Gregory Corso: I’ll tell you what I’ll do. So the class can handle itself nicely. Ask me a question? Being if I say I know all there is to know (because there ain’t too much to know!), I should be able to answer any fuckin’ question you guys lay down on me. Let’s make it Socratic. Not all at once and heavy. Take it easy with my beautiful head, but lay it nice.
Student: Have you been staying out of jail, and, if you have, how?
GC: Alright. Last time I went to jail was when I was 17 years old. Spent three years in prison. Got out when I was 20, and I should have learned then not to get back in, and I didn’t
Student: Do you know the answer to the second part, how?
GC: How to stay out?
GC: Oh! Become as smart as Gregory! Yeah. “Know all there is to know and there ain’t that much to know”. You can compensate. You see they fucked you up when you were a kid. They did this first thing to ya. They suck on your ass, so you come out of the cunt. They slapped you, and, “You little fucker, here’s where you are!” – Pow! – And you went “Yow!” – you’re alive, right? And then the next thing they laid on ya, they told you, you’re gonna die. They say, “One thing that’s sure, son, you’re gonna die”. So you go “Yeah, I’m gonna die, wow! – looks like I gotta die here”. And it’s just a big fuckin’ con. Who told you you’re gonna die? – I don’t trust people. You see, one thing I learned in jail was not to trust people. And in the conglom [sic], don’t trust ’em really. Personally, maybe, you know, separately, you know, I can trust William (Merwin). A person by itself, yeah, but a conglom, no. And don’t even trust a person. They tell you you’re gonna die, and you believe it and you die! – and they all went.. you know how many went.. Well, I’ve seen billions of flawed poets… Well, Gregory’s around. Now somebody can come up and say, “Gregory, you’re gonna die” – Pow! – here’s a bullet through your fuckin’ head
and I said well, there’s people that did it. Okay, a fuckin’ con – So, we’ve passed the death shot – good deal. What’s the other question? From jail to death. What’s the other one? If there’s no question, I’m gonna curse you all out. I’ll call you…. saved!
Student: Camels. Can you talk about camels?
GC: Camels, you wanna know about camels? I know dromedaries and I know the other camels. The dromedary has one hump and the other camel has two, that they can take well-water.. But this is dumb-ass shit. (If) you’re playing, then I’m gonna really put you down, and you deserve to get it. I’m embarrassed by you people. You all look at me like dumb-ass. At your ages.. I wanna tell ya, when I was 17, I was in prison. Who’s 17 here? who’s 17 here? – Oh I love you! – now let’s see if I can remember your name..? Does it begin with an “l”? it does? with an “l”? – I got it all together here, you fuckers, you embarrass me..
Student: Have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle….<
GC: Oh, bullshit! I don’t take that bullshit. I eat it up, I gobble it up and I vomit it out.
Student: (Can you tell us all you know about the nature of reality?)
GC: All I know about the nature of reality? Okay, I will call it reality and leave – [GC acts exasperated, and makes to leave, he turns off the music that has been playing in the background since the early moments of the class] – See you guys again (on) Wednesday, everything’s set. Where’s my girl? where is she? – Yeah, yeah, yeah – See, that always happens, I don’t want to embarrass you people, but it happens in other places, when they ask a question, they end up with reality shit. And so I say, “Okay, I will call reality” – and leave! And that’s the coolest way. I walk(ed) out. I love you all.
(However) I’m gonna be around, we all live here. Where am I going? There’s no bus outta town, there’s no plane. You try to hold me back? You love me?, really – you love me?
Students: [enthusiastically] Yes!
GC: Now I’ll give you a poem
Students: Give us a poem.
GC: “A star/ is as far/ as the eye/ can see/ and/ as near/ as my eye/ is to me.”
See, if you’re going to take poetry, I’ll blow your heads! See that’s my forte. This (teaching?) is not my forte. It’s like I’m a clown up here. My friend [Allen] is sick. I’ve gotta take care of this fuckin’ class! Yuck! I think I did the best I could. I gotta good escape note for my friend. “Tell us reality..”? Yeah, I’ll call it and leave – bam!
Student: Are you going to answer the question?
GC: There’s no mystery to reality. There’s no mystery, there’s no mysteries. I mean, nobody can, I think, in this classroom..can give me a mystery. You can?
Student: Is there life after birth?
GC: Is there life after birth? No, no, because you see… where’s my girlfriend?, I can’t see your face, I’ve been looking for her fuckin’ face. Right there, Alright, so the thing is, Allen’s got my infinity stick with him. People wear scarabs around their neck – here’s another Egyptian shot – it means re-birth, right? So I never wear the scarab because it means you gotta die to be reborn. So what I carry around with me is a vulture with an infinity sticker (it’s immortality holding the infinity stick, where you don’t have to die). It’s a drag, Allen was checking out dying last night, right? (he’s reading this book on dying), alright – so the father’s shot, which I agree with, comes up, and hits the head, and is white, the mother’s shot is fire, hot red, and it comes up here, and they meet and you’re dead, but the white shot makes up, because men are really manure (men are fertilizer, they’re shit). You see, they shoot into the woman, who’s got all the eggs, she’s fertile. But the man has to fertilize it. You have to fertilize the fertile, and if you fertilize it, you’re shit! – but, see, you can’t tell some kids, “Hey, you know, you’re born, you’re dead, you’re shit, and your mother… ahh! “..they’ll go, “Ach”, they’ll beat ya up, or sumpin’. Yeah…
How many of you were born by accident, do you know? how many of you were born by a bad fuck, do you know? Now, good. You look good, you’re nice, well, that’s good. Yeah, I was, I think – not born by a bad fuck, but by an accident, because it was the Depression. They didn’t need more mouths to feed. I think I was born by accident – but I think they had a good fuck (that’s very important – at least that, let it come out).
