William Burroughs and Gregory Corso Reading at Naropa 1975

Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso

From the remarkable Naropa Archives (that we spotlighted here). Here‘s a truly, as Allen presciently noticed, historic reading – William Burroughs and Gregory Corso together in 1975.

Allen provides a succinct introduction.
AG: ..Under the auspicies of Naropa Institute. In some attempt to combine meditation and poetics, or to see how they influence each other (since it’s a great tradition of poetics to be knowledgeable about consciousness, and since it’s a great tradition of meditators to be poetic-tongued for bodhisattvic purposes of explanation), so the whole point of the Naropa school, then, is to get the meditators fiery-tongued, and perhaps influence some of the fiery tongues to pay attention to the air coming in and out of their bodies. The inaugural reading of a series of what may prove to be historic and brilliant readings, which will in the future (next week, in fact, be myself and the Zen priest poet Philip Whalen, coming in from California, [applause] and, after that will be Diane di Prima and Ted Berrigan, who’s now in Chicago, Joanne Kyger, formally married to Gary Snyder and now living in Bolinas, with ecology people, will be out here to read with Lewis MacAdams, who’s living here now, a poet who will be around all summer, as W.S.Merwin will be around all summer. Anne Waldman will be around all summer. Ed Sanders will be the last teacher probably of this first term, and Michael Brownstein, who is concubine for Anne Waldman, will be up here also [laughter] maybe next week. So, to begin, the two, celebrated geniuses and originators of culture values here – William Burroughs and Gregory Corso [applause].. have known each other longer than many of you have been alive, actually – at least since 1952, (which would be) 23 years, have worked together, and lived together in different places in the world, from Tangier, Paris, Boulder, New York, have shared common virtues of poetics for a long time, have been published together. This is the first occasion, in all these decades, when the two of them are alone on a stage, before an intelligent audience, by themselves.”

(At approximately three-and-a-quarter minutes in, Gregory Corso declares, “I’d like to introduce my baby, William Burroughs!”)

William S Burroughs – “This reading is from an unpublished book [subsequently published] entitled Ah Pook Is Here – Ah Pook is the Mayan God of death, but, unlike the Medieval Christian conception of death, Ah Pook was not regarded by the Mayans as purely negative and destructive, but simply as a stage of life making way for re-birth and re-generation. And this book concerns an American billionaire, who is obsessed by a desire for immortality. He discovers lost Mayan books containing some of the basic secrets of life and death, and uses this knowledge to set up a rather ill-advised control machine.” Burroughs continues (approximately seventeen-and-three-quarter minutes in) reading from Cities of The Red Night – “This reading is from a novel-in-progress entitled Cities of the Red Night. The scene is set around the year 2000 (sic), when time-travel has effectively been perfected, but, as so often happens, the technology, or the implications of the technology, has not been fully understood” – Burroughs reads two sections (he is occasionally distracted by coughing) – “Virus RX” and, (starting approximately twenty-and-a-quarter minutes in), “Virus B 23″ – ‘This passage concerns a virus that occasions biologic alterations in those who survive, and these alterations are genetically conveyed, giving rise to a race of mutants known as the fever-freaks. Some of these mutations are favorable, some otherwise.”
He concludes (at approximately thirty-five-and-a-half minutes) with a cut-up” – “This poem was constructed by cutting in phrases from the daily horoscope in a French newspaper, Marrakesh 1967. Some phrases were translated into English, and others were allowed to remain in French. I think the poem bears some affinity to “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot – It’s “The Evening News”.

