Gregory Corso:
By David Dalton

Images from The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters,
by Steven Watson (Pantheon, 1998)

First posted: 6-25-01

Summer 1950. The Pony Stable, a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. Ginsberg spies Corso at table with pile of fragment-strewn papers. Poems, thoughts, images, loose lines waiting for that jolt of electricity to re-animate them. Allen, being busybody, evangelist of newly-hatched visionaries and solicitor-in-general, picks up a page and reads: "The stone world came to me and said, Flesh gives you an hour’s life." Wow! At three o’clock in the afternoon, a new voice has arisen among us.

Avuncular Allen, only four years older than Gregory, but already—at 24—the budding swami, teacher, messenger. Allen, asking questions, delving. You live on West 12th? Oh, that’s right near me. So, how long have you been out of jail? (Jail-kids like Gregory Corso and Neal Cassady were a continuing fascination for the Beats—authenticity, babe.) And then edging toward the nitty-gritty (how did Allen pry this stuff out of people?). His kindly old Father Flotsky routine. What do you do with your nights, young man? Mostly, I masturbate. From my fourth floor apartment, I watch this woman come home, take a bath and make love to her boyfriend, and I jerk off. Wait a minute... from your fourth floor window?

The object of his erotic fantasies turns out to be Dusty Moreland, Allen’s girlfriend (Allen still in his heterosexual phase), and the guy, her boyfriend, it’s Allen! Well, fate had spoken. Sex, poetry, jail, voyeurism, masturbation—and coincidence—as if there is such a thing! Hey, you’ve gotta join our society of outsiders and anti-social scribblers, man. And Allen, the great connector, introduces him around. Kerouac, Clellon Holmes, et alia, Holmes, author of Go (originally titled The Beat Generation), written in ’51, published in ’52, has some great Beat scenes and dialogue, but the heart, alas, is not Beat. Corso (jail habits die hard) is at first wary of this boho instant bonding business: "To me, friends were very hard to make, especially in prison. But coming out of prison, you’re a poet and the other guy’s a poet, automatically you were friends, you see. I didn’t see it that way. It took a little while before I became friends with these guys."

Not that they treated Corso as an equal exactly. What with Kerouac condescending to him ("I’ll teach you some words, kid"), Perfesser Ginsberg pontifexing and assigning him reading lists and Burroughs yelling at him for burning the toast. They adopt him, and he remains "the Kid" of the group.

Poet, voyeur, jail kid, juvenile delinquent, dandy, radio thief, sullen, broody attic-dwelling Chatterton and Shelley-like scribbler in bars. If the three musketeers of Beatdom were looking for their D’Artagnan, here he was. It was as if they summoned him up. "A Beat Christ-boy," Kerouac called him. The Big Three—Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs—all came from upper middle-class backgrounds, went to college, and were—however much they protested—intellectuals. But like good bohemians, they had rejected their despised bourgeois backgrounds and now idolized the outcast, the fellaheen of the earth, the orphan with his gun—and Gregory certainly qualified as that. He came from a poor working-class family—his parents were both teenagers when they got married—and his formal education ended at sixth grade.

If you were looking for a portrait of Gregory Corso, you’d think his friend Jack, King of the Beats, would’ve painted us a brain-scan portrait of him in one of his incestuously autobiographical novels. But when you get to his sketch of Corso in The Subterraneans, it’s a red herring. Kerouac describes Yuri Gligoric (Corso’s name in the novel) as a big, tall, blond Yugoslavian "come down from apple-picking Oregon." He has him looking more like a Grateful Dead roadie than the street punk Gregory who was short and wiry, with piercing eyes and brooding good looks. And no rube.

But once the fake-out is out of the way, Kerouac pretty astutely zeroes in on Gregory/Yuri as a sexual claim-jumper and hit man from the Anxiety of Influence Bureau: "Very brash and, above all trying to cut Adam [Ginsberg] and myself and Carmody [Burroughs], all the time knowing us as an old revered trinity, wanting, naturally, as a young unpublished unknown but very genius poet to destroy the big established gods and raise himself—wanting therefore their women, too, being uninhibited, or unsaddened, yet, at least."