Student: Do you know what that book was that Allen was reading about death.
GC: A very thin book, and it has to do with the Institute (Naropa Institute). Some lama talking about the death shot… which makes much sense, because it’s obvious, you know. Check yourself out. When they show the Buddha lying on his side, of course, that’s how he died, right? Somebody gave him bad pork (is that the shot?). A cousin of Buddha gave Buddha bad pork to eat. Buddha knew it was bad pork (but) said, “Fuck it, I’ll eat it anyway, because I won’t refuse a gift”, right? – So stupid! I don’t like that Buddha. You know how stupid Buddha is? He sat under a tree for forty fuckin’ years to find out the answer to life – or death (it was a death shot). What’s the answer to death? Forty fuckin’ years under the bodhi tree to realize that – ah – life causes death. Long time. So I said,”What about accidents?” – if you get hit by a car, man, and you’re lying on your side, man, and they have barrier bolts with the two – That sounded good to me – if you know you’re going, that’s the thing, if you know you’re going, how to handle it and not panic. That’s a cool shot. What did you want to know?
Student: Read some poetry from Gasoline?
GC: You want a poem from Gasoline?
GC: Alright, let’s see if I can remember one now, Gregory. Now get one you really like.
Student: Please, Gregory
GC: I don’t remember my poetry at all. It’s a fact of life, and I should know it, I should know the shot.
Student: (page) 51
GC: I know a simple haiku from Gasoline. I could give you something from Gasoline. Simple. “In the Mexican zoo/ they have ordinary/ American cows.
Student: Gregory, Hey Gregory.
GC: Somebody said “Hey Gregory” without his hand raised.
Student: It’s right here.
GC: As if you were my friend or close to me! – I don’t want nobody coming up to me afterwards when I get outta here as if we’re friends or somethin’. You’re still fuckin’ students, all of ya. Right? And Annie’s down here and all that [Anne Waldman]. No matter how close I get to you guys on the three days I’m gonna be teaching here, right? Alright? So raise your hand. What do you wanna say?
Student: How did it all begin?
GC: How did it all begin? I’ll give it to you very scientifically. I don’t bother with it. I leave the science and all that to mathematicians. He said that it might have begun with steady state or a big bang, so I met him, right? And he was fucked. He didn’t know which way of the two it began. I said, “Wow, if it’s dwindled down to two, there’s an old Italian expression”. I don’t know it in Italian, but I know it in English – “If you have a choice between two things and you can’t decide, take both”. You know, fuck, so I said, “C’mon, don’t hang ’em up, you got it dwindled down that far, right?” A beginning shot, you’re talking about. No, no, you can’t. No way, it’s done. The ball-game’s over.
So you got nothing to learn with. Just the essentials. I say, for instance, what you should be asking me about – what came first, the Odyssey or the Iliad? – that’s what you should be asking me. You should be asking me about Ganymede and Pygmalion. That’s what you should be asking about. These fuckin’ questions, man. You guys are on that shit – you were brought up in the ’60’s with your rock ‘n roll shit, and you didn’t learn shit – you didn’t, you didn’t learn nothin’ – now you wanna know! That was the Golden Calf of the ’60’s and you didn’t know it, but, one good thing, okay, you’re right, against the war, not going into the army and all that, that’s cool. Yeah, yeah, (the) ’60s, beautiful, with the students in America. What do you think Mr Merwin? [turns to W.S.Merwin], you taught in America, man. Yeah, shop class.
But, right now, I’m a little embarrassed, because of (questions about) “reality” began it all, all that shit. Ask something practical.
Student: Where do you get your shoes?
GC: Where do I get..? Ah, there you got it! Alright. I got these shoes through my beautiful woman there. We went.. we realized New York City’s going – psst [down], it’s wiped out, so why not go and get beautiful things?
GC: And (so we) went to Saks Fifth Avenue, and I said, “Can I have a pair of shoes, please?”, “I like those”. “Good”. “Right there”. And she just wrote on a piece of paper (we had no money in the bank or nothin’), gave ’em a cheque, and walked out. That’s hurting people? Saks Fifth Avenue? if I take shoes from them?. I said, “Well, I take the coat that was taken from the lamb, if I need it”, if I need it – I don’t need these fuckers. I like them.
Student [girlfriend]: You needed them.
