Thursday, October 16, 2014

Weeks 9–10: Gregory Corso, the Poet's Poet

We're switching gears from prose back to poetry as we move on to the poet who served as D'Artagnan to the Beat Three Musketeers of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs — Gregory Corso. Still, it would do him a horrible disservice to suggest his talents are any less than theirs.  Our readings will be taken from the 1989 collection, Mindfield: New and Selected Poems, sadly the only comprehensive volume of Corso's poetry, even if it neglects his final twelve years of writing.

Corso's childhood was every bit as tough as Neal Cassady's. Abandoned by his mother (or so he thought) not long after his birth, and then abandoned again by his father, who shuttled him in and out of foster homes throughout the first eleven years of his life. While he was a talented student, in spite of these hardships, he soon ran afoul of the law, serving time for several thefts and break-ins throughout his teenage years, ultimately leading to his three-year incarceration in Clinton Correctional Facility from the ages of 16-19. It was here that Corso's life began to change for the better. 

By sheer happenstance, Corso was placed in the cell that had just been vacated by the gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and this had several positive consequences: Luciano had donated an extensive library to the prison so that he could keep up with his reading, and to facilitate this, he also arranged to have a special light installed so that he read into the wee hours of the morning. Protected by the hardened criminals (who saw the teenaged prisoner as a mascot of sorts) he began a long process of self education — reading widely through Greek and Roman classical literature as well as the English canon — and started writing poetry, which became a salvation for him. Not long after his release, he met Allen Ginsberg at a lesbian bar called The Pony Stable and struck up a conversation, becoming fast friends. The rest, as they say, is history!

As you'll recall from Kerouac's depictions of Corso in The Subterraneans it's a bit of an understatement to say that he is a character — both cantankerous and charming, the ex-con and freeloader with a heart of gold who can quote Keats and Shelley from memory. This tension between hyper-modern and clasical and Romantic influences makes Corso a unique voice among the Beats, and it'll be interesting to explore these dichotomies as we work through Mindfield

Here's our reading schedule for Corso:

Thurs., October 23rd: from The Vestal Lady on Brattle and Gasoline
  • Greenwich Village Suicide (3)
  • In the Morgue (4)
  • Sea Chanty (5): MP3
  • The Horse Was Milked (7)
  • Requiem for ‘Bird’ Parker Musician (8)
  • Cambridge First Impressions (15)
  • Mexican Impressions (24)
  • Sun (26)
  • Puma in Chapultepec Zoo (27)
  • Uccello (29)
  • On the Walls of a Dull Furnished Room (30)
  • Italian Extravaganza (30)
  • Birthplace Revisited (31)
  • But I Do Not Need Kindness (32)
  • Don’t Shoot the Warthog (34)
  • I Am 25 (35)
  • Three (36)
  • Hello (37)
  • The Mad Yak (38)
  • This Was My Meal (39)
  • For Miles (40)
  • Last Night I Drove a Car (42): MP3
  • Allen Ginsberg, "Foreword: on Corso’s Virtues" (xi)
  • William S. Burroughs, "Introductory Notes" (xv)
  • David Amram, "Introduction" (xix)

Tues., October 28th: from The Happy Birthday of Death and Long Live Man
  • Notes After Blacking Out (47)
  • Hair (51)
  • Under Peyote (54)
  • I Held a Shelley Manuscript (58)
  • Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway (60)
  • Marriage (62): MP3
  • Bomb (65)
  • She Doesn't Know He Thinks He's God (70)
  • Dream of a Baseball Star (71)
  • Giant Turtle (73)
  • Clown (76)
  • The Sacré-Coeur Café (85)
  • From Another Room (86)
  • Power (87)
  • Army (93)
  • 1959 (97)
  • Happening on a German Train (105)
  • European Thoughts—1959 (106)
  • Friend (108)
  • Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem (115)
  • They (117)
  • Danger (118)
  • Second Night in N.Y.C. After 3 Years (119): MP3
  • Writ on the Eve of My 32nd Birthday (120)

Thurs., October 30th: from Elegiac Feelings AmericanHerald of the Autochthonic Spirit, and uncollected poems
    • Elegiac Feelings American (125)
    • America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity (152)
    • God is a Masturbator (156)
    • Columbia U Poesy Reading—1975 (161)
    • I Met This Guy Who Died (169): MP3
    • Earliest Memory (170)
    • How Not to Die (177)
    • Many Have Fallen (182)
    • Getting to the Poem (187)
    • Spirit (190)
    • I Gave Away . . . (191)
    • The Whole Mess . . . Almost (199): MP3
    • Feelings on Getting Older (203)
    • Fire Report - No Alarm (234): MP3
    • Poet Talking to Himself in the Mirror (237)

    Gregory Corso passed away in January of 2001, and thanks to the intervention of his friends, he was buried, as he wished to be, in Rome, beside the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here are a few remembrances:
    • The New York Times obituary [link]
    • Robert Creeley announces Corso's death on the Poetics List [link]
    • The Woodstock Journal's tribute to Corso [link]
    And here are a few supplemental videos:

    Corso reads from "Bomb" at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant

    Corso in Rome, 1989 (part 1)

    Corso in Rome, 1989 (part 2)

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