Ingenuous Gregory, shambling and "kidlike," but a cunning street-smart slyboots, hanging around, making eyes at Jack’s girlfriend, Mardou, and playing the waif-like young Rimbaud of the streets to the hilt. "I don’t have a place to stay," he tells the Kerouac character in The Subterraneans, "do you realize... what it is not to even have a place to write? I have not girls, nothing." How could the old softy, Saint Jack, resist a line like that? Even though he recognized a superior predator in Corso: "Yuri having been in his own in fact realer way than mine almost a hoodlum...."

Gregory had a brutal childhood, a mudlark straight out of Dickens. Born Gregory Nunzio Corso, March 26, 1930. When he was six months old, his teenage mother, Michelina, left him and went back to Italy. His father, Fortunato, promptly put him in foster care. Age ten, after he’d been shunted between several foster homes, he came back to live with his father. Ridiculed for chronic bed-wetting, his two years with his father and stepmother are not happy ones.

At twelve, he steals a radio from a neighbor’s apartment and is sentenced to four months in the Youth House. His fellow delinquents were "terribly abusive," he wrote in an autobiographical sketch. He is beaten so badly he mutilates himself breaking a window and is sent to Bellevue for psychiatric observation. When he gets out, he lives the life of a feral child, living on the street, sleeping on subways, tenement roofs, involved in petty crime and, for food, grabbing schoolgirls’ lunches. At sixteen, he masterminds a robbery of the Household Finance office—the three young criminals communicating via walkie-talkies. With his take of the loot, some $2,300, Gregory buys himself some flashy clothes and high-tails it to Florida. His accomplices stay behind, go on a spending spree, get caught and rat on him. A zoot-suited sixteen-year-old is not hard to spot in Florida. He gets sent upriver for three years at the Clinton State Prison.

"Bomb" was written in the Beat Hotel in Paris. Here’s Marianne Faithfull’s snapshot of Gregory in his attic room there, circa 1964: "I went to see Gregory with my husband John Dunbar. He was a grand old man of the Beat generation by then, though all of 33, I should think. He was living in his garret-like room, very la vie boheme."

This is where Gregory’s story begins. In jail, while, as he says, "getting educated in the ways of men at their worst and at their best," he reads Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Shelley, Christopher Marlowe. "Sometimes hell is a good place—if it proves to one that because it exists, so must its opposite, heaven, exist. And what is heaven? Poetry." Fellow inmates from Little Italy tell him to play the fool if he wants to make it through.

Released in 1950, and shortly after the meeting of remarkable minds. At first, Corso wrote mostly earnest, unremarkable verse, but once introduced by the edifying Dr. Ginsberg to the long, wheezy, Whitmanesque line that curled around ideas and images like morning glory and was, therefore, the ideal breath-length lasso for capturing the incommensurate American thing (I contain multitudes) and hipped to surreal word juxtapositions that spark meaning out of inert language (I sing the body electric), he was on his way to glory.

Wild nights in Greenwich Village with Gregory, "Angel Yuri," drunkenly wheeling Jack and Mardou in a peddler’s pushcart under the stars and tenement rooftops. And then, back at Mardou’s place, Jack catches Gregory and Mardou fooling around on the couch in their "othergenerationey" playfulness "which I in my scowlingness and writer-ness had not participated in and my old-manness about which I keep telling myself, ‘You’re old you old sonofabitch you’re lucky to have such a young sweet thing’ (while at the same time plotting, as I’d been doing for about three weeks now, to get rid of Mardou... ‘without her noticing it.’)." Get the picture? Sure, Jack, we see.

When Kerouac confronts Gregory about this pre-coital wrestling business and tells him, "Keep away, you’re such a lady killer, they all fall for you," Gregory demurs, "I don’t want to make your girl, Mardou, after all I have no eyes—." And when he naively relays to Mardou what Gregory said, she reacts with, "Oh, so he has no eyes! A hell of a thing to say!"

It’s all told with mind-drenching sunumi prose in The Subterraneans. Based on Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, it’s "a full confession of one’s most wretched and hidden agonies after an ‘affair’ of any kind," says sinner-sufferer Jack. Only logorrheic, polysemous Jack could write an entire book on the meta-muta-inferences and allusions associated with your best friend stealing your girl with such compassion, adolescent martyr fixation and pure mind-blown lyricism. And in three days and three nights! "Three full moon nights in October." A lot of Bennies, but still....

