Another of the summer’s essential books (we’re only just now getting round to profiling it
over a dozen pieces, plus an illuminating memoir-introduction by Dick Brukenfeld, (Corso’s first publisher, of the 1955 Harvard volume, The Vestal Lady on Brattle), plus footnotes, index, dramatis personae…
a faithful capturing of that irascible, wayward, prison-smart, poetics-smart, uniquely vocal, unapologetic, Beat poet
Corso, in 1980, to a patient and respectful poet-interviewer, Gavin Selerie:
“But if you take this tape here and transcribe it, people will read it on the page – they’re gonna think I wrote that shit on the page. So that you better make sure, right off the bat, that I did not write this, that this just a talk one night”
(Selerie gives him his “Shelleyan promise” that he will be faithfully represented.
(Corso needn’t have worried)
In the course of this volume Corso gets to range on a vast array of topics, what he would characteristically get to describe as “the whole shot”.
To take just two of the more focused moments (tho’ Gregory’s never anything less than “focused”!)
From a fairly early (1962) interview with poet Anselm Hollo:
Anselm Hollo: Now “Beat Movement” means what – that the movement that, lets say we gave a thrust to, was to be a movement of poets getting up reading their poetry, is that what you mean?
Gregory Corso: Oh well, that would be absurd – to get up and say, well here this is what I’m doing and now I hope everyone else does this – No, I believe that you have to have something to fall back on, you have to have it, and it should always be You – it should never Follow, from something else – that’s where the danger of Fad and Monotony can get into it by the Relay…
Now “Beat Movement” if there was anything intended by that – to take the other angle – if it was something as a movement then it was for people to Wake Up! The poetry that was read by myself and Allen and a few others at the time was not altogether social , but a lot of it was Social – and a lot of it has come true: what we said – and a change in the Consciousness has happened.
Now a beat person in the United States is not a person who has a beard – exactly. The consciousness is changed by the beat – it is entering the lives of people who go to college, who are married, who have children. They do not then, by their learning lock themselves up in a room and sleep on floors and don’t take baths; that’s not it – the Consciousness has altered there through everyone… it has changed completely now and taste has become refined,
What once took a hundred years seems to take a decade now; one doesn’t read what was said but one listens to what is being said – I think the main thing of the readings and the poems and all of it that came out was meant to aid and benefit man – to blend with the new consciousness! – It was to give sounding that Here it is and to get everything into that light, see it into that light. So therefore I think that the Beats really have done something tremendous and beautiful. And I’m only down on the fact that the beat today – who came up as beat – are being Monsters of Frankenstein Replicas of the Mass Media – of the newspaper interpretation of Beat, But as for, let’s say the original standards of the Beat –
and it’s almost I think as important as the Early Prophets – what the Beat did was to speak of Love, and it was to benefit man, and nothing else.
It was Me – but in association with Everyone: the lyric poem itself is “I” but it associates with all Man, and therefore it is a compassionate form of Poesie. A poet is supposed to See: and what he Sees, he puts within himself – and records outwardly – in Poetry”
Gregory Corso: That’s probably generalizing too much. Allen’s work to me is the sharpest thing that’s being said. I like the early (W.H.) Auden, the “Christmas Oratorio” and “In Praise of Limestone“. I really got to digging (Ezra) Pound. You say (Robert) Creeley. Yes, some Creeley is really fantastic. But then, I couldn’t put everybody’s name down.
Robert King: Your name, at least in the ‘Fifties, was really connected with Ginsberg, more than any of the others we’ve had here this week
Gregory Corso: We were the two poets. They’re novelists, you know [Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs]. And Allen and I were poets. When Allen and I read poetry; early in those days, he would read “Howl”, very serious; and I was, like I said, giving the humor number. That’s what saved it. It would have been too heavy otherwise. Gregory came over with his “Marriage” or something like that, and everybody was happy and laughing. So it worked, it was a nice balance. We were the poets, Allen and myself.
RK: So you complemented each other
GC: Oh sure, sure, sure.
RK: Ginsberg’s really published a lot, has all these political connections, movement connections – he may be the most famous Beat. So you could be in a position to say, “Gee, I wonder if I should do more things like Allen”.
GC: Right, and I did not. I stayed out of it in the Sixties and for good reasons too. I figured that was the route they’d taken, let thm go with it because something’s going to have to happen after that; and conserve some of the energy, Gregory. Let Allen take care of it nice, ad he did. You know, this man’s got all his strength and all his energy. You dig? I don’t have to be throwing myself out like that. That’s when Allen got to understand me. He was burnt up in the beginning, saying, “Gregory, where are you, man, like, help us along”. I said, “No, this is where you’ve got to understand Gregory. This is what I do now. If I’m going to go towards dope, if I’m going to make babies like I did and all that, that’s my shot.
Like we say (and there’s so much more) – an essential volume