Gregory Corso’s 1975 “Socratic” NAROPA class (sitting in for Allen) concludes.
Student: Do you have another book coming out?
GC: If I want to. Yeah, I don’t owe anybody anything, my dear. I don’t have to bring another book out, see? – but that’s a shot, tho’, right? Who owes who what? – I figured I should get a me(d)al. I tell you, I.. A poet should get a token. At least, I demand that. I don’t give a fuck anymore, I say, give the poet his token. They take the weight, they’re like the Lamed Vavnik, poets are the Lamed Vavnik, they take the weight of the world and they shoulder it. There’s only thirty-seven of them at a time, thirty-seven, yes, at one time, and they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, they don’t know who they are, but I can say so, my name is Nunzio, I announce, “I’m a Lamed Vavnik, and I carry the weight on my shoulders”. Some people say that’s arrogant?, but, it’s all I can do – I don’t give a fuck, I’m forty-five years old, I don’t have to care. Why does forty-five mean that suddenly I don’t have to care? Well, who’s in their ’40’s here?..There you go.. and aren’t they great years?..top class.. just for the poet-man.. alive, yeah.. so it’s something good that you’re referring to..
Where’s Mr O’Brien [sic]? He didn’t come today. Oh, I’m glad you came Mr O’Brien. You’re the man that taught me the lesson, that I should never look at a person’s face and think what race they are or (what) religion – [looking at Sidney Goldfarb] – “You look like a Goldfarb to me, all the way to me” – and (then) you’re not! That was a goodie. That woke me up.
So did ya learn anything, you think, today? I don’t know. Remember I’m just.. wow, I can cop out so nice..I’m just (sitting) in for my friend..
Student: Do you want to read poetry or do you want to go home?
GC: What I want to do is eight o’clock, I got a shot with Mr Burroughs. What time is it now?
Student: Quarter to seven.
GC: Oh god, it’s early. There’s nothing here for me to drink. I’m very uncomfortable. There’s nothing here that I like. I like you people, but there’s nothing here. Why don’t I have water? why don’t I have (soap?), why don’t they take care of you? you’re a host? [pointing to Michael Brownstein perhaps?] why don’t you take care of your guests.
Michael Brownstein: Water?
GC: Thank you.
Let’s see, I’ll give you another fast poem, probably out of this thing [his unpublished manuscript] which I won’t read tonight, and let’s see how this works. See, that one, that was typed up, I worked on (it). Let’s give you a cold one and see how it (reads) [begins reading from another unpublished poem] – “(The) God is sick..”..”hurry, burn the magic whip” – oh, of course, “the magic whip”! – you’ll love this [goes to the blackboard to draw] – “the magic whip” – “..boil the mercurial blood/ the Old Religion’s back in town/and Doctor Faustus once again rides his horse ass-backwards” – do you know that about Faustus? that how he enters the town, it’s always the horse going ass-backwards into town? Anybody know that? Jeez, you must know that, good old Faustus goes ass-backwards.. [Gregory continues reading] – “The Calabrian…churns plaster of Paris..” – Yeah, I got my Italians right there, they make classic Paris saints. Right? All the saints in Italy are plaster-of-Paris.
and the first one to make a Frankenstein-ian shot was the Jew in Czechoslovakia, Rabbi Loew made the Golem. Know what the Golem is? Anybody? the Golem?
Student: It was the statue that came to life.
GC: Right, statue that came to life and written on its head was… “emet” – and if you wiped off the “e”, the “-met” means “death” …and so it dies)
so, Rabbi Loew built this Golem to protect the Jews at Passover, because the Christians, at that time, (and it’s the 15th Century), would say that they need(ed) a Christian child to make their leavened bread . And lots of Jews were hurt by that.