Burroughs’ segment concludes to lengthy applause. At approximately thirty-nine-and-a-half minutes in, Gregory Corso: ” The only way I’m going to break an act like that is by giving you my first poem, it’s called “Sea Chanty” – What I’m going to do with you is give you a beginning of me (that’s my first poem), I’ll give you a beginning, and end up with a new poem, one new poem – and these (rest) are old babies” [Gregory is heard making an aside to Burroughs – “William, you know why I pour out the water from the glass? because I spit back in(to) the glass”]
At approximately forty-and-half minutes in Gregory begins reading, or attempting to read, “The Last Warmth of Arnold”… (“You know, there’s lots of disturbances with my reading, nobody fucked him (Burroughs)… One guy locked the door and… get the fuck out of here.. I should do like Allen does, “Can you hear me?” [mocks Allen’s concern with acoustics] Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”) – “Alright, “Amnesia in Memphis” (“This is before I went to Egypt – “Who am I?”… “It bugs all these Buddhist people, you ask “Who are you?”, (and) they’re always, “I can’t tell you who I am” – I was a baby when I asked this question…”top class”… these are oldies”) – At approximately forty-three-and-a-half minutes in – “This one, I fell for an animal in a zoo in Mexico City” – “Puma in Chapultepec Zoo” – At approximately forty-four-and-a-half – here’s a baby poem “on the walls of a dark furnished room, I hang old photos..of jane’ . At forty-five, he reads “Italian Extravaganza” ( “I’ll give it a shot. Italians pick on me all the time with this poem (but), here we go..”) and “Birthplace Revisited“, followed by “The Last Gangster” – (“That’s a jumping time, kids. Let me lay it all on you, what happened here with this poem, that’s a big jump. I’m about to be killed, and I say, “fuck it, let them get.. years ahead of me and they’re arthritic” (laughs), alright – “I’ll give you one more on that shot and then I’ll get into that..” [Gregory sketches out the architectonics of the reading] – “This I want to give to Chogyam.. Chogyam, you here? Chogyam here? Is Rinpoche here?. Fuck it, it’s for him anyway, here you go..” (At approximately forty-seven minutes in, Gregory reads his celebrated poem, “The Mad Yak” – (“Hey,Chogyam if you’re here, I’ll lay it on you, I’m someone else… I’m talking like the yak now, here we go”) – Gregory continues – (” I think I’ll give you one from this book here, one shot, because I think it’s a funny shot, a long time ago.. no, I should give you “Friend” – fuck it, I’ll give you “Friend” – now check out what Friend means on this poem, and it’s important that you know in this, like today, 1975, June what? 11?”) – “Friends be kept/ friends be gained/ And even friends lost be friends regained..” – “Ok, the last shot in this book and then I can get to my new poem which I want to read..I love my new poem…” “This one was taken.. in 1963, when I wrote it, and it’s a happy poem. but where he fuck is it?; oh, I’ll give you better, I caught something before that poem – “Seed Journey”, here’s “Seed Journey” – “Before I get to my beautiful poem I wanna give ya, I’ll give ya A Difference of Zoos”? – ” I didn’t find it yet”, [Gregory continues procrastinating reading his final poem] “but I wrote a poem about William maybe, about, oh, about eighteen years ago, so I’m going to give that poem about him” (at approximately fifty-three-and-a-half minutes in, Gregory reads “Man Entering The Sea, Tangier”) – “I watched William walk into the water in Tangier, here it goes – [to William Burroughs [as an aside] – “Did you know that? that I wrote it for you? (although) I didn’t write it there”] – Okay, let me see if I can..oh oh..I love this poem, see, before I give you the last one, this was a gasser, this happened in Crete, where Knossos is, where Minos lived, but on the other side of the island, Phaestos- “Phaestos is a village with 25 families/ and one taverna..” – “Now I’ll get to the poem, I won’t play anymore on this…[Gregory rustles through his papers] “relax a while, check it out, I don’t see why I should…[Gregory appears to have misplaced the poem].. I know it’s in this book..so embarrassed, well its not in this book – oh god I’m embarrassed, my poem ain’t here… where the fuck is my poem?… no, no, I got it in this bag, here it is” – At approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarters of a minute in, he gives a reading, first, of “Second Night in New York City after Three Years” (“Now this is after I left Greece for the second time, it was 1960, alright? about fifteen years ago”),
“So, I end with this one here, that I put together today from my notebook ..I..I(‘ve) got to work on it more, but get it cold from me as it is anyway – here you go, the latest shot” – At approximately fifty-nine minutes in, Gregory reads his unpublished long (approximately seven-minutes long) poem, “The Day After Humankind” (“Daybreak and the night goes on..”)

GC: “Chog..just came in and he heard Gregory but I don’t think he heard William so I think he should hear Wilhelm.
WSB: Well, I’ll read something new then
GC: This is for the Chog – how ya doin’ Chog?
WSB: Where is he?
GC: Where are you? Raise your fuckin’ hand man. Where are you? I can’t see you Chog
– Oh-oh does it mean I’ve got to learn, yuk yuk.WSB: So this selection is called “Partline” – “the age old dream of immortality…” (Burroughs reads one final piece, “Partline”, concludes to enthusiatic applause)
GC to WSB: It was a nice evening, William.

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