By Edward Sanders
"We brought about change without a drop of blood!"
I once heard Gregory Corso exclaim at a reading at Columbia
University in 1975. He was speaking of course of the
Beat Generation, a generation that had great force beginning
in the late 1950s, and especially in the early '60s
when racist sheriffs in the South were known to snarl
at Civil Rights demonstrators as "Beatnik race-mixers."
Gregory's best poems reached out way beyond the Beats,
and touched the hearts of poetry readers around the
world. You can read "Marriage," "Bomb"
and his elegy for Jack Kerouac, "Elegiac Feelings
American," to get started.
As Journal readers know we ran a series of tributes
to Gregory Corso last fall, during his illness, from
such writers as Robert Creeley, Raymond Foye, Joanne
Kyger, Diane Di Prima, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Rosenthal, Patti Smith, Oliver
Ray, Rosebud Pettet and others.
And so, it was with sadness of course, that we took
the 6:30 am Trailways to NYC on January 24 for Gregory's
funeral at the beautiful Our Lady of Pompei church on
Carmine Street, where he was baptized 70 years ago.
The service had dignity, about as much dignity as you
can achieve, given the ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust
quality of tearful memory that suffuse such events.
I last spoke with Gregory late last year, when he called
from his daughter, Sheri Langerman's house in Minnesota,
where he had moved from his long-time pad in the West
Village. He had just about completed a final book, which
was a miracle, given how close he had been to death
last summer. Sheri, a professional nurse, adjusted his
medicine regimen back then, and began to oversee his
care. From then on, he seemed to perk up. He was watching
a Jean Cocteau movie and quite eloquent when I visited
last fall before he moved to Minnesota. In short, the
efforts of Sheri and some of his close friends gave
him an extra few months during which he was able to
finish a book, as his soul-mate Allen Ginsberg also
had done during his final weeks.
There were hundreds on hand at Our Lady of Pompei. I
bet the church hadn't seen such a full crowd in quite
a while. Our Lady of Pompei has a European quality.
You would think you were in one a little church off
the Piazza Campo Dei Fiori in Rome.
Patti Smith was in great vocal form as she sang a hymn
to the accompaniment of the great pipe organ. Later
she sang another song, backed by Oliver Ray on guitar.
David Amram, who spoke with eloquence and played a very
beautiful flute tune based Charley Parkeresque on the
chord changes for "Amazing Grace." Long time
Corso caretaker Roger Richard also spoke, and afterwards
there was a gathering at a loft on the Lower East Side
which was packed with several generations of Gregory's
friends and admirers, some of whom had flown in from
I was intrigued to learn that Gregory's ashes will be
interred in Rome in the very same cemetery in which
Percy Bysshe Shelley's ashes are buried! Wow.
Buried with Shelley
Shelley and two others were in a small schooner called
the "Don Juan" on the way to the beautiful
seaside town of Livorno, on Italy's west coast, in the
late, hot afternoon of July 8, 1822 when a sudden storm
overwhelmed the boat and Shelley the two others drowned.
In Shelley's pocket was a book of John Keats' verse.
When Shelley's body washed ashore several weeks later,
Edward John Trelawney burned it, in ancient Greek fashion,
on the beach at Via Reggio, after which Shelley's ashes
were brought to the then new Protestant cemetery in
And now, Gregory Corso is coming to join the author
of "Ode to the West Wind."
I wanted to find out the specifics so I spoke with attorney
Robert Yarra, who lives in Fresno, California, and is
a long time friend of Beat literature, and Gregory in
particular. Mr. Yarra's speciality is immigration law,
and it was he who was responsible for setting in motion
the requests and permissions required to get Gregory
into the Roman cemetery.
"George Scrivani and I had thought about that.
George asked Gregory if it was something he'd want and
he seemed very positive about that. He wanted Rome or
Venice." Robert Yarra has friends with connections,
as they say, in Rome, so he called a woman named Hannalorie,
a friend of his, and asked if it would be possible to
bury Gregory at the Protestant Cemetery. "She then
spoke to the director," Yarra told me, "and
he said no, it was very difficult. And then I said can
you still try again, and so she did, and she was finally
able to persuade them to bury him there."
When did this occur? I asked. Yarra replied, "This
about six months ago, and Gregory knew of the results."
Hannalorie is a long time friend of Robert Yarra, and
lives in Rome. "She met Gregory about two years
ago, and they got along very well. She's a very forceful
lady, and usually gets what she wants."
Sheri Langerman, Gregory's daughter, will bring the
ashes to Rome in May. It's going to cost about $5,000
to bury him there. "We're going to try to bury
him near Shelley, if possible," said Yarra.
What a marvelous tale!
Upcoming Benefit at St. Mark's Church
Patti Smith and others are organizing a benefit at the
Poetry Project at St. Mark's church, for April 26, to
pay for the transport of the bard's ashes to Rome. It
will be a festive event, with just enough Bacchus I'm
sure to please the legacy of Gregory Corso, who made
his mark in America, where poetry thrives.
By Robert Creeley
Gregory Corso died last night (January 17), happily
in his sleep in Minnesota. He had been ill for much
of the past year but had recovered from time to time,
saying that he'd got to the classic river but lacked
the coin for Charon to carry him over. So he just dipped
his toes in the water.
In this time his daughter Sheri, a nurse, had been a
godsend to him, securing him, steadying the ambiance,
just minding the store with great love and clarity.
He thought she should get Nurse of the Year recognition
at the very least.
There's no simple generalization to make of Gregory's
life or poetry. There are all too many ways to displace
the extraordinary presence and authority he was fact
of. Last time we talked, he made the useful point that
only a poet could say he or she was a poet -- only they
knew. Whereas a philosopher, for instance, needed some
other to say that that was what he or she was -- un(e)
philosophe! -- poets themselves had to recognize and
initiate their own condition.