Okay, so, three rabbis who fucked-up, tried to make their own Golem. They ripped off the clay (when the men came and the Golem died), they ripped off that clay, and the secretary of Rabbi Loew joined the three rabbis to build another Golem to get money for them (yuk yuk). Alright, so these three rabbis got the clay from the Old New synagogue (it’s called the Old New synagogue, in Czechoslovakia, Prague). They go and they try to make this Golem, and they make him – but they don’t know how to stop him. And he gets very big, and is growing and he’s growing and he’s growing . And you got the three rabbis going, “Oh god, oy vey iz mir! I’m not involved with it! Someone’s gotta stop him”. And the secretary (who was with them) said, “Look, what you do is take the “-e-” off and he’ll die, get the “-e-” off, (which means Life and “-met” means Death), rub the “-e-” off his forehead.. Right, now the other way you can do it, a wise man said, is, “Mr Golem, would you bend down and tie your shoe”, right? So the Golem goes down like that, and they rub the “-e-” off, and the fucker falls on the three rabbis, and they’re gone! That’s a true shot.
Student [(Michael Brownstein) offering water]: So is that.
GC: Thank you very much. Oh, that’s even more beautiful than water, juicy-poo vitamins – oh its got sprite in it – oh wow, we gonna have water with sprite!
I’ll take back the.. I wanna see if…I (can) handle this for my own head. The other day when I spoke to you people, I said “I know all there is to know because there ain’t that much to know”. Alright. I want someone to lay something on me that I don’t know. Now, but, I’m gonna give you a warning, it’s got to be essential..to me.. ((no)…bullshit baseball to a pitcher.. at one time or other..).. there you go
Student: Can bad philosophy induce good poetry?
GC: From bad philosophy can come good poetry? Anything bad becomes good – it’s a Dostoeyvskian shot? and you all should.. what’s good, what’s bad, becomes the same. They never did it to make (Al)yosha bad tho’, did he? (Al)yosha never became bad.. Je ne sais pas. I would say on that one, I don’t know. Yeah? – okay, that’s cool enough – if I could pick on.. I could say – anything that’s bad ain’t gonna be good (I could do some dumb-ass thing, so I won’t). So, You’re asking again..what?
Student: Can bad philosophy…
GC: Can bad philosophy..
Student: become good poetry..
GC: No way. Can bad poetry become good philosophy, that’s the question! Philosophy makes.. Fuck philosophy! You know how Socrates fucked up? This is the beautiful Socrates, to me, who died the most beautiful death, better than anybody – I mean Buddha, by bad pork! – and Christ, that shot upon a cross – yuk! – but Socrates, top shot. He says “Know thyself”, right?, but he ends up saying, “All I know is that I know nothing” – and that’s a cop-out. See, I don’t dig the philosophers. See, and he put down the poets of the time .. because philosophers suck, all you’ve got today is teachers of philosophy, you’ve not got philosophy, so..
Student: But didn’t he also say something that you (say’s interesting), that people came to him, saying they know something about something, and he finally proved to them that they knew nothing about..
GC: He’s a gadfly. I love him for that. I love Socrates, he’s my man. He’s my man, the only time
he sucked was when he said on his deathbed, “All I know is I know nothing”, and that was a big cop-out. I mean it was easier to say nice things (so they (could) say – how humble! – “I know nothing” – shit!
(tape drops, returns in media res) ….what might mean something? You ever ask your parents that? – You’re meat, right? You’re (all) hairy bags of water.
You know what happened to me in Provincetown.. about a month and a half ago, was it? ..I had this Italian dude..who (liked me.. dressed.. ) a real paisano, he had a pizza place in Provincetown, right? but (was) supposed to be intellectual, right?
so, one day I told him, “I’d like to suck your great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandmother’s dick!”
(and he goes) “don’t talk about my family that way!”
– Fuck him – that’s why I am (an ego, right, an ego).
Another shot was good that I played there in Provincetown (they all came at me at once these shots). I went up to a person in the street and said “Er.., I can disappear before your eyes?”. So they say, “Go ahead!” – (and I want to) hit them over the head! – that’s how I disappear! – by killing them!
Alright, I think you should ask me more questions, you know. I don’t think I should have to exercise my head too heavy before this eve.
Student: Before, Gregory, you were talking, a while ago, about (Jack) Kerouac‘s trying to remember the first thing you remember before you die
Student: What context is he talking about?
