Gregory Corso is dead

George Snedeker snedeker at
Fri Jan 26 21:00:02 MST 2001

Gregory Corso died on Jan. 17.

I know that some Marxists think that the Beat writers were just    lumpen
elements. life is not so simple, is it? Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso

...Like the jester who blew out candles
tip-toeing in toe-bell feet
that his master dream victories
--so I creep and blow
that the cat and canary sleep.

I've no plumed helmet, no blue-white raiment;
and no jester of-old comes wish me on.
I myself am my own happy fool...


Born: March 26, 1930, New York City
Died: January 17, 2001, Robbinsdale, Minnesota

Photo courtesy:
Larry Keenan,
of Gregory Corso (left) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti posing in front of my
"Last Gathering" mural at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery,
Rebels: Painters
and Poets of 1950's exhibition.

"On behalf of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, I extend our warmest condolences
to all those who loved Gregory and his works. I would, especially, like to
express our most heart felt feelings of loss to Gregory's friends and
family. His life was bigger than life. His art is clear as rain. We will
remember him here in Lowell, in October, when the air is crisp -- like
Gregory's words. As a poet, I am feeling a personal loss as well. Take care,
proud angel. Fly high and free. We will listen for your mischievous feet --
in treetops -- your laughter -- spit gleefully -- from fountains -- in the
park." --Larry Carradini

Gregory Corso, born in Greenwich Village, was sent to prison at age 16 for
robbery. During this time, he wrote some poetry, and later when released,
Allen Ginsberg, who was impressed with Corso's prison writings. With
Ginsberg's help, Corso's poetry was widely read and later published. Gregory
said in an interview in
Variations of a Generation,
that he was not beat, but he was not square, either.

Corso, along with Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky (briefly), William
Burroughs, and others went to Paris during the years of 1958-1963, and
stayed for the
most part (while he wasn't traveling around to other parts of Europe), at
the rue Git-le-Coeur, otherwise known as The Beat Hotel. Here, Gregory wrote
the collection A Happy Birthday of Death and his famous poem "Bomb." With
his comrades (Burroughs sometimes off in Tangier), he lived in a classic yet
rundown hotel that had rats in its hallways, rationed use of bathing areas,
and meager living arrangements. Despite its poverty, The Beat Hotel was
a rich tapestry of artists, bookstores, cheap cafes, and bohemian life that
sported the Left Bank. One of my favorite stories of this time is how Corso
and Ginsberg met artist Duchamp at a formal party. Drunk, they were enamored
of Duchamp, and Corso cut off half his tie to show this admiration.

According to the Gale Group:

With only six years of formal schooling, Corso is largely self-educated. His
poetry displays a special absorption in art and the ideas acquired through
broad, if eclectic, reading; it also reveals an unevenness, a parataxis of
popular and high culture, pronunciamento and lyric, naivete; and
Nevertheless, Corso is an extraordinary natural writer who possesses a pure
and original sensibility shaped by and transcending the hardships of his
life. Range, swift invention, humor, and striking elliptical imagery
characterize his best poems.

Despite these qualities, Corso's work has been almost totally disregarded by
serious reviewers. His lack of canonical status as a writer, the rawness of
his talent, and perhaps his reportedly abrasive manner with poetry audiences
and interviewers have resulted in slighting treatments of him as a mere Beat
celebrity. Only a handful of critics have given Corso's poetry any
thoughtful consideration: they admire his extraordinary imaging ability and
humor but temper their praise with reservations about what they perceive as
a lack of intellectual sophistication and finesse and a strain of

Yet, among his peers and some of the publishers of the 50s and 60s, such as
New Directions, Corso is seen as one of the best poets of the times:

David Amram, in his introductory notes to Corso's collection Mindfield, said
"And I can say, ungrudgingly: Gregory Corso is a poet. He has the rare
of a pure lyric gift. And he has never doubted his calling."

William Burroughs said, deftly and simply, "Gregory Corso is a poet" (a high
compliment coming from Burroughs). He also said, "Gregory is a gambler. He
suffers reverses, like every man who takes chances. But his vitality and
resilience always will shine through with a light that is more than human.
immortal light of his muse. Gregory is indeed one of the Daddies."

