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 credit: Larry Keenan. Gregory Corso (left) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (right).

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.

Last summer [2000], when Gregory was very ill, people began writing 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.

January 17, 2001: Gregory Corso passed away. He was 70. There’s more about him at the SF Gate. I figured this was a good time as ever to open some blackberry wine and have a few smokes (which I’d given up) in honor of the poetry whiz whose words were witty and wonderful. Gregory suffered from prostate cancer and last summer had a significant relapse, which got everyone worried sad.

Credit: Horst Spandler. Photo of Gregory Corso in summer if 77.

Everyone thought he was going to die then, but he hung on. Word had it later that he was off with his daughter gambling on an Indian reservation. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me–he had a lot of energy and soul, even in the roughest times. Around the time he had the relapse, a few people wrote devotions–to express what was going on at that time in their heads. Most of all, though, I think we’re all affected to some degree (most of us a lot) that Gregory is not here anymore. Well, I can’t be some preacher chick saying all the platitudes–but long live Gregory. Here’s a toast to ya, man.

January 19: Adrien Begrand sent me to his site, which has some excellent links to Corso, including (get this!) a link to a “43-minute real video reading by Corso at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado circa 1987, complete with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg.”

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 12, 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

I’ve been receiving very cool tributes to Gregory. Since JACK’s next issue comes out soon, with a chapbook feature by Gregory, it’s only fitting to provide a tribute page this time, too. I’ll put some of the stuff I’m getting there, or here, depending on how you prefer; the communal effort at this has been extraordinary, and justifiably so. The chapbook is “Way Out: A Poem in Discord,” which Gregory wrote while in Nepal in the early 1970s. Ira Cohen published it through his then press, Bardo Matrix, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 1974. At that time, 500 copies were distributed and the chapbook never got too “out there” to be read by many. I believe it to be one of his outstanding works, and am happy to provide the means to have more people get all bedazzled by it as well.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a memorial gathering is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday (January 24) at the New College of California Theater, 777 Valencia St., San Francisco. This is hosted by Neeli Cherkovski and Gerald Nicosia. All are welcome to attend. Those who knew Gregory will be given a chance to speak a few words in remembrance. According to the AP report and Sheri Langerman (Gregory’s daughter), funeral services are not final yet, but a service is planned for Greenwich Village and the burial planned in Rome.

I wish love and magic upon the family and friends close to Gregory.

To people like Robert, Steve, Louise, Eddie, Adrien, Larry, and Michael–your wisdom and wit and words these last couple days have been heavy and tipsy. Thank you.

January 20: Well, things sink in, and invariably there is both sadness and lightness. I heard from someone late last night who said that she’d never gotten into the beat poets, swayed by an aversion to them. Then, upon hearing about Gregory’s death, she went out and began reading his poetry that day. And was overwhelmed. That gave me goosebumps. Ah hell, I hate being mushy, but it’s all so true.

Larry Carradini sent the following:
“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 heartfelt 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

Also, see:
A Steve Silberman Special to the Chronicle, APPRECIATION: Poet Was Ever a Subversive Spirit. Gregory Corso despised pretension. This reminds me of his great poem “Poet Talking to Himself in the Mirror”, whose last lines go:

Ain’t got no agent
can’t see poets having agents
Yet Ginzy, Ferl, have one
and make lots of money by them
and fame too
Maybe I should get an agent?
No way, Gregory, stay
close to the poem!!!

January 24: Gregory Corso’s funeral was today, and from what I hear it was beautiful (“weird and interesting”), in a Catholic church in Greenwich Village. Speaking of villages, the Village Voice has a nicely written tribute to Gregory, by Patti Smith.

***The above was written in 2000-2001 around the time of Gregory’s illness and death. Below is a brief bio.

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, met Allen Ginsberg, who was impressed with Corso’s prison writings. With Ginsberg’s help, Corso’s poetry was widely read and later published. Gregory Corso 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 amidst 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 sophistication. Nevertheless, Corso is an extraordinary natural writer who possesses a pure and original sensibility shaped by and transcending the hardships of his early 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 bizarre humor but temper their praise with reservations about what they perceive as a lack of intellectual sophistication and finesse and a strain of self-promotion.

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 calling 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. The 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 poems, 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!”).”

Some of Corso’s books include the following:

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 atmosphere.” — 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, at, 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.

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