GC: Well, he said he wasn’t talking (about) if you were hit by a car, I don’t think (try to think when you’re coming out of the car, man!) – actually, he was thinking of a very philosophical nice death, you know, Socratean. right?, with everyone around – “where are you going?”..you take hemlock, you can talk. The Buddha supposedly went that way. He bought bad pork and he died
Student: What’s the heaviest thing (William) Burroughs taught you?
GC: The heaviest? He never taught.. he wanted to teach me, he couldn’t – because that was the shot. You see, I’d just come out of prison (when) I met him..(wanted to) teach me prose. He recalled I didn’t like prose, that way, (I liked) poesy. And I told him, “Everybody’s a poet, that way, if they work in words”. But he was the nicest (and good-est) man that I knew in life, yeah, never hurt nobody..
Student: It is recorded that the Germanic tribes…
GC: I love ’em. They’re crazy. I know what they did.
Student: …which..(they) would set up their people who are about to die, and they would say a mantra into their ears. Do you think it would help the person dying to remember things that he has never before remembered?
GC: Ok. You’ve brought up a good subject, which I know well about. You see.. Germanic tribes were very heavy people (they still maybe are), but they were heavy then. What they did was when they in war.. you know how they (fucked up) the tribes – what they did? – they did a spook-shot. They would dress themselves up in rags and black paint and hide behind bushes while clumpety-clump go the Tartars – they’d go “Yow!” and all of a sudden step on the road and “Chop-Chop”. Did ya know that?…
Now what did these Germanic tribes do? they whistled into the ear of whom? and what?
Student: Of people about to die..
GC; Woton. Yeah, Alright.. That gives me just the length.. I don’t know what the fuck that guy whispered in somebody’s ears dying meant, but I know that it leads me to Woton, I can tell you about that. Woton was a guy, right? He wanted to find out what happens to the Gods, and he found out that the Gods died. There was one God called Thor, right? and they played a beautiful shot on him..witches?, yeah, I think it was three witches who played the shot on him – Thor. They gave him three chances and he failed all three. He was supposed to be destined to kill the World Serpent – (Thunear) (Thor) was supposed to go by Wotan (he was supposed to kill (Walse) the Great Wolf) .. I know that Thor was supposed to kill the Great World Serpent of the Yggdrasil tree – there’s a tree, right? (on the bottom, is the World Serpent, on top is the Eagle, in between is the Squirrel, saying “hey, you know what the World Serpent said about you?, you know what the Eagle said about you?” – and the fuckin’ tree’s roaming all the time, in the middle of the people, right?, the fucking thing’s always in action and wrong, (and) something’s wrong). So Thor is given these three shots, and these are the shots. The first one is a pussy cat on the floor (and the tree says, “You’re supposed to be so big and mighty, pick up the pussy cat”, (so it’s hard), so the pussy-cat, all it can raise is a paw, and the whole earth trembles because it’s The World Serpent, (an) illusion, right? The second shot was, “Thor, can you drink this flagon of wine? (now flagon is about that big, it comes down to..) but they dip the end into the Atlantic Ocean, and Thor says, “Yeah, I can drink it”, and the Atlantic Ocean goes down about three feet, I guess… The last shot they laid on him was that all the Gods killed the Giants and they said, “Thor, you’re lying upon a Giant”. He takes his mjolnir (which is his hammer). And that’s how your mountains came, that’s how your Rockies came, because it was (a) delusion, it was Earth, it was not Giants. Did you know that? Anybody know that in Scandinavian mythology?
The basic line is… the essential and non-essential. Why the knowledge can work for you people
with Scandinavian mythology is this – to know who you’ve got up here. See, the story was from Woton, that was Loki, and that was the human being, and he is what? he’s half human-being, half-God. Loki brought poetry to the planet, and that’s where you get the word “poetaster”. Now how do you get poetry on this planet? (which they called Midgard(ia)) I’ll tell you how they got it. Loki ripped off the Gods with their essence, stole it, took it away, and poured it into a cave of those three women. The guards grabbed.. Loki (and) said, “If you don’t bring that fucker back, man, we’re gonna torture you so awfully” – “Alright, I’ll go get it back”. He turned into a raven, had a sack in his mouth, and filled up the essence of the Gods that he ripped off, and, while flying over Midgardia, a little drop fell out, just a little bit, it’s called “poetaster”, that’s the drop you got on this planet. According to Scandinavians, you’re an inheritor of it from way back. Check out the sources. Check out the sources.