According to Gregory’s version, he had only gone over to Mardou’s flat just to wait for Jack. It was she who insisted on a little friendly wrestling on the bed. "She was rough and I was out of jail and she raped me. I told Jack and he cried and I said, ‘Oh shit.’"

This was the one true love of Jack’s life, although Mardou, being black as well as stoned most of the time, was not exactly the sort of girl he could take home to mémêre. And polytropic Jack, in any case, was not all that of a devoted lover, having so many things going on in his head at once—whereas Gregory just wanted to get laid. As soon as he woke up after lovemaking, Jack would split, rushing back to his mother’s house in Richmond Hill to get down what she’d said, the inflection of her voice, the way she said thing with that Junkie lilt, as if he were trying to recall a Charlie Parker solo.

And Gregory, meanwhile, was irresistible, he was one of the subterraneans, the coolest of the cool, as Kerouac, quoting Ginsberg, described them: "They are hip without being slick, they are intelligent without being corny, they are intellectual as hell and know all about Pound without being pretentious or talking too much about it, they are very quiet, the

You’d think after a melodrama like this—Beat version of Grand Opera as interior monologue—these two guys would never speak to each other again, but you’re forgetting that the Beats were a buddy movie. And it was all happening in real time. The Subterraneans was written during and immediately after the affair and probably the next day, Jack lugging that roll of teletype paper into Manhattan on the subway to get Gregory’s opinion. What a pair! Originally, the novel ended with Jack trying to kill Gregory by picking up a table and throwing it at him. Gregory thought the book was pretty truthful—excruciatingly so—but when he read that part, he said, "Ah, Jack, Jack, that isn’t you, Jack."

And maybe Gregory understood that, like Judas, he was fulfilling a predestined role in the life of Saint Jack. Jack and the Buddha knew that all life is suffering—he craved martyrdom, pauvre Ti Jean! And what a miracle came forth from the womb of that suffering: a great, roiling, moebius strip of a book. And not just any book, but a whole new prose style.

By the end of ’53, Burroughs, just back from Mexico with suitcases full of yagé, was off again to Tangier and Ginsberg to Mexico. Soon, Gregory would be hitting the Holy Road himself. He set out on the Beat pilgrimage across the U.S.A. (Beat equivalent of the Grand Tour of Europe)—America, that was the great subject, what it was and what it felt like to be in it—and an outcast from it, and nobody has recorded this Quixotic quest with more wit and anguish than Gregory. Working as a laborer, a reporter for The Los Angeles Examiner and as a merchant seaman, settling in Cambridge in 1954 for a spell, where he fell in with the poet Frank O’Hara’s crowd. He haunted the Harvard University library, poring over the great works of the angel-cowboy poets who had gone before—Shelley, Byron, Keats, Blake, Whitman. All the "Secret Heroes," Dylan Thomas, Kenneth Rexroth, the madmen and outlaws from the past generation.

He burrowed into the Harvard library like some creature that can only sustain itself on the nectar of old books. In "I Held a Shelley Manuscript," which he wrote in the Houghton Library at Harvard, he treats the ancient page like a holy relic:

Quickly my eyes moved quickly
Sought for smell for dust for lace
..........For dry hair!
His reverend gaze becoming a balm to the brown mottled page,
And I, as though tipping a pitcher of milk,
Pour secrecy upon the dying page.
His poems were first published in the Harvard Advocate, collected and printed in his first book, The Vestal Lady on Brattle and Other Poems, financed by students at Harvard and Radcliffe. In the same year, 1955, his macabre play, In This Hung-Up Age, about a group of tourists trampled to death by a herd of buffalo, was performed by Harvard students.

The lethal critic, Randall Jarrell, then the Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress, is so impressed with his poems that he offers to let him crash at his house. And Jarrell sitting there day after day listening patiently to the earnest young Corso talking about his idol, Shelley, and how "Shelley, man, was a revolutionary but he shed no blood," and Jarrell telling him, "Gregory, your stuff is as good as Shelley’s." But after a few days of this, you can hear the contumacious Jarrell’s eyeballs beginning to roll back in his head as Gregory starts on his God-is-Van Gogh rant. "God is like this beautiful painter, man, who, like, painted a beautiful picture of a world that man has painted over."

