tradition of Sexual Outlawry that also includes, but is not limited to, work by John Wieners and the prose art of John Rechy and Jean Genet.... Just as we profess our debt to the street people who liberated Stonewall in 1969, so should we continue to acknowledge the "bacchanalian roots" of liberation that linger on in writing of our sexual outlaws .... We need a Norse, a Wieners, we need to know that it is possible to experience near total alienation from a culture and still, somehow, erotically endure."

San Francisco Sentinel. Dec. 30, 1977: "Carnivorous Saint is easily the most important single book of poetry published in America this year, gay or straight. No other book spans forty years, includes hundreds of poems, and documents a personal and group history as this retrospective of Norse's. Before now eager readers had to spend years collecting enough evidence in literature to validate their experience or simply to delight them. Now the modes of gay Western culture, as interpreted by Norse, are open as they have not been for two thousand years, the record of a life as well-lived as any in history is preserved. Not incidentally the Gay Cultural Renaissance of San Francisco in the 1970's is also recorded from the point of view of one of its makers."

San Francisco Sentinel review of Gay Sunshine Interviews, July 14, 1978: "There are 15 interviews with 12 subjects: William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Lou Harrison, Christopher Isherwood, Harold Norse, Peter Orlovsky, John Rechy, Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams.... It is perhaps not accidental that two interviews, Norse's and Vidal's, are the most astute and philosophically reliable.... Norse is exquisite and simple in showing how people couple badly. Future literary historians will no doubt make much of the explosion of gay sexuality into print from1945 to1980, but none of them will, I think, be able to separatetheir work substantially from that of their non-gay contemporaries. Certainly Genet, Isherwood, Norse, Vidal and, above all, Williams would object to characterization of their work as gay."

High Times, Sept.1978, Issue #37 p.93: "Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Harold Norse were the seminal hipsters at the funky hotel.... when it was home for the writers and painters who were the vanguard of the Beat Generation."

"William Burroughs and the experimental writers of the day [1950s/60s]--Jack Kerouac, Harold Norse, Brion Gysin, Allen Ginsberg--created a stylistic revolution in literature, a fresh way to view the juxtaposition of words themselves. Startlingly simple, but radical in its potential, their technique disrupted syntax and linear structures of thought to create new context and form.... Like shamans drawing with sticks in the sand, these artists made their ritual magic and...as a result, they refreshed and rejuvenated...international culture...." Mark Thompson, Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning, St. Martin's Press, 1987, pp. 20-21, Introduction.

Camille Paglia in an essay, "Love Poetry" in Vamps and Tramps, Vintage, Random House, 1994, p. 327 pb, cites Harold Norse, Frank O'Hara, Robert Duncan, Paul Goodman, James Merrill and Thom Gunn as having "freed gay poetry from both underground and coterie...documenting homosexual contact for the first time since Imperial Rome...." (From her article on love poetry first published in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 3rd edition, 1993).

"I just read all of your book [Hotel Nirvana, City Lights] and it is one of the greatest. They don't make poets like that anymore." Lawrence Ferlinghetti, letter to HN, August 15, 1995.

"The translation of G. G. Belli is superb!...a masterpiece!" W.C. Williams, Nov.15, 1955 letter. "The idiom spoken in America is not taught in our schools...[it] is waiting only for a genius of its intrinsic poetry to appear.... That Harold Norse has as birthright.... He has succeeded in producing felicitous poems when anyone not so equipped must inevitably have failed." William Carlos Williams, Preface to HN's translations of Belli, February 1956, Jargon, Highlands, NC.

"I admired your poem 'The Railroad Yard'. The thing that struck me most forcibly was the language.... I was very moved.... Readers are years behind you, only a few know what it is all about...." William Carlos Williams, letter to HN, April 21, 1951.

"That poem (Florence)...is frightening...nowhere in my life or reading has an image been so vividly presented. It is really a masterpiece.... What you have done in this poem is too beautiful to ignore." W. C. Williams, Jan. 24, 1957.

"You have breached a new lead, shown a new power over the language, which makes theories of composition so much blah." W. C. Williams, Jan. 30, 1959.

"It would take at least 10 pages to tell you what I think of you now--my appreciation of the importance of your work...to assure you of my loyalty to you...to what you are doing...the VARIABLE FOOT.... W. C. Williams, April 24, 1960.

