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Harold Norse — Sniffing Keyholes

06 Nov 2007 / 0 Comments / in Harold Norse, Publications

From the Barry Miles book The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963, published by Grove:

“…for a brief period — from just after the publication of Howl in 1957 until the building was sold in 1963 — it was home to Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin, Peter Orlovsky, Harold Norse, and a host of other luminaries of the Beat Generation.”

Mr. Miles is referring to, of course, #9 Rue Git-le-Coeur, Madame Rachous’ hotel — The Beat Hotel.

The synaesthesia press was proud to publish Sniffing Keyholes, a small masterpiece written by Norse while he in residence at Rachous’ hotel. From the author’s introduction to Sniffing Keyholes:

“In February 1960, before moving into the Beat Hotel, I began doing ink drawings and cut-up poetry at the Hotel Univers on rue St. Grègoire de Tours next door to Edouard Roditi. He had often put me up at number 8 where, he said, Thèodore de Banville had rented a room for Rimbaud.

Shortly after I moved into the Beat Hotel in April, I wrote Sniffing Keyholes, a sex/dope scene between a muscular black youth called Melo and a blond Russian princess called Z.Z. It was my first narrative cut-up. I felt I had broken through semantic and psychological barriers; hashish and opium helped with the aleatory process.

My experience of breaking new ground alarmed and exhilarated me. For awhile I believed I had lost my reason but didn’t consider it a great loss — the mind works in mysterious ways. Actually, word, image, and perception come together in a simultaneous jumble, not, as grammar and logic would have us believe, in a linear structure. I telescoped language in word clusters in a way James Joyce had pioneered, but with this difference: I allowed the element of chance to determine novel and surprising configurations of language. John Cage had done it in music, Pollock in painting. When I showed it to Brion Gysin he raved, “You’ve done something new! It’s a gas! Bill must see this right away.”

Bill Burroughs came down to my room. “Well, Harold, Brion says you’ve written a very funny cut-up. I’d love to see it.” In his fedora and topcoat he sat at the edge of my bed reading the piece, exploding in little sniffs and snorts, his equivalent of lusty guffaws. “This is marvelous,” he said, looking up. “You must show it to Girodias.” Maurice Girodias, owner of Olympia Press, had published Naked Lunch; his father had published Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. But I wasn’t so sure he’d go mad about a few typewritten pages of cut-up. Burroughs disagreed. “I’m calling him right away to get you an appointment.”

A day or two later I trekked over to the office a few blocks away on the rue St. Sèverin. I was right. Girodias read it and thought it similar to Burroughs. He wanted to see more but didn’t sound enthusiastic. “He missed the point,” snorted Burroughs. “He rejected Naked Lunch the first time it was offered to him.”

Published in an edition of 203; the first 100 were signed by the author. Book design with die-cut cover with see-through illustration of Z.Z. by X-Ray Book Co.’s Johnny Brewton; hand-sewn in wraps, nine pages.

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