Soon thereafter, a sozzled Jack shows up. More ranting, and speechifying, and actual shameless bop preachifying, in which Rev. Jack tries to convert Jarrell to his Church of First Thought Best Thought. "In the sense, man, of a, say, tenor man drawing a breath and blowing a phrase on his saxophone, till he runs out of breath—sentences as breath separations of the mind. . . ." And they both get kicked out

In 1956, Gregory moves to San Francisco, then the Beat center of the universe. Ginsberg had read "Howl," that initiating blast of the Beat ram’s horn, there only a few months earlier. Still a year before the Beat bible, Kerouac’s On the Road, comes out, but the Beat Movement was already getting coverage in the mainstream media. Corso was one of the Beat elect. Ginsberg had anointed him, calling him "a great word-swinger, first naked sign of a poet, a scientific master of mad mouthfuls of language." But with fame came the end of a certain kind of innocence for the Big Beat Four, and, consequently from then on, their chance meetings in San Francisco, Mexico City, the Lower East Side would have a frenetic and melancholy cast to them.

Out there in the foggy San Francisco Chinese-scroll night—Gregory, Peter, Jack, and the painter Robert La Vigne, hanging out drunk on the sidewalk, all shouting at once in a blur of words, skatting to car horns and generally speaking in be-bop tongues, Peter Orlovsky peeing on the crowded street, the neighbors complaining and the cops come round in a prowler—they get off with a warning. Jack tells them, "I wanna instruct my bhikkus to avoid the authorities, it’s written in the Tao, it’s the only way—it’s the only straight line, right through." Whadda way to talk to the cops. Frisco, baby.

The next night, drunk again at the photo shoot for Mademoiselle, as they pose with arms linked, Jack, the old jock, seeing them as an all-star baseball team. Allen is "serious Lou Gehrig, who hits long homeruns lefthanded," Gregory "the fair-haired DiMag who can play faultless ball without appearing to try or strain" and Jack himself "Ty Cobb . . . I’m crazy, nobody’s ever liked my personality, I’m no Babe Ruth Beloved."

In September ’56, Allen and Gregory, the two most agit-prop of the Beats, decided how their revolution will take off: "We’ll go all the way out! We’ll take our clothes off to read our poems." Well, that’s one way to start a revolution. In The Literary Revolution in America, Ginsberg and Corso’s Beat manifesto, they declaim their disillusion with America’s "Empire Sickness," its racism and materialism and express their "discontent, their demands, their hope, their final wondrous unimaginable dream."

Although not as overtly political as Ginsberg, Corso wasn’t the kinda guy who was gonna stand for any bureaucratic claptrap either, in 1964 refusing to sign an affidavit that he was not, or ever had been, a member of the Communist Party and got fired from his teaching job at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In 1958, Gasoline, a collection of his early poetry, was published by City Lights. That same year, his most famous poem, "Bomb," was published as a broadside by City Lights and included in his 1960 collection, The Happy Birthday of Death. "One reason I dig Gregory," Ginsberg said of him at the time, is that "he’ll write about anything, socks, army, food, Arnold, Looney—so he also now writes the ONE GREAT POEM about the Bomb. He’s extended the area of poetic experience further out than anyone I know."

The great thing about "Bomb" is that everything about it is bomb. It’s bomb shaped, mushroom-cloud shaped, neutrino-heavy, blunt, menacing and sputtering—as if the bomb itself were speaking through him in some annihilating baby-babble—the word itself, snub-nosed and insensate, is repeated—bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb—like numbing explosions in the brain, as if the words themselves are detonating as you read them:

Budger of history Brake of time You Bomb
Toy of universe Grandest of all snatched-sky I cannot hate you
Do I hate the mischievous thunderbolt the jawbone of an ass
The bumpy club of One Million B.C. the mace the flail the axe
Catapult Da Vinci tomahawk Cochise flintlock Kidd dagger Rathbone
Ah and the sad desperate gun of Verlaine Pushkin Dillinger Bogart
And hath not St. Michael a burning sword St. George a lance David a sling
Bomb you are as cruel as man makes you and you're no crueller than cancer
All man hates you they'd rather die by car-crash lightning drowning
Falling off a roof electric-chair heart-attack old age old age 0 Bomb
They'd rather die by anything but you Death's finger is free-lance
Not up to man whether you boom or not Death has long since distributed its
categorical blue I sing thee Bomb Death’s extravagance Death’s jubilee Gem of Death’s supremest blue The flyer will crash his death will differ
with the climber who'll fall To die by cobra is not to die by bad pork
die by swamp some by sea and some by the bushy-haired man in the night
0 there are deaths like witches of Arc Scarey deaths like Boris Karloff
No-feeling deaths like birth-death sadless deaths like old pain Bowery
Abandoned deaths like Capital Punishment stately deaths like senators
And unthinkable deaths like Harpo Marx girls on Vogue covers my own
I do not know just how horrible Bombdeath is I can only imagine
Yet no other death I know has so laughable a preview I scope
a city New York City streaming starkeyed subway shelter
Scores and scores A fumble of humanity High heels bend
Hats whelming away Youth forgetting their combs
Ladies not knowing what to do with their shopping bags
Unperturbed gum machines Yet dangerous 3rd rail
Ritz Brothers from the Bronx caught in the A train
The smiling Schenley poster will always smile
Impish Death Satyr Bomb Bombdeath
Turtles exploding over Istanbul
The jaguar's flying foot
soon to sink in arctic snow
Penguins plunged against the Sphinx. . . .

From "Bomb"
"Bomb" was written in the Beat Hotel in Paris. Here’s Marianne Faithfull’s snapshot of Gregory in his attic room there, circa 1964: "I went to see Gregory with my husband John Dunbar. He was a grand old man of the Beat generation by then, though all of 33, I should think. He was living in his garret-like room, very la vie boheme. He did a good Stanley Kowalski. When he was young it was white t-shirts and jeans, obviously, and he looked fantastic. He’d mutter inscrutable asides, the way he did at his readings, ‘Holy communion or basketball?’ ‘Chameleons eat light and air.’ That sort of thing. I was absolutely terrified. We’d not been there but five minutes when he promptly drank a whole bottle of the Brompton Mixture and passed out. It’s a concoction of heroin and cocaine that they used to prescribe for cancer patients in England. Outrageous! And one expected no less of a genius poet. I was terribly impressed."

He became a brilliant reader of his own work, a put-on artist, mumbling random surrealisms into the microphone ("all life is a rotary club," "I found God a gigantic fly paper," "fish is animalized water"), a shock-troop poet in an increasingly shockproof avant-garde,

It’s all abnormal!
The virgin is sick!
The whore is sick!
The Cocksucker the cuntlapper, sick!
The sodomist the normalist, sick!
The celibate the cocksman, sick!
Yes! Every man & woman who ever fucked, sick!
The fucked and the fuckers
The unfucked and the non-fuckers, SICK!
To the gas-chamber with all of them!

From "On Chessman's Crime"

A nose-thumber, a wiseguy, some hoodlum poet poking his fingers in your eyes.

The Big Bopper Beats were all Quixotes, tilters at windmills and arch fantasists with grand illusions—Kerouac’s grand existential, Proustian world-river book, Ginsberg’s "Big trembling Oklahomas need poetry and nakedness," and Burroughs’ grand unifying theories of mystic paranoia. Among them Gregory was, as Allen called him, "An independent trickster hero who provides a lot of common sense." Bringing Jack down to earth when, half whacked, he launched into his one of his hobo fantasies.

Jack: I always ride freight trains
Corso: Who wants to ride freight trains… I don’t dig all this crap where you ride freight trains and have to exchange butts with bums. Why do you have to go to all that? Really no kiddin’.

On the other hand, Jack couldn’t resist chiding Gregory for his archaisms:

And he read me his "best line" which was something to do with "seldom nocturne" that I said sounded like small magazine poetry and wasn’t his best—as I’d already seen much better poetry by him concerning his tough boyhood, about cats, mothers in gutters, Jesus striding in the ashcan, appearing incarnate shining on the blowers of slum tenements or that is making great steps across the light—the sum of something he could do, and did well.

