Mary Norbert Korte, a woman poet

 dance in a loving ring
(for Hilary Ayer Fowler)

and pattern becomes
feet like drops of
purposive water
their plash deliberate tone
to accompany their each

and edge becomes
sharply rounded leading
what is the after of our
going before
not bound to arms but

and song becomes
sings itself through figure
of arms and feet
so lastly we know
with delight overtaking caught

the dance of realised pattern
on the live edge
of fitting song.

–Sister Mary Norbert Korte, 1965  (this poem appears in the anthology 31 New American Poets, pub. 1968)

Eddie Mae the Cook
Dreamed Sister Mary Ran
Off with Allen Ginsberg

The halls long dark hard
enough to have survived
the ’06 Quake where survival
was measured by the sound of
Mother Superior’s Rosary Beads
she dreamed
the cooks dreamed the other nuns
dreamed impossible dreams of silver
visions pelagic noises in the
groaning night
Dreaming was a mission she could not
renounce night as a place to see
all freedoms looming ahead
like a sweet dragon like
a cross with its circling tail

She ran away in everybody’s dreams
calling out like a booming flame
running running into the lines
of bards & lions lovers & birds
running with her arms out wide
into the bright flapping dark

(A true story about a dream really dreamed by the cook at the
St. Rose Convent after Sister Mary Norbert Korte attended the
Berkeley Poetry Conference)

–Mary Norbert Korte, 1988

MaryNorbertKorteYoungWoman                                                     MaryNKorte.jpg
Born in 1934 in the San Francisco Bay area, Mary Norbert Korte was from a strong Catholic
family.  This devout upbringing led Korte to enter the convent after graduating high school
in 1952.  As a nun she furthered her education, earning a Master’s degree in the specialized
field of Silver Latin.

In 1965, Korte awakened to another calling when she attended the Berkeley Poetry
Conference and heard readings by poets Robert Creely, Jack Spice, Charles Olson, Robert
Duncan, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsburg.  She discovered she felt as at home among the
Beat writers as she did in the convent.  Within a few short years Korte left the convent as
her passion for writing and political activism grew.

Korte was one of the original Poet/Teachers for the California Poets in the Schools
program.  Twenty years ago, in the mid 1990s, she stopped teaching in the Schools
program and shifted her energies into environmental concerns by becoming the
Environmental Director for Coyote Valley Tribe in northern California.  To support herself
Korte began teaching at a California Indian reservation.

Regarded as one of the few women of the Beat Generation, Korte’s publications include Beginning of Lines (1968), Hymn To the Gentle Sun (1967), and Mammals of Delight (1978.)  Among the anthologies that include Korte’s poems are Remember Our Fire:
Poetry by Women
 (1969), 31 New American Poets (1968) and Poems Read in the Spirit of Peace & Gladness (1966).  Today she lives quietly and writes extensively in the Redwood Forest in Mendocino County.

HymntotheGentleSunPoetry                 31NewAmericanPoets                      ThrowingFirecracksOuttheWindowWhenMyExHusbandDrivesByMNK


Mary Norbert Korte’s biographical information is taken from the following web page:




4 thoughts on “Mary Norbert Korte, a woman poet

  1. kvennarad says:

    I love the Beats – I’d like to say I identify with them, but my head’s probably in too hifalutin’ a place to fit – and that era. I like Bukowski (predictably) and Frank O’Hara, and I think it would have been grand to have been in the audience to hear Ginsberg read ‘Howl’ for the first time. Mary Norbert Korte I had not read before now, so thank you for the introduction.

    • You’re welcome — I’ve always been intrigued with the Beats — they seem to have been true Bohemians, and while it’s taken me years to actually know (besides Kerouac and Ginsberg) the work of other Beat writers, it’s been a welcome process.

      Mary Norbert Korte’s poem here “dance in a loving ring” I’d handwritten a copy of many years ago and recently found it while rummaging through an envelope I’d labeled “historical documents” (meaning these were from quite a ways back). Since I didn’t know who Korte is I started researching. Am glad to know she’s still alive and found her calling in several ways (as a nun, among the Beat writers and as an environmentalist).

      • Jason Weiss says:

        Mary was my first poetry teacher (in an extra-curricular program) when I was at Berkeley High School, at the beginning of the 1970s. Since the mid-1970s she has been living in the Mendocino woods, not far from Willits. I last saw her, visiting there for the first time, a bit over 10 years ago, and just now called the number I had (disconnected apparently) to see how she was doing with the fire nearby…

      • Your knowing Mary and having had her as a poetry teacher is very interesting (& the timing, the early 1970s, is when I first read a poem of hers). In terms of the fires in Mendocino I found an article tonite that discusses how many homes in Mendocino have burned (200) and that some people who were evacuated are now being allowed to return. Here is the article link:
        I hope Mary is all right — there’s been so much devastation and in places like Santa Rosa there are a lot of people missing and unaccounted for.
        If the officials are allowing people in Mendocino to return that is somewhat of a good sign.
        From what I found tonite, also, Mary is still active doing readings in places like Ukiah (this is one of the central towns in Mendocino County, I believe). Just a few weeks ago in September she read at a reading in tandem with a museum exhibit there:

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