You know what they did to Loki when he died, when he went- Oh wow! – He didn’t go. Yeah, Loki did not die (but his wife loved him) – what they had him do – he was stretched out and the bile of the World Serpent fell into his eye, so his wife had this big fuckin’ canvas, (so) that the bile would be caught in the canvas, and, when she went to dump it out and it got filled up, one drop fell in the eye of Loki. It’s all you need. (Did ya catch that shot?) how big the canvas can be..and dump it out and get it back there fast enough. Anybody here of Scandinavian heritage? Anybody?, right, Scandinavian heritage?…so then, check this shot out, do you know your shot? Check out Alberich, the dwarf , check out the..what are they? they’re beautiful. Freyja (she was a great godess of cats.. but in Scandinavia, they had snow, right?, so she’d be riding a cart with cats, tumbling in the snow all the time, and very elegant for a goddess.
Student: What do you know about the Pyramids?
GC: What do I know about the Pyramids? Alright, I know that the Jews didn’t build them, and I know that they were covered with black alabaster and that the Pyramid Texts in gold were written on them – Hamilcar, the father of Hannibal, ripped it off, and built Carthage. That’s what I know about the Pyramids. They didn’t just build those rocks like you see them today, man. They covered those fuckers up beautifully, and the Pyramid Texts were right on them, with all the glyphs, all that gold, and it was ripped off by Hamilcar, and he built his Carthage. What do you know about the Pyramids?
Student: I can’t say that I..
GC: (The) Sphinx is a better shot than the Pyramids, because the Sphinx is supposed to be a mystery. They found two solar ships under the legs of the Sphinx..19..59? [1954, in fact]
Student: What did they find?
GC: Solar ships, big ships – under each leg of the sphinx – these solar ships were also taken over (the Ka and Ba was there)... taken over..
Remember, I am not commissioned to give you fuckers a class, I am here taking care of a friend who’s ill, and I’m letting my head go with you people. That’s the shot you gotta remember behind your heads. Anything that comes out of me, nonetheless, will be truth as I know it. You guys can discredit it, say I’m crazy, then I’ll learn..better. Because, I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not learning anything today. See, when I.. (when you) can give something out, that I don’t know, then I will learn, and therefore others will learn. If I lay out what I know and I don’t learn, how the fuck are you gonna learn? You got it? You see, teachers suck, see, they’re gonna give what they already know. If they give themselves what they don’t know, then, maybe you’ll get something? And that’s why I think that the Socratic shot works. (Remember, how many people are here.. I’m not just talking to a group.. the whole group doesn’t work out.. but a whole bunch of people are here).
Student: It seems now (that) there’s a resurgence in poetry again, that it has become recognized by a good number of people…
GC: Really? That’s good to hear. I’ve been out of it. I’ve been.. in New York… Are you telling me that? That’s good to hear. A poet, see, is there, man, shit..
Student: The question I have is do you find the times now say (compared to) the times when you first started writing, say, during the ’50s, as far as like, you know, where the consciousness is and what the needs are to be related to..
GC: Jeez, I tell ya. I think poets are so strong they’re gonna have to handle the fucker themselves. I ain’t gonna talk about (it)… when they come and take the relay from me…and..
(at that time, then, if it happens), ok, (and) if they don’t, then fuck it – See, don’t trust nobody, don’t trust your poet, don’t trust the poet, no way, because what the poetry gives you is probably an ignition. You can ignite something.. to go and check out things, for yourself to know. I think everyone in this class should get a poem. I mean poetry’s in the human soul, it’s there (all of you know that it is). That’s my schtick. See, I don’t have to be here and talk to you. All I have to do is read poetry, see – and – blam! I’ve got a big book before ya.
Student: At this point, I feel that the Beat years were like a kind of a visionary time, what the poets were involved in.. because it was a visionary … they bring on (brought on) the psychedelic years, and now it seems it’s going into a whole new other phase..
GC: You know what it’s going into? You wanna know what it’s going into? You asked me that, right?