"No, seldom nocturne isn’t your meat," Gregory tells him. But it was Gregory’s. And it’s just this fusing of hip, smart-aleckiness with fustian diction that gives Corso’s poetry its strange and striking patina. Unlike Kerouac, given to grand, abstract word constructions that Mardou mocks him for ("Men are so crazy!"), Gregory’s poems deal in personal, ordinary, immediate feelings—I’m horny, I’m sad, I’m confused, I’m mad as hell! And then, like some nutty jongleur out of a Keats medieval reverie, along comes this antiquarian character mid-stanza speaking thusly and forsoothing all things from the "viewless wings of Poesy." Yeah, Gregory got hisself a bad case of the ye olde Chatterton flu.

Gregory was the Count of Monte Cristo of words. They were his treasure-hoard dug up in a 1905 dictionary that he smuggled in his head when he came out of prison: "Got that whole book in me, all the obsolete and archaic words. And through that I knew that I was in love with language and vocabulary, because the words and the way they looked to me, the way they sounded, and what they meant, how they were defined and all that, I tried to revive them, and I did."

"Gregory writes like nobody alive at the same time," says Marianne. "It’s like Shelley and Keats. Keats, Keats, Keats—bit of old Coleridge comes in, but it’s not like Allen, Jack, or William. His searchlight was very narrow. It wasn’t like Allen’s world poetry anthology, it didn’t cover from everything to everything, from Walt Whitman to haiku. You didn’t get those kinds of books in prison. Very simple. Byron, Keats, Shelley, finis. Until he met the boys, that was it. An incredible kind of training, isn’t it? Straight out of the 1820s into 1950s America."

Poetry for Gregory was redemption, salvation, heaven itself. It was everything as he insists in a bit of banter with Kerouac in The Subterraneans: "Listen" he tells the Kerouac character, "do you believe in freedom?—then say what you want it’s poetry, poetry, all of it’s poetry, great prose is poetry, great verse is poetry." When Kerouac tries to object, "but verse is verse and prose is prose," Gregory yells back, "No, no, it’s all poetry."

Gregory Corso was one of that band of "angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connections to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night," one of the Beat saints who drove language hysterical naked in the street, but none did it with such kidlike, send-up humor as Gregory. Hal Willner, who is producing the Corso CD, compares him to a cross between Stan Laurel and W.C Fields with a touch of Lon Channy. "I myself am my own happy fool," he wrote of himself in "Clown," an image of him Kerouac, in his conclusion to The Subterraneans, would agree with: "…but I continue the daydream and I look in his eyes and I suddenly see the glare of a jester angel who made his presence on earth all a joke . . . and I think ‘Funny Angel, elevated amongst the subterraneans.’"

When Kerouac died prematurely in 1969, Gregory was so distraught that at the funeral he had to be restrained from pulling Kerouac’s body out of the coffin and throwing it across the room, "Because he wasn’t there, this was just the body." Jack’s passing inspired what is perhaps his greatest poem, "Elegiac Feelings American," which begins:

How inseparable you and the America you saw yet was
....never there to see; you and America, like the tree and the ground, are and the same; yet how like a palm tree in the state of Oregon...
....dead ere it blossomed, like a snow polar loping the Miami—
How so that which you were or hoped to be, and the America not, the America saw yet could not see

With its haunting,
O and yet when it’s asked of you "What happened to him?"
....I say "What happened to America has happened to him—the two were
....inseparable" Like the wind to the sky is the voice to the word....

Then Ginsberg and Burroughs went on to Beat heaven, too, and by the early ‘90s, Gregory began to have intimations of his own mortality.
He’d always been a flash dresser even in his Stanley Kowalski mode, but Marianne was surprised to find him decked out in designer clothes. "I was used to seeing him in his Streetcar Named Desire clothes. He greeted François and I dressed in this gorgeous Agnès B. Hommes suit. Very smart, the whole suit was a dark mushroom velvet. He’d been flirting with me for thirty years and always held out the promise of writing me a poem. I guess the time had come because there it was, very beautiful and clearly something he’d worked on and crafted, called, ‘Sing A Sad Song’":

Have you sung of numbers spelt longer?
Did you number the cloaked one
circles his mind around sadder songs sung?

