Corso and Shakespeare

An “out-take” from Allen’s 1980 Shakespeare lecture

AG: [in media res].. a text. Does anybody know what I’m reading?

Student: (I know)
AG: Well don’t say.. or, I might as well say it.. I’m going to read some (Gregory) Corso in relation to Shakespeare’s language. Corso, on an elegant theme, similar, an elegant and archaic theme, that is – “Clown”

And I’ll read a few passages from a very long poem (with the title being “Clown”) – So it’s all variations on the notion, or idea, the central idea of clown, (clown-hood, adressing a clown, clown acts), with the idea of Gregory as a clown himself, the poet as clown, and this is all his different little takes or imagination..imaginings of what his.. what his role could be.. or is, or was, or might be.

Gregory Corso.  Still from Lewis MacAdams & Richard Lewis’ “What Happened to Kerouac

“For commoners I put things on my nose/ and tip-toe with the grace of gold “ –’I put things on my nose/ and tip-toe with the grace of gold “ – So you could take that right out of Shakespeare – ‘I put things on my nose/ and tip-toe with the grace of gold “ – It’s amazing how rich Gregory reach of language is when you compare it with Shakespeare – and it’s unlike any other poet that I know in that (quiet) respective crisp, a crispness, like in Shakespeare. “For those I love I sit sad by stained glass…”

“It is time for the idiot/to pose a grin and foot on the deadline” – (sort of what the clown does, the idiot clown, does) – “It is time for the idiot/ to pose a grin and foot on the dead lion” – “to pose a grin and foot on the deadline”

Student: That’s in riddles

AG: Yeah – “to pose a grin”. Well, actually, what he’s doing, he’s using the word “foot” as a verb, I think.. or it’s ambivalent.. ambiguous – To pose with a grin and put his foot up on the carcass of the dead lion? – but he’s got “to pose a grin” – “to pose a grin” and pose a foot – to pose a grinand foot on the dead lion.

“Time to grow a mustache..” – “Time to grow a mustache; suck gin/and win with the hard-to-get-lady/Time to return from star trek/and scrub the earth – (that is to say, come back to the earth, like Prospero from magic, and come back to the human, “Time to return from star trek/ and scrub the earth.”

Then some comments on if the clown should die – (“I still don’t know if the clown should die”, is the beginning of this)
“If the clown were dead/ the month of August would we weighed/ with sacks of sour wheat/Dead the cloud,they’d be havoc!/The angels’ jeweled apse/would collide/and smash a ray of doves!/ Fauns would lay waste the wood/ with faun-chewed babes!” – (fauns would turn into, like, cannibals eating babies!) – “Fauns would lay waste the wood/ with faun-chewed babes!” “Oily melancholy fits the black boot/now that the clown thinks to die” – (So ,”Oily melancholy fits the black boot/now that the clown thinks to die”) –
“The punches of winter knocked out a herd of deer/Winter left the wood like a plate of chicken bones” – (that ‘s a pretty interesting Shakespearean similie – Winter left the wood like a plate of chicken bones” – Gregory was really proud of that. He thought that was one of his great lines of all time – “Winter left the wood like a plate of chicken bones” (because it’s such a delicatessen image).

Student: (That’s the way the trees were too, Winter following Autumn)

AG: Yes, very apt. “The naked clown shivers by the snowy brook” – (so the clown, “to die”, wood, “like a plate of chicken bones”, and “the naked clown shivers by the snowy brook”) – “Hold on clown!/Every stone is cosmos;/ every tree made of laughter stuff./Paint wide your mouth white!/With rlm leaves that make fake ears!/Redden your nose with lizards!/Be ready!/ Spring will soon step out from behind a tree/ like Eve from the side of Adam/ Tang-a-lang boom! Fife feef! Toot!” – (so he’s got the whole circus-band, or whole circus-like clown-band reduced to six syllables – “Tang-a-lang boom!…”). I remember he worked on this line for about a week, or, you know, had different versions of it for a week, trying to reduce the entire sound of the little toy band of the clown to – “Tang-a-lang boom! Fife feef! Toot!” – he cut out the horn too -“Fife-feet”, he put down, like, “feef” was the sound of the fife, so “Fife-feef” and “Tang-a-lang boom” is the triangle and the drum – (all at once!) So you have the drums, the fifes, and the trumpets entirely in six syllables – Tang-a-lang boom! Fife feef! Toot!” which is a little bit like some (little) Shakespeare burthens or refrains, you know like “Tu-whit/ Tu-who” or whatever the burtherns (sic) are. Yes?