GC: Alright.. The 50’s, I’m sure, had Death on the shot, with the Atom bomb, the ‘6o’s then came in with God and Love, they put the two together. These are big Daddies they’re layng down – Death, God, Love. What are the ’70’s? – 70’s? is Truth, see you’ve got Nixon now and he lied and all of that, but Truth is showing his face. But – don’t trust Truth, because Truth can stop you. You go “oh, this is True” and you don’t go further, right?. So you still keep on going. I know what comes after Truth – Humor. Humor is the great divine butcher. It’s getting rid of all the shit, (It will) knock it all out – Ha!
Student: Do you mind talking about the book, The Vanity of Dulouz (or would you rather not?)
GC: Vanity of Dulouz?
GC: Not Gaullois, that’s the cigarettes! – Er..I don’t read novels, (I don’t read) fiction. I read mostly documentary shit, books on Hitler, books on the Wars, and all that kind of stuff, it’s weird, I just don’t like fiction. I don’t want to be entertained. Alright? But the books of my good friend, who’s morte right now, Kerouac, that was his shot. Yeah, I’ll check it out. Maybe next time I see you, I’ll let you know. I’ve read it, but.. then it went out
Student: What was your first memory?
GC: My first memory? My first memory was, in a bath-tub (I was two years old) with a woman, who was not my mother. I saw her cunt and I saw the water. I had a double-shot of birth – the contemporary poem of the cunt and the antique poem of water. That’s a good hit that I had. And I was two years old. I remembered that when I was sixteen (on a subway-train, I almost fainted! – so there’s your hiatus there, like I was saying earlier about your hiatus, your hiatus is that your first memory, you don’t remember it, you don’t even carry it through.. no way!..you remember your first memory .. at a given time. So, when you remember (your) dream, remember the time-lapse that went – there’s a time-lapse – and then you remember it – time-gap – there you go – Now, if you don’t remember your dream, it’s like you haven’t dreamt at all, but if you remember it, is that when you’re dreaming? – Ah, yuk, yuk – Ya see? – when you have it in your head. So what is memory? Memory is past. What is present?, What is present? – It’s immediacy, right? – Yeah – What is future? – Anticipation. And you guys can’t get that..yet? – You gotta know..what is memory?..I wanna hear it..What is memory? – Past – What is present? – Immediacy. What is future? – Anticipation. There you go, you got it. I love ya – [turns to W.S. Merwin, also attending the class] – Do you love me, Bill? – So you and I, we finally got together, right? You and I were put on opposite poles in life in poesy – You’re supposed to be the Academic man, drawn by New York, and all that shit, and I’m supposed to be” ol’ Beatnik Corso”, altho’ I’m on the other side, right?
W.S.Merwin: We are.
GC: No – yuk, yuk, yuk..
Student: When did you write your first poem and when did you think of it.
GC: Oh, I like that. I wrote my first poem in prison and I was just turning seventeen and it’s called “Sea Chanty” and I got that in my head (because I don’t remember my poems, I can’t recite them, but that one I know, the first one I know). Wanna hear the first poem I wrote? –
GC: [Gregory reads “Sea Chanty” in it’s entirety] – “My mother hates the sea..”…”Thy mother’s feet” – Hey, that goes in the water, comes back on the shore. See, I never saw my mother, so she, she went back to Italy, she went back to Calabria and the mountains, she was a cave woman, there wasn’t nothing to do in New York, no, no, no, she went back, I never saw her, she went off, across the ocean, so I thought, as a kid, I thought, yeah, anything that goes into the sea comes back. That’s the first shot. And it rhymed – that “later” and “ate her” is pretty good fuckin’ rhyme (for a sixteen year old!).
Er.. I think you people have had it with me. See, ain’t I that nice?, I was about to say I’ve had it with you, but I think you people have had it with me, and, see, I’d like to go outside now, and walk around with my woman here, and maybe have a drink before that reading with that William (Burroughs). William Burroughs.. You guys gonna be here tonight?… raise all your hands if you’re… let me see who’s coming… oh.. ok.. [tape and class ends here].
The audio for this can be heard at:
beginning at approximately sixty minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape