Salute to Gregory Corso Poet Among Poets
By Edward Sanders
Few have lived the life of a poet with more energy than
Gregory Corso. He seems to have experienced about twenty
lives from a hyper-energy source that must lead directly
out of ancient Parnassus. Fearlessly he has thundered
through the decades, going back for more than 50 years,
beginning his poetry writing even before he met Allen
Ginsberg in a bar in Greenwich Village in 1950. During
those fifty years Gregory Corso has become world famous,
and he has thrilled generation after generation with
Miriam and I first saw Gregory read at the Gaslight
Cafe in the Village in early 1959 when we were still
in NYU, and subsequently we have been onstage, backstage
and on the poetry circuit with him on many occasions
during the last 30 years. He's one of a kind, as they
say; a legend; a man of a million anecdotes; virtually
every well-published poet in America has a few Gregory
Corso stories they cherish to tell.
He's the real stuff. I've seen him pull a crumpled note
sheet from his pocket just before heading out to a podium
to thrill a crowd with a few hot-off-the-mind lines.
I've seen him at a packed Town Hall in NYC literally
being begged by the audience to read his famous "Marriage,"
hesitating for a few seconds, then reciting it as freshly
as if it had been just written that morning.
In his essay, "On Corso's virtues," Allen
Ginsberg went to the heart of Corso's verse: "Gregory
Corso's an aphoristic poet, and a poet of ideas. What
modern poets write with such terse clarity that their
verses stick in the mind without effort?.... As poetic
craftsman, Corso is impeccable. His revision process,
which he calls "tailoring," generally elision
and condensation, yields gist-phrasing, extraordinary
mind-jump humor. Clown sounds of circus, abstracted
from plethora are reduced to perfect expression, "tang-a-lang
boom. Fife feef! Toot!" Quick sketch, sharp mind
Gregory Corso's at home now, in a nice apartment in
Greenwich Village, on Horatio Street, and he's ill.
A few weeks ago it looked as if he would pass into the
beyond fairly soon, but, thank God, his condition has
improved, and when I visited him a few days ago, he
was full of good talk, while watching a Cocteau Movie,
though pausing now and then when a jolt of pain would
hit. His daughter Sherry, a cardiopulmonary nurse who
lives in Minnesota, has taken a few months off to live
by his side, and caring for him around the clock. She
is an angel from the Heaven of Poesy, as all who have
seen her in action will testify.
Of course, in the presence of a remarkable person when
they are ill, you recall all the instances of interaction,
conversations from Naropa 23 years ago for instance,
or the time he recited Shakespeare's "Under the
Greenwood Tree" during a chat. But it was so good
to see him talking, eating a hotdog even, and coming
up with the pithy sentences and insights for which he
is so renowned.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti and I decided to publish a tribute
to the great Gregory in the Journal. Here are
many of the responses to our call.
Gregory Corso is the last great voice of the original
Beat rebellion. Never derivative, never literary, never
anything but his own raw self, Gregory is the true American
primitive, made of mouthfuls of mad language, his poetry
cast on the world like a roll of loaded dice. Gregorio
of Horatio Street, ave, ave ...
We Were in Port Authority
It was a couple weeks before Christmas, it was in the
first half of the eighties, waiting for a bus to New
Brunswick, New Jersey. Gregory says, "Watch this."
His eyebrows conveying stealth, reaches in his coat
gets a dollar bill and lays it flat on a homeless sot
sleeping on his side on the floor of the upstairs Port
Authority Terminal concrete for a mattress, stubble
& spittle. Then Gregory has us wait silently in the
wings. A young woman pushing a baby carriage starts
to go for the dollar. The bum is dead to the world,
has no story to be told. The fabric the bill rests on
is rotting tweed. The young mom's young man holds her
back, tells her not a good idea. Gregory whispers, "He's
telling her it's back luck." No one took the dollar.
People looked but no one took. Our bus came.
poet Andy Clausen lives near Woodstock. This piece
is excerpted from King of the Gargoyles.
for Gregorio Nunzio Corso
Make it one more
for my baby & one more
for the road
Gregory of the Golden Mouth,
Vigilant Herald of the Way
, unlike most men you will not die
but live forever
in the word & tender regard
of those who have been touched
by your unruly magic
Tousled & carefree,
a bird who never wert,
chained by life
yet it was your will to be free!
you cannot but return
to claim the Way
which is rightfully yours.