Allen Ginsberg said, "Corso is a poet's poet, his verse pure velvet, close
to John Keats for our time, exquisitely delicate in manners of the Muse."

Jack Kerouac said of Greogry: "A fabulous young American poet of the very
first magnitude in the history of English is Gregory Corso, whose best long
Bomb, Army, Marriage and whole Mexicanas of notebooks of poetry he scribbled
in Mexico have not been printed (and a lot of his best work he's personally
rejected himself and hid under floorboards, and some lost by the suitcase in
buses!) ("O Atom Bomb, resound thy tanky knees!")."

Photo by Horst Spandler, of Gregory Corso at a Naropa Institute party in
Boulder, Colorado, 1977.Last summer, when Gregory was very ill, people began
tributes to him as a poet, a man, a cutup, even. This picture was taken by
Horst Spandler in the summer of '77 in Boulder, Colorado, during a party of
Naropa Institute poets and students.

He Wears the Map of Calabria on His Face
                                                For Gregory

He tells her, "I'll kiss your microphone."
This is no profession, but a confession,
so says the ex-professor of tempests and torments
but rain falls and I fall with it.
Let's raise the stakes before the sun sets.
Let's stake ourselves to the sun before we set.
Let's turn over the bowl of dementia
and wear it proudly when night falls.
Let's lick the sweaty sewers at the shadow door to nowhere.
Her tits speak a language we used to know - summer snow.
Her tits rise above the cornflake battlements
and shiver with the dust of debrained monuments.
Alas! A poet lies dying in his iron cage.
Alas! The owl-eyed totems bleed newsprint
and we wander in wonder at how easy it is
to sip from a straw sunk in the molten magma of the next outrage.
Yet Life still blocks the door as Death kicks in
and the cars slip by as if they were snakes.
Gently, gently we open our arms
Whirlwinds typhoons hurricanes water spouts hail formosa
formica pachyderms lean in waiting hungrily
for a last leaven of weightless fingers
and the last breath blows away the dust covering the altar.

-Ira Cohen & Allan Graubard
August l2, 2000


during a
discussion about
asked the
beat-l mailing list
to recommend
the best
beat cut-up

to which
someone else
"Gregory Corso."

-Adrien Begrand

Some of Corso's books include the following (see
City Lights):

Elegiac Feelings American: A collection of poetry, drawings, and glyphs.
Gasoline: Pocket Poets No.8. "Open this book as you would a box of crazy
toys, take in your hands a refinement of beauty out of a destructive
-- Allen Ginsberg
Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit: Poems about death, despair, and silence.
The Happy Birthday of Death: The notorious "Bomb" is a foldout in this
cornucopia of ironic wisdom.
Long Live Man: From 1962. Atom bombs, computers, car exhausts, and
lovelessness do not get this poet down...other substances do.
Mindfield: A generous selection of Corso's own favorite poems, including
some new work.

The most recent book about Corso is titled 'A Clown in a Grave' :
Complexities and Tensions in the Works of Gregory Corso, by Michael Skau
(published October
1999, Southern Illinois University Press). An editorial review of this book,
says "Corso emphasizes social issues, yet risks undermining this
significance by using wit, wordplay, and humor. While conceding mortality,
he is adamant
in refusing to acknowledge death's power. Even as he rebels against
conventional literature, he still is enchanted by classicism and
romanticism, often
borrowing their techniques and idioms. Skau examines these complexities and
seeming contradictions throughout Corso's career, showing that Corso finds
value in inconsistency and vacillation."

Gregory Corso is known as Yuri Gligoric in Subterraneans and as Rafael Urso
in Desolation Angels and Book of Dreams.


Beat Literature's Gregory Corso Page
"Birthplace Revisited" from Gasoline
Cosmic Baseball's Corso Page
Gregory Corso
Gregory Corso and Dennis Hopper
Gregory Corso: Beat Legend
Gregory Corso: The Poet's Poet
Ginsberg and Corso in the Kitchen
Interview with Burroughs, by Corso and Ginsberg
Levi Asher's Gregory Corso Page
More Online Texts (including "The Mad Yak")
Modern American Poetry's Corso Page
spress's Beatland Corso Page

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