Soon the shadows of sleep
will be bereft of music’s marrow
And clanking skeletons shall jounce their wend
toward the bassoon men.

Then you’ll sing of beauty even with closed eyes.
(For beauty never leaves the eye).
Hear, o, hear its vibrating tones of memory.
Have you ever forgotten a song?
Do you know this sweetness of unheard music.
As unto beauty and the eye.
Music never leaves the ear.
Whether heard or unsung.

© G. Corso

"I’m sure that’s him," says Marianne, "that bit, ‘Soon the shadows of sleep will be bereft of music’s marrow/And clanking skeletons shall jounce their wend toward the bassoon men.’"

In his latter years—with his white hair, beard and glasses and the corners of his mouth permanently turned-down in gripe—he began to resemble a Muppet of the Grumpy Old Poet—although not quite as harmless. While he could genially debate the question of marriage in his well-known poem of the same name, his own marriages did not fare so well. He became something of a Beat satyr. Well into his mid-sixties, he would stay at friends’ houses and try and pull their 13-year-old daughters. Toward the end of his life, he was looked after by his friends Roger and Irvine Richard. And then, when he became very sick, an extraordinary thing happened. Out of the blue, a daughter, Sheri Langerman, whom he’d almost forgotten, reappeared in his life—a nurse, no less, and took care of him until his death earlier this spring.

"I was with him the last few weeks before he died," Marianne recalls, "and because he was such a dear mate, I could chat with him. Out of everybody’s hearing I whispered to him, ‘Now, Gregory, when you get there, let me know something.’ Terrible of me! He looked at me and said, ‘Darling, I won’t be able to do that. But if I can I will.’ I haven’t heard from him so obviously he’s coping. ’Course he is."

Perhaps sitting in the Sacré-Coeur Café waiting for Cosette "the size of eternity" or up in his attic garret in the Beat Hotel where the voices of Swedish damsels still call out his name:

…however are we going to account for all those little Swedish girls with incendiary headdresses of lighted candles tottering perilously on their empty blonde heads? That’s easy. They are the chorus of Muses whose silvery soprano voices one could hear trilling up the slippery stairs, calling: "Gregory! Gregoooory!" whenever Corso was in residence. And then he would yell back some flippant poetic obscenity from his eyrie under the roof at the top of the last flight of steps to immortality. "Fuck off! I’m too busy becoming immortal but come back later, sweet Poesy."

[The paragraph above is from Brion Gysin’s "The Beat Hotel, Paris," part of which is reprinted in the excellent omnium-gaterum, The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters (Penguin) which, aside from offering many great complete Beatworks like "Howl," etc. and Jack Kerouac’s "Belief & Technique for Modern Prose" (aka How I Wrote The Subterraneans), it contains many jewels which you would look long and hard to find, such as Lew Welch’s "I Saw Myself:"

I saw myself
A ring of bone
In the clear stream of all of it

And vowed, always to be open to it
That all of it
Might flow through

And then heard
"ring of bone" where
ring is what a
bell does

Essential to anyone in search of the unspeakable visions of the individual is Mindfield, New & Selected Poems by Gregory Corso with forewords by both Ginsberg and Burroughs. A CD of Corso reading his own poetry and rambling on about matters mythological, etc., plus readings of his poems by Marianne Faithfull will be available this October from Paris Records, as will be a spoken word CD of Terry Southern called GIVE ME YOUR HUMP!! The Unspeakable Terry Southern CD. Both are distributed by Koch Progressive at If you are interested in hearing tracks from past Paris Records recordings of the Beats, go to (aside from Corso, there’s Burroughs in a tender mood, Anne Waldman, Kathy Acker, a funny story involving a Jean-Paul Sartre ballet by Terry Southern, and lots of Ginsberg). If you haven’t read The Subterraneans in a while, it’s definitely a trip and, at barely over 100 pages, a sweet dose of Kerouac (Grove Press). Steven Watson’s The Birth of the Beat Generation (Pantheon) is a pleasure to read—anecdotal, scholarly, the different threads seamlessly woven together—also wonderfully designed with lots of pics and maps and marginalia.]

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