August 25, 2000
Ira Cohen, long time friend of Corso, is a poet,
photographer & video artist.
"Short and Clear"
for Gregory, who said it
Short and clear, dear
short and clear.
No need for fear.
short and clear.
You are the messenger,
the message, the way.
Short and clear, dear,
all the way.
Robert Creeley received this year's Bollingen
Prize in poetry.
July 28, 2000
so I am printing out poems to send to the 26 magazines
who want them
or say they do
I figure I'd better get on it while I have the time
my book is done
at Viking even now getting messed with in unthinkable
and I have the time and I better use it
yesterday I went to visit a friend who's dying and that
always reminds me
get the poems out while you can, youknow
and everything else for that matter
not to mention I had a dream last night that wasn't
so I am printing out poems and the phone rings and it's
someone from the Examiner
and only this morning I read the Examiner will
soon be extinct so I wonder
how the guy feels about that and I pick up the receiver
he says he heard Gregory Corso died last night and he
wants a quote
they always want a quote and usually I ignore them
but this time I say he had the greatest lyric gift of
any of them
and the greatest innate genius
yeah says the guy but you know genius and discipline
don't often go together
I have discipline the guy says but no genius
I am finished printing a poem to Sharon Doubiago and
want to get on with it
before we all drop dead, you know? so I tell him to
call Allen's office
Allen will still have an office after we're all gone
and that office will always have quotes for everything
I am so grateful
and he wants to know about Gregory's time in San Francisco
and I tell him to call City Lights and then I hang up
by this time my printer is spitting out old haikus
I only have 68 poems and 25 magazines want them or say
and I want to send at least three poems to each, so
they'll have a choice
and I'm trying to figure this out when the guy calls
back he says
he got thru to Allen Ginsberg's office and the woman
said only "He Breathes!"
that's good I said and I thought about Ray Bremser
and Jack Micheline, and my friend in Mill Valley and
all the rest
me too, soon "She Breathes No Longer" they'll
say and somebody
will mention my lyric gift but no discipline
and what a bitch I was so I get my sweater
and go to the Asian/American Restaurant, it's Chinese/Peruvian
but suddenly I decide I don't want to leave the house
so I cook some pasta and think about Gregory breathing
and I write this
while the pasta is getting cold
and I can't help it I wish I could give him some ziti
with summer sauce
and Sara Raffetto my friend breathing not so good
and he wasn't even Italian
the poet Diane Di Prima lives and teaches in San
Went to see Gregory last week. Days before, he'd been
weak and confused. But this time I see a little sunshine
face! Soft silver hair combed so smooth I wanted to
touch it, and sweet welcome smile! But he's involved
watching movie "The Wild Wild West" so I just sit beside
him and remember...weeks babysitting a 2 year old Max
when we all lived at Allen's...Gregory only fed him
oreos and milk so I lectured on vegetables and fruit.
Remembered the monstrous battles at the Chelsea Hotel-Gregory
and Harry Smith going at it, the slammed doors, the
teary making-ups...The endless "got a cigarette? drugs?
money? No I didn't. Remembered almost intolerable rudeness
and almost bashful schoolboy apologies. Late night drunken
rambles. No romancing, Thank God!
And I thought of how just weeks ago I'd brought a copy
of "Pull My Daisy" for him and the family and sat holding
his hand as we tried to watch, but he's not even really
there, half asleep. Old and tired and sick in his bed,
and a few feet away on the screen so young and handsome,
he glows in the dark...
Rosebud is a writer and longtime participant in
the NY Beat/Postmodern scene
A Working Poet
Gregory Corso is a poet twenty-four hours a day. There
is seldom a timewhen his mind is not with the poem
in the streets, in the barroom. Hundreds of notebooks
in university libraries and private hands attest to
his industry. I once asked Gregory what he thought his
contribution to poetry consisted of. He answered: to
have combined the forms and meters of classical verse
with a contemporary vernacular, the language of the
Gregory Corso's exploration of the awe and terror of
classical beauty is a link in a chain that includes
his beloved Piero and Fra Angelico, Keats and Shelley.
His work is now with theirs. So much poetry is a word
game, a record of sense impressions by turns pretty
or clever. Gregory excels at this too, but his literary
skills always have served a higher purpose: metaphysical
deliberation. A philosophical poet, a man of splendid
ideas, his poems are elegant investigations in to the
nature of things.
When I met William Burroughs I soon relaized that the
characters in his novels were real to him: they populated
his thoughts as vividly and tangibly as anything in
the world. The same was true with Gregory and his pantheon
from classical antiquity: Heraclitus, Herotodus, Catullus,
Pliny, Lucretius.... These writers have crowded his
thoughts daily, and his poetry is evidence of that living
tradition, the rapture it holds for him. For Gregory
Corso, poetry is spiritual fire. Behind him, the ashes.
Raymond Foye is a writer who divides him time
between Woodstock and NYC
Gregorio the Herald
Gregory Corso's particular charm and poetic genius resides
in his ability to incorporate bits of Elizabethan, Metaphysical,
and Romantic (Keats, for sure, and Shelley, even more
so) diction into poems of otherwise contemporary settings
and concerns, and to do so not just decoratively but
to get down to hardy perennial questions of the kind
the Romantics dealt with -- Biggies like beauty, death,
power, fear, "meanings" of "life".
And he does it -- never pompous, always aware of paradox,
with an effortless Mad Hatter sense of humor.
compact, dark, intense, alive with humorous ferocity
walls of his London room
covered with pictures of heroes --
Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Poe
curtains mostly drawn
scratchy Hector Berlioz
on very 'basic' record player
This may or may not have been after an evening at Beyond
the Fringe, where we met Cyril Connolly, Peter Cook,
and Dudley Moore -- can't remember anything of consequence
about that -- and then proceeded to a Chelsea pub where
Gregory was rebuffed by a young woman at the bar and
stormed out, inveighing against "English cunts."
We then reeled down the street to a small Indonesian
restaurant, ordered and ate some incredibly hot food,
and had more drinkies. Gregory was still ranting about
the inability of English girls to perceive him as their
savior, liberally lacing his sentences with "fucks"
"shits" and "cunts", until a seven-foot
Guardsman type (in civvies) appeared next to our table
and sternly objected to such language, telling us that
he had been enjoying a quiet dinner with a lady, etc.,
and offering to remove Gregory bodily from the premises
if he didn't shut up pronto. Gregory then wanted to
know if the Guardsman wanted to kill him and told him
that if that was the case, he should please just go
right ahead and do it. Two Bobbies then appeared on
the scene with their classic "What seems to be
I told them Gregory was a renowned American poet, of
a stature comparable to that of Dylan Thomas in the
British Isles (come to think of it, perhaps not the
best reference), and with Solomonic wisdom, the Bobbies
decided that it was time for everyone to settle their
reckonings and retire.
Gregory performed his duties as godfather impeccably.
Josephine's mother, a devout South German Catholic,
would have been heartbroken if our daughter Kaarina
had not been properly received into the church. At the
time, GC was, literally, the only Catholic we knew.
When I asked him about it, he said sure, he'd be glad
to, but the next day he told me he had checked out the
baptismal liturgy, and among the lines the godparent
had to speak was one he wasn't so sure about: "I
renounce Satan and all his works ... " After all,
Satan ... especially Milton's take on him ... But after
another day's reflection, he agreed to do it, and I
remember his giving the priest a tip the size of which
made the fellow's eyes bulge.
Ten (ye gods, it seemed like a hundred) years later,
I attended a poetry conference chaired by Robert Vas
Dias in Allendale, Michigan; Gregory was there among
numerous other poets of our lineages -- Paul Blackburn
(the last summer of his life), Sonia Sanchez, Ted Berrigan,
Jackson Mac Low, Robert Kelly, etc. etc. Paul chaired
a session on "Sources," and Gregory pretended
to have misunderstood the subject, saying he had thought
it would be a discussion of the poets' favorite sauces.
