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06/08/2010

One year ago: Harold Norse

June 8, 2010 |  7:01 am

Norse San Francisco poet Harold Norse, who died a year ago today at 92, was considered a mentor or peer to many great talents in 20th century American literature.

"He was an absolute pioneer in the use of American language," said Gerald Nicosia, a poet and biographer of Jack Kerouac who knew Norse for more than 30 years. "He was writing good, strong poetry before the Beats were."

A literary beacon in the gay community, Norse wrote openly of his sexual adventures in the 1940s and '50s.

"He was essentially an expatriate voice in American poetry," Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and bookseller who published a volume of Norse's poems in the mid-1970s, told The Times' Elaine Woo for Norse's obituary. "He had an original voice because he ventriloquized what a lot of other poets were saying. ... He could sound in one poem like T.S. Eliot ... or in another poem like William Burroughs."

Norse's 1972 poem "I am not a man" included these lines:

I'm not a man. I don't like football, boxing and cars.
I like to express my feeling. I even like to put an arm
around my friend's shoulder.

I'm not a man. I won't play the role assigned to me -- the role created
by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell,
Television does not dictate my behavior."

Norse's obituary appeared in The Times on June 13, 2009.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo credit: Neil Hollier

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