“Winter, that I’ve been your clown;/ that I’ve read your beady scripture” – “beady scripture”? – I hold no grudge/My joy could never wedge free/from sorrow’s old crack” –
“Of course the unicorn will be killed/ so don’t think your red nose/your flabber mouth/your million-dollar laugh won’t” – (won’t be killed – of course, the unicorn won’t be killed – “so don’t think your red nose/your flabber mouth/your million-dollar laugh won’t”) – This is one of the most tailored of all Gregory’s poetry in terms of reducing all the main ideas to the most accurate and precise and economical, and, at the same time, most colorful or active phrasing (like “your flabber mouth” is, like, a perfect description of a clown mouth, a big flappy clown mouth – “your flabber mouth” it’s like…)
Let’s see, what else…

“The clown is dead!/ Pass along the highway of 1959 – all clowns are dead!/See the great dumps of them swarmed by seagulls/their tufted hats frayed/their face noses and ears smoldering,/their polka-dot coveralls darkening/underneath the sunfairy’s final nighthorn./The helly ringmaster cracks his whip!/The circus’s great mercy shoots fire!/Acrobats gnaw their wires!/Skeletal apes twist meatless bananas!/
The lion trainer’s bony jaw!/Hotdogs and coca cola for the charnel!/Elephant trick dust on the purgative scale/ Fifty shrouded clowns pile out/ from a tiny tomb.” – “Fifty shrouded clowns/ pile out from a tiny tomb” – (that’s like a taking off from, you know, when you’re in the circus, and about fifty clowns pile out of a little car, taxi cab (and he’s got – “Fifty shrouded clowns/ pile out from a tiny tomb”. It’s so funny! – the reversals – all of it reverses here. So it ends, “But/ I am not always a clown/and need not make grammatic/Death’s diameter” – (In other words, I don’t have to explain in complete grammar, in long sentences, how big, wide, death is) – “Death, like a monkeys tail,/ wraps down spirally on a rising,/ever rising pole./ How to climb and sit on the turret/away from the breath of the sick/away from the souls who sleep/in Death’s cylindrical kick -/Ah,/this surfeit of charlatanry/will never leave my organic pyx/thank God” – (I’ve forgotten what “pyx” is – does anybody know?)

Student: Yeah pixel?

AG: Pyx – P-Y-X. I used to know, It’s some..

Student: It’ some kind of church implement. I can’t remember right now.

AG: Church? Yeah ..or organic pyx So this surfeit of clowning, surfeit of false charlatanry will never leave his nature, “organicl pyx, thank God!”

Well, the point I was trying to make is that certain elements of Corso have a Shakespearean accuracy and proprietry (like Shakespeare’s soliloquys) – or, like some of the more vigorous Shakespeare ..what do you call it? – orations, when somebody.. Gonzalo here (in The Tempest) was giving big orations.

This is (like) Gonzalo’s speech on Man, [from”Man”] on the nature of Man:

“The good scope of him is history, old and ironic;/Not modern history, unfulfilled and blurred -/Bleak damp fierce thunderous lightning days;/Poor caveman, so scared of the outside,/So afeared of its power and beauty,/Created a limit, and called that limit God – ‘Cell, fish, apeman, Adam:/How was the first man born?/And why was he ceased being born that way?/ Air his fuel, will his engine, legs his wheels,/Eyes the steer, ears the alert” – (that’s very Shakespearean) – “Eyes the steer, ears the alert;/He could not fly but now he does -/the nails hair teeth bones blood/All in communion with the flesh/The heart that feels all things in life/And lastly feels in death”– and so forth.

– Well,  “the eyes, the eyes The penis is a magic wand,/ The womb greater than spring” – “I do not know if he be Adam’s heir/Or kin to ape” – (I guess that’s, all, probably, imitating Shakespeare?) – “I know not he be Adam’s heir/ Or kin to ape” probably, would be the Shakespeare phrasing – “I do not know if he be Adam’s heir/ Or a kin to ape” – but “Adam’s heir or a kin to ape” is, like, right out of Shakespeare cadence and condensation – “No man knows: what a good driving mystery,/ I can imagine a soul, the soul leaving the body,/The body feeding death, death simply a hygiene/I can wonder the world the factory of the soul/The soul putting on a body like a workman’s overalls (cover-alls) – And so forth.
Well, it’s just a little reminder of Gregory’s genius compared to Shakespeare. He can stand up well read next to Shakespeare. and there aren’t many poets that can. (In fact, he’s) practically the only modern poet I know who.. one of a few, (a few phrasings by different people), that really look witty, and compare wittiness of condensation through Shakespeare

Student: There’s a massive scope there.

AG: Pardon?

Student: It’s the scope in Shakespeare that’s massive….

AG: Well, oddly enough, you know, like, the poem, ”Clown”, is a very long poem, which covers the whole subject of charlatanry, clownhood, double-mindedness, drunken, alchoholic fuck-up Gregory clown buffoon, which covers that whole… that’s a big scope (yeah, sure, he didn’t write big historical plays (tho’ Shakespeare…Gregory did actually).

Student: (He has some) tiny light, you know, these little poems that seem to have an airy quality that….

AG: Well, Gregory wrote one little song that’s airy, that’s here – see if I can find it. There was one that comes to mind instantly, actually, strangely enough…[Allen searches] …well let’s see now… It ends “I dip my pink”..I don’t know if I could find it actually without going through a long…

Student: Is that what it’s called?

AG; It ends on, “I dip my pink” – It’s just a little tiny song, sort of like “Come Unto These Yellow Sands”, almost.. I don’t know, I’ll find it, sooner or later. I’ve got to teach him this afternoon, so I’ll find it. [Editorial note – the poem that Allen is looking for is “I Dream In The Daytime” (from Elegiac Feelings American) which ends “I cringe my sink/I gloom my stove/ They leave me pink/I dip my glove”]

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning and continuing until approximately thirteen-and-a-half minutes in

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