Looking at Mindfield (Corso's book of verse)
I find a kind of lucid loneliness in all of Gregory's
work, and that does not seem to have changed over the
years. Ranting,musing, or just talking, his poems don't
"play to the gallery." They are too smart,
too thoughtful, perhaps even thought-ridden, to lose
an (if you wish) elitist sense of the poet as an aristocrat
existing outside of, as well as in, his/her time. There
are lines, even in the more rambling later works, that
have the rock-hard humorous timelessness of Heraclitus
Indeed, there is a lot of Diogenes in Gregory. Hearing
him read in the summer of 1994, I was also --strangely,
at first-- reminded of Ezra Pound, his ear, his love
of the word, his brilliant waywardness and contrariness.
Gregory shares those traits and is capable of raising
them to a level of subtle authority and delight.
poet Anselm Hollo's forthcoming book is Rue
Wilson Monday, from the U. of New Mexico Press
Dream of Corso
Poetman drink with saluting lips after you've finished
Chanting and, toward us gathered at your table,
Spit the fiery wisdom of today's newspapers into spoken
And don't comb your hair
I like the way the gray salts the peaks
You told me: One day I woke up and it was gray I almost
I believed you
Poetman steal the sweat from my palms
Even if I haven't offered it
Breathe into the closed mouths of women who arrive and
Who frown and preach at your scarred flesh and knifing
Together we chase a leather-green reptile from a burning
It is the end of the day and you are grinning
I am frightened
I can see the hot red sky raining down tonight
Hear the dulled thunder of tall stone buildings crumbling
The dust, the grief in my throat chokes me
"Wake up, man!" Your anger at my fear is absurd
"You don't owe anybody anything." You startled me with
bitter angel mouth
Poetman you carried me and complained of the burden
Neither of us asked for the other
See: Kiss an eye shape upon my forehead through the
And leave me, alone in threes
Burnt with grace Poetman flees
Donald Kennison worked with Gregory in the late
'80s, early '90s for an abandonded prose project
The next morning I think, did I dream all this? Returning
late night from the party to instant sleep waking and
talking with Ed on the phone. GregoryŠ
Hark to the Herald. A Bolinas Beach morning early autumn
1977. Billy Burroughs Jr., Tasha Robbins, Gregory, myself.
Just after 9am the market has opened and Gregory has
bought a can of pineapple and a bottle of champagne.
Just us on the beach. Look at him says Billy Burroughs
Jr. He is the absolute greatest, we have to take care
We are looking at my photo album from India. Hope Savage!
( note from editor, Hope Savage was a very early girlfriend
of Corso) She was my early mentor! Out comes the picture,
a memento. He said I was 'a good sort' in a letter I
carried later to the mother of his daughter in Santa
Fe. It's a Naropa summer. It's Sunday morning and everything
is closed. Here's a glass of orange juice for you he
says kindly. After I drink I find it's dosed with mescaline.
A floating day, look look at those clouds. We are watching
a grand and formal Japanese archery display. We go to
Trungpa's house for cocktails and a talk. I'm standing
by a pillar listening and I drop my glass. Oh look what
boo boo you did Joanne, says Gregory loudly. You didn't
have to answer him says Allen later. I said something
foolish like 'I support my corner of the house'.
Gregory can read minds. He knows who's outside the door.
Where the stash is hidden. And he goes right to the
heart of beauty. He's sitting sitting next to her, his
arm around her, at home.
Allen asks me to introduce Gregory and him at a Naropa
summer reading. I want to give it some Cosmic Sizzle
and talk about them as the White Lights of poetry. Gregory
is terrifically angry and says white light! That's what
you see when you die! I don't do the introduction.
You always know things will be lively, outspoken, truthful,
around Gregory, provocative, on stage. Center stage
for the muses.
one of America's finest poets, Joanne Kyger lives
in Bolinas, California
Only one poet in all the realms that exist, that have
ever, or will ever exist, could write these lines:
....Poor little Bomb that'll never be
an Eskimo song I love thee
I want to put a lollipop
in my furcal mouth
a wig of Goldilocks on thy baldy bean
and have you skip with my Hansel and Gretel
along the Hollywoodian screen...
Gregory Corso is the golden leviathan of imagination,
who with rampaging behemoth thundering and with zingers
of flashgenius, exploring the caverns of his cell walls
captured with grace, and wrote down another of his genius
poems from the airy uni- verse: "Rembrandt
Self Portrait" which begins:
When I draw the magnificent Dutch girl
When I unshackle the peachwolf from browngold air
When I have the shepherd foxglove the chin of an angel...