"Offers unique personal insight into...major figures--notably Pound's extreme paranoia...and Williams's painful modesty. Norse has impeccable literary polish." Carl Solomon, American Book Review, Sept.-Oct. 1990 on Memoirs of a Bastard Angel.

"In the fifties, when [William Carlos] Williams was developing his theories about the American idiom and the 'variable foot' as the basis of the new poetics, distinct from the English heritage... Williams sought young allies. He counted on Norse as 'the one guy who would carry the battle without flagging deep into the enemy territory.' At times Williams placed in him his highest hopes." John J. Wilson, Introduction, The American Idiom: A Correspondence (Norse and Williams) 1990, Bright Tyger, p. xi.

Since William Carlos Williams discovered him in 195l, Harold Norse has become a leading voice of the Beat Generation, the most influential literary movement of the 20th Century. With Will-iam Burroughs Norse pioneered a revolutionary style in the 50s and 60s. Their message endures because of their influence on later generations. Norse's innovative voice is heard most powerfully in his experimental cut-up novel, Beat Hotel, translated into several languages to critical acclaim, and his ground-breaking book of homoerotic poetry, Carnivorous Saint. In the Foreword to Beat Hotel William Burroughs wrote: "It was with pangs of nostalgia that I read these on-the-spot notes.... We were well on the way to launching a literary movement. Harold Norse was among the first to apply cut-ups. We are indebted to him for recording the strange interlude in which he played a pivotal role."

The Advocate, May 26 1987:"Beat Hotel", a work of genius no less incandescent than Burroughs' Naked Lunch to which I compare it because they were written at the same time (early 1960s) in the same place and by the same method (the cut-up).... It is the most important political novel since Orwell's 1984 and furthers Orwell's investigations of the death of language." Ron Bluestein

In the 1960s and 70s Norse found himself in the midst of another eventful time in American literature. He became the poetic voice of the Gay literary movement with his ground-breaking influential collection of poems, Carnivorous Saint. This landmark volume received the highest acclaim by leading Gay and mainstream critics. He was featured on the cover of the Advocate and dubbed "The American Catullus" in its feature story. Christopher Isherwood hailed the book and Library Journal and Booklist called him an important major Gay poet in the US.

A member of W. H. Auden's New York inner circle at the age of 22 Norse was cited extensively in the April 1, 1996 issue of the New Yorker by scholar/critic Nicholas Jenkins in an article, "Goodbye, 1939," on Auden's first year in the US.

Of Norse's Memoirs of a Bastard Angel William Burroughs wrote: "Magically evocative and visual ... fascinating! It can be read like a picaresque novel, horrific and hilarious. It's like an epic film. Every page breathes with the writer's presence."

"Once in a great while an autobiography comes out that is important...to a movement.... Such is the case with Harold Norse's Memoirs. A landmark...sharp, concise, eloquent...with flights of genius...[it] should find its way to the shelf where the 'greats' of American literature reside." The Washington Blade, Jan. 5, 1990:

"[A] crucial evocation of a vast...era which has now vanished forever." Ned Rorem

"I enjoyed the Memoirs tremendously. So well written...so honest...alive...powerful." Ana´s Nin

"...a gossipy, bawdy memoir recounting an adventurous life on three continents with...a host of literary lions.... This memoir celebrates tolerance and love over prejudice and hatred.... It will be welcomed." Library Journal.

"Humorous and didactic.... Norse charts a colorful life rich in literary affiliations.... He emerges as a peripatetic Priapus...between belletristic concerns and homosexual escapades." New York Times Book Review

"...reminiscences...of many literary figures of the past half-century.... He tells of [them] with candor...and affection.... Norse keeps the action bubbling briskly...his descriptions ...capsule portraits....and total lack of self-consciousness...keep the pages turning." Kirkus Reviews

"An important, moving testament to half a century of gay male lives, literature and culture (by) an original talent and cornerstone of both the gay and beat literary traditions.... Honest ... accurate...invaluable for its facts and insights." The Advocate

"[A] lively...poignant memoir...a cogent voice." San Francisco Chronicle

"Ranks high among good writings. Norse's powers of description are tremendous...fascinating." Lambda Book Report

"Sensational, sexy, moral, literary, witty. With polished craft [it] reveals a complete man...documenting the largely uncharted confluence of this century's literary life with its gay history." Bay Area Reporter