GC: You’re wrong there. I don’t need them. Oh yeah, I did need them, right. I had a hole in the other shoe, you’re right. It was cutting my feet in the city. I did need a pair of shoes. Yeah, it was needed. Okay. But the opulence wasn’t needed, but the opulence I take. I love ’em. See my emerald ear-ring?
GC: It’s a beauty. One carat. Beautiful. But I should not show it to too many people. They’d grab me and rip my ear apart, grab the fuckin’ emerald. Ugh! God, what am I doing? I need protection in this place! I find your Colorado, Boulder, very nice, by the way. You people are visiting and students and you don’t live here, but for those who (do) live here, it’s a really nice place, I mean, air-wise. And I have yet to see one policeman – and that’s true! – have you seen one, Jelson (sic)?
Student (Jelson): No
GC: (It) doesn’t bug me if I see one (because, I guess it keeps order, and that’s a necessary evil, what they call it). Alright, so is there any more you want to know? See, I don’t think there is, but I can tell you and then you’ll want to know it.
Student: Gregory, I don’t know if you want to get academic here..
GC: Well, why not?
Student: Well, I don’t know if it’s appropriate in this atmosphere yet, and I can wait, because you’re gonna be around…
GC: No, now I’m gonna be going right now, in a while. I’m just waiting… give it fast
Student: Well, I just wanted to know…
GC: I’m being academic.
Student: ..the form of your poetry is changing. I just wanted to know where you were taking it?
GC: Ah, well, you’ll get that on Wednesday, when I read my new poems. I’ll be reading with William Burroughs, and you’ll get a new shot. That’s the shot. You see, I’m standing in for a friend of mine, for Ginzy. All I can do is stand in and try and make this class go to its allotment, so you feel you’re getting your money’s worth.
Student: Can you talk about your drug culture?
GC: Alright. I learned through drugs that money sucks. I learned that I needed money to get drugs. I did not need drugs to get money. I gave up drugs because I figured, “fuck, what do I need money for?”. So my woman there taught me the one lesson – mobility, Gregory! – you can move – and money. You don’t have to be stuck in one place taking the drug. And so, yeah, cool. So, alright. That’s what I learned. That’s all. Nothing much.
Student: What did you learn from Gilgamesh?
GC: Ah! What I learned from Gilgamesh is why I had to think it was the oldest book ever written. Is it? Is it the oldest book?
Student: As far as I know.
GC: Yeah, it is. That’s the course I was gonna give you tonight, but I’ll tell you I’ll hold that a little off. But I can lay a little bit down on it. That’s the oldest book. Nobody’s going to come here and say, “in Tibet they had an older one”. I don’t want to hear that shit. I don’t want to have to argue about it, say, “Good god”, alright..”.Yeah, but that’s the old daddy, lets say where the Bible comes from, and the Pyramid Texts, and Gilgamesh, all the real oldies come from, right? Right? I’m asking you, right?
GC: No? You must not know Gilgamesh. Does anybody know Gilgamesh here? How many hands with Gilgamesh?
Student: A little bit
GC: C’mon. I wanna see how many, so I know who I’m talking to. Alright, two. There’s..uh..and there’s the other. What’s Gilgamesh? Yow! Gilgamesh. Who’s Gilgamesh?
Student: I read the epic
GC:You read the epic?
GC: Did you read the complete form of it?
Student: I only knew of one form
GC: No, no, no, no, no. See, because I went to check out this guy who was translating it recently, and they still don’t know why Gilgamesh broke the tablets when he was crossing the stream to see Noah, the old man, to find out what life was about. The only angry thing he did was to break these tablets on his knee before he got into the boat and the boatman took him across. And nobody knows what’s on the tablets. But they were set down in the Akkadian language. Sardanapalus, or Ashurbanipal, whatever the fuck, he had two names, alright? Sardanapalus, or Ashurbanipal made his library. Akkadian, Chaldean. Way back, man, to go to the Sumerian.
You know, I’ll give you one kick away from the Gilgamesh to bring this into you people here, you know, the Bible. How many of you know the Bible? Raise your hands. What’s this shot? Great. Good, good, do it, do it, raise it, man. I know the Bible, man, shit. Alright, here’s a goody – Abraham leaves Ur – [Gregory begins again writing on the blackboard], you know what Ur is? That’s Gilgamesh
Student: Ur, Sumer.
GC: Sumer, Sumerian. And they were the only non-Semitic peoples. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Such a kick, but it’s true. Alright, now where did the Jews come from, the Semites? Because Abraham’s a daddy, they leave Ur, they go down to Canaan, right? (was it Canaan? Canaan it was). Jacob was the only one that got into it, but he didn’t get into it. Ur – that’s the old daddy, older than Egypt. I always go back to my Sumer. They had electricity there. If you go to the museum in Iraq today [Gregory is speaking in 1975 – sic], if any of you people, you know, take an airplane ride, airy-plane ride, some day in your life, and you go to the Mid-East, go to Iraq. You’ll see the ziggurats, and, of course, you’ll see in a museum there’s a cylinder with a battery in it.
Audio for this transcription can be found at http://www.archive.org/details/Gregory_Corso_The_history_of_poetry_June_1975_75