Without lines and poems like these, Poetry would be
a poor thing.
"Let me lightdrench the saddest of men," is
what you said, Gregory.
My love and thanks to you and to those who are yours.
Michael McClure's recent books include Rain
Mirror: New Poems and Huge Dreams: San Francisco
and Beat Poems.
Carousing with Corso
A few years ago I took the bus to NYC to attend an art
book party eulogizing Allen Ginsberg & benefiting Naropa
University. Dozens of artists donated signed art & photos
which filled each oversized book, & sold for 5 or 10
thousand each. Eugene Brooks (Allen Ginsberg's brother)
kiddingly said to me "Howmany are you buying?".
It was way uptown, next to the Cafe Carlyle- everyone
in suits & ties- no freaks in sight. Suddenly Gregory
Corso glides into the stuffy rare book shop hosting
the event, & the room lights up like lightning was about
I said hello & he was warm & friendly- I handed him
some of the complimentary champagne & he saluted everyone
with gusto. He sat down, dressed in the softest brown
velvet three piece suit I had ever seen, in the most
comfortable chair in the room. I sat at his feet as
we laughed, drank, & gobbled huge ripe red strawberries.
He reminded me of my Sicilian grandfather & great-uncles
jokingly downing as much liqueur & meatballs as they
could before Christmas midnight mass. The happier we
became- the more he transformed into Bacchus- toasting,
boasting, & giggling- eyes glowing- wrapped in ermine
As the party moved into the bright dining room for the
$100 a plate dinner, Corso put his gentle hand on my
shoulder & dragged me in saying " there's always room
for one more..." & as we sat & ate he asked me if I
had a joint. I stuck one into his deep pocket (along
with a book of my poetry) & lit another for him, obviously
ignoring the no smoking sign. He puffed & puffed- surrounded
by sweet smoke- creating an oasis of Bohemian open-mindedness
amid a desert of shocked conservatism (& flustered waiters).
He stood his ground well- happily surrounded by pointless
rules & adversity- a solid satyr focal point among waivering
public opinions- the Beat queen bee amid a swarm of
busily anxious American drones. Long live gregarious
guru Gregory Corso!
poet Shiv Mirabito lives in Woodstock and produces
a good series of Saturday night readings upstairs at
Joshua's on Tinker Street
The Happy Birthday of Gregory
"EVERYTHING IS CLEAR
NO MORE DESPAIR
BUT WE'VE GOT A LOT
OF WORK TO DO 'CAUSE
THE WORLD'S IN BIG
Gregorio Nunzio Corso
making a wish before
blowing out the candles
on his 62nd birthday cake,
Bleecker Street, N.Y.C.,
March 26, 1992
in sharp red shirt & dark tie
w/ bright yellow daffodil in
pocket, hair combed and
Chuck Pirtle is a poet who for a number of years
was associated with the Naropa Institute in Boulder,
and who now lives in the State of Washington
I saw a positive Gregory Corso
sitting at the Slaughtered Lamb
talking with a broad
his hair falling down on each cheek
like silk marble
and tied back in ponytail white
Last night in the rain:
"If you're gonna dig some body's grave
make sure you dig two:
one for theirs and one for yer own,"
slumlord freedom fighter
(Orchard St. Jew)dog lonely-izer
says to me after I go too far
after I "blame the victim"
his poor dog staring at me with swollen red eyes
mad with it's solitary confinement in the house-hole
abandoned on the corner all windows boarded
against neighborhood and world
He holds the leash with two hands
steps between us each time the dog
alludes to my direction
like he knows it would
plunge its fangs in my heart
just because it's so lonely
"You were being a gentleman about the rats
but you went too far with the dog and crackheads."
I cast no stones at Gregory
who sits already on Horatio
taking care to keep the world
safely outside his door
while he inside semi satiated
with talaria torn.
No I cast no stone at his mobile-dream
of Polybius and Pliny
and Tacitus and Suetonius
and Catullus and nothingness
spinning in the clogged destiny of crown
trapped beyond cognition
but not mine to shine
the sad old myth.
Not to compare
having seen his doppelganger
the illumination of the possibility of
another side of Gregory.
Why should he want to come out?
after they beat the world (then beat it)
the whole world beat now
for forty years plus
the poems cold
wet black ashes at the bottom
of trash cans
no longer burning beneath abandoned tresselwork
nor upon the banks of the Bouwerie
nor along the concrete banks of the rivers
meandering like old men
through the shackles of the City---
They're all dead your friends
and you left alive
with this tawdry new millennium
lost in pasts not your own you believe
still hold pieces of your soul.
The true solitude of man is everywhere
sitting on rainy stoops
standing with face to wall
eyes fixed on pervasive emptiness
your children breeded
the Via del Corso continues
Slumlord of Poetry
Laureate of Languor
got all the Poems boarded up
and with 'em
and if you listen close
you can hear
I saw a positive Gregory
sailing against the clouds
arms outstretched like Christ
illuminated by the glow
of below city
sailing with cathedral spires
in ecstatic comatose-levitation
Am I supposed to write your history
in a poem
or call beneath your window
Gregory Gregory you motherfucker
let down your hair
lift me up from this land of dead poets
and dead poetry
I am nothing compared
to the times goneŠ
lift me above thisŠ
above beyond myself
you are positive
Oliver Ray is a musician who works with Patti
Smith; his poem was written a few weeks prior to Gregory's
illness, but in premonition of it.
Great poetry and great music have at least one thing
in common. What can you say about them? Can they be
explained? "If I could paraphrase Ulysses,"
Joyce once snapped at a critic, "I wouldn't have
had to write it."
All the exegesis in the world isn't going to add or
take away one whit from Corso's work. The best thing
you can do is pick up a copy of "Gasoline"
and be astonished at the precocity of this self-taught
young poet. Gregory wrote poems before he had heard
the word or knew the concept of poetry. "Gasoline,"
in my opinion, is the most extraordinary collection
by a young poet in our time. Then go on to "The
Happy Birthday of Death," "Long Live Man,"
"Elegiac Feelings American," which has the
long elegy to his friend Jack Kerouac, one of the most
tender and poignant poems ever written, an invocation
to America to recognize one of her most loving sons.
His last books have not lost any of his humor, irony,
There was a brief moment when poetry was actually popular.
Young people and college students knew great pieces
of Ginsberg's "Howl," and Gregory's "Marriage,"
"Bomb," and "Power."
With Gregory, the last of the great "Beats"
still alive, and still close, I am reluctant to do anything
but respect his ferociously guarded privacy. His poetry
speaks for him. All you have to know is that behind
that curmudgeonly exterior is a beautiful, loyal, generous,
sensitive, truthful and extraordinary human being. Like
Huncke, you can't fool him he knows. He is a
wise, spiritually profound man; in Nietzsche's words,
Roger Richards and his wive Irvene are long time
friends of Gregory, live in the same building on Horatio
Street, and have provided a good portion of his care
during his illness.
In 1972, I was part of a group of Chicago poets who
presented poetry readings weekly at the Body Politic
Theater. Rochelle Kraut and I were house-sitting Ted
Berrigan and Alice Notley's large flat on Waveland Avenue
(one and half blocks from Wrigley's Bleachers). Ted's
only house rule was: "Don't let Gregory Corso stay here."
We already had invited Gregory and he was coming. We
made hotel reservations at the North Park Hotel at the
foot of Lincoln Park. Ginsberg and Burroughs had stayed
there before. Gregory was traveling with a friend, Peggy
Bederman. Peter Kostakis, Richard Friedman and myself
piled in my car to pick them up at O'Hare. As we drove
into the city, Gregory drunkenly and aggressively quizzed
us. Someone made a comment like, "There goes my career."
Gregory jumped on him and mightily exclaimed that Poetry
is not a Career. The word soul was mentioned and Peter
K. said, "There is no soul!" Gregory turned to Peggy
and said, "See, he knows!" I was glad that I was driving
and not likely to be quizzed. We had reserved a room
with separate beds for Gregory and Peggy. In the lobby,
Gregory loudly declared that he did not fuck Peggy.
The Management decided to withdraw the room. And so
I broke Ted's rule.
Gregory shared some grass which turned out to be very
"trippy.' A lot of Chicago poets were hanging out in
our living room and sparing with Gregory. Lots of booze
flowed. Gregory was wearing bell bottoms and blue suede
shoes that Marty Balin had given to him. I sat in the
circle and jiggled my knee in caffeine abstraction.
All at once Gregory turned to me and pointed to my leg
and demanded, "Why do you shake your knee?" I was dumbstruck.
Before I could think, he whirled to Peggy, "But it works!"
That was it. I had passed the test.
We took Peggy and Gregory to the restaurant near the
theatre. While we were there. Ralph Mills, a poetry
professor of mine at University of Illinois, came over,
hand extended and introduced himself to Gregory by saying,
"Hello, I am a good friend of your friend, Allen Ginsberg."
Gregory looked at him and politely asked, "Would you
mind if I don't shake your hand." Prof. Mills gave me
a glance of sympathy and walked off.
The Body Politic was packed that night. It was the first
reading that we had charged admission. The crowd expected
something special. Gregory was completely drunk. Chicagoans
are predisposed to dislike New Yorkers and Gregory made
it sublimely easy. He staggered over the stage repeating
that he would only read "The Hits". Just "The Hits."
He would read one line from the middle of a poem and
then mumble. The audience starting calling out quickly,
"You suck." "You're Stupid!" Gregory shot back, "I know
everything! Ask me anything!" Everyone started yelling.
Gregory kept talking and challenging till he couldn't
stand. Afterwards he said, "Man I loved that. Those
people really talked back! That was so great."
The next day, the angelic Gregory woke up in our home.
He needed a clean pair of dress socks and traded his
Christian Dior knee-highs for one of my more pedestrian
pair. Gregory was scheduled to read at the University
of Illinois. There was a small midday audience in a
sterile lecture hall and Gregory sweetly, without a
fuss, read his poetry for an hour and was stunningly
Gregory and Peggy were with us for a few more days.
I remember Gregory listening to an extended Lenny Bruce
performance. He talked to Lenny the whole time agreeing
and having further thoughts. I thought I was in heaven.
Gregory talked to me and encouraged me to move to New
York for Poetry but not for a career. He was supportive
and friendly. He didn't rip off any of Ted's paintings
yet I did move Gregory and Peggy out onto the stoop
after a few days. The last I saw of them, they were
seated on the stoop waiting for a new friend to come
by and pick them up. I never knew when or how they got
back to New York. I kept those socks and wore them to
my wedding. I still have them. Thank you, Gregory, for
all the permissions.
poet Bob Rosenthal was for many years Allen Ginsberg's
It's hard not to sound presumptious when speaking of
(and in the virtual presence of) a magnitude 1 star.
Then again, Gregory put the whammy on me twenty-four
years ago--as was his habit upon meeting young poets--he
absolutely demanded that we declare ourselves. I met
Gregory in Allen Ginsberg's living room office at 437
East 12st., must have been the summer of 1976, the time
of my first gigs with Allen. Later Gregory joined AG,
Peter Orlovsky, and myself in Amsterdam where we read
with Andrei Voznesensky at the Kosmos. We then joined
with Judith Malina and Julian Beck, their young daughter,
and Hanon Reznikoff for a string of gigs in France and
Italy, where we were joined by the great, long-time
translator of American literature Fernanda Pivano. What
a company! I have many treasured memories of that tour.
It was a magical time. I remember sitting with Gregory
and looking at the moon over the hills near Bergamo
and him saying it looked like a sail and myself wondering
why the simple simile rang so. It's no mystery. In "I
Held a Shelley Manuscript" he declares his company.
poet Steven Taylor is also a composer of note,
a teacher, member of the Fugs, and for many years played
guitar and sang with Allen Ginsberg in hundreds of performances.
Janine Pommy Vega
Cleanshaven, cleared away, like a baby
tucked in bed with your wisdom eyes
a cold drink from a deep well
to see you
first a friend in early teenage years
in New York City, then
Paris, San Francisco, London
friend snatched back from the bony doorway
jewel at the heart of a room full
of people, rose on the pillow
I come home to read your poems again
your twisty pronouncements, singing lines
words that float like birds on the water
how much you've changed the language
& the premise of speech
How without hesitation, all these years
you've jumped in, not
to test the waters
but to see
if the waters were ready for you.
NYC August, 17, 2000.
Poet Janine Pommy Vega lives in Woodstock and
is a long-time friend of Gregory Corso