Gregory Corso on Lost And Found

Gregory Corso teaching at Naropa. Photo: Rachael Homer

We’ve mentioned it before but wanted to mention it again – the new book/booklets by Gregory Corso (two short volumes), emanating from the inestimable Lost and Found (Cuny Poetics Document Initiative) – Naropa Lectures 1981 (edited by William Camponovo, Mary Catherine Kinniburgh and Oyku Tekten, with a Preface by Anne Waldman, a Foreword, an Afterword, and a Vade Mecum – Guide to the Lectures).

Several of Corso’s idiosyncratic and enlightening lectures have been transcribed here on the Allen Ginsberg Project, but not these ones.

As the editor’s explain, “..the description for his Fall 1981 course titled “W327 Visiting Poets Class” informed that “Mr Corso (would) teach a course according to his interests at the time” – for three academic credit hours. Given the implausibility that any of Corso’s cosmological historiography would fit within three neat credits, the looming scope of Corso’s five-million-year curriculum lets us imagine that the Summer course was a proving ground for scaling his interests in the classroom. The phrase “at the time” in the course catalog suggests that salience was king; what needed to be taught, addresses, or workshopped at the moment would receive his earnest attention.

For the course, ten students were officially registered, but twenty-one showed up to the first class. After determining attendance through roll call -“everybody who’s here, raise your hands” – Corso suggests he take the first ten students registered, unless anyone happens to be particularly excited by the material. In response, one student quips, “That depends on what you plan to work on”. Corso fires back, “I told you. I’ll give you five mil back – five million B.C. up to the present time and I’ll give it to you fast.”
A mercurial range of reference ensues as classes meet regularly, discussing, The French Revolution, time-travel, Shelley, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Count St. Germain, the Beats, and Heidigger. In these lectures, Corso consistently reinforces the course aims – to integrate historical and artistic knowledge in ways that inform and influence each other.By exploring the synergies of poetry, art, architecture, science, magic, and culture, he covers the entire pre-historical and pre-modern past in those short summer weeks…”

Anne Waldman, from her introduction – “Gregory was optimistic. His revelatory transmission was about knowledge, consciousness, the shift in the brain not the skull with morning glory seeds. And we learned to appreciate the Cro-Magnon. You had to “know stuff” as a poet. Make quantum leaps. Learn to “scry”. Check out the Biggies: Tommy Aquinas, Venerable Bede, Villon, Chaucer, Dante, Malory, Cimabue. Gregory threw out “shots”, as he manically scribed the names of radical luminaries on the chalkboard. He wanted to convey transformational alchemy, zap you with his magic wand, his chalk stick. The chalk wore down: the Emerald Tablet, Hermes, Apollonius of Tyana, John Dee. (Jack) Kerouac is suddenly Gilgamesh in his white robe needing to write “it” all down , in cuneiform. Gregory was urgent about these transmissions. One got accustomed at receiving these flashes along a historical trajectory he had thought much about. That sustained him. Part of his accoutrements. It was his psycho-physical being at work, listing the ebb and flow of history…”

“See what I’m gonna try to do in this class is give it to you fast. We’re not going to stick on prehistory. I’ll give it to you fast and then show you the art of the prehistory, what they created and all that. Words? No. You don’t get poesy yet.. But you get the idea of poesy. And once you get this in your head fast – it may take you years to go through anthropology school to get this shit – I’ll give it to you fast – once you’ve got it, and you can graduate with it…”

“We can do this in five classes up to the year one. Future, I don’t go for. Future, I know shit about the future. I’ll take you up right to the present. The past, I know. The past is easy.It’s already laid out. This make sense to you?..

“…remember, there’s nothing you can tell human beings that they don’t already know. They know. They can’t express it . So when you express it really fine in a poem – You see, “Oh yeah, I understand that”. That’s called “illumination”. You’re waking up something in their heads that they already got there, but if they don’t understand it, then what you’re saying is bullshit…”

“…if you don’t feel I answered you right on the Persian shit, you can fine me. If I try to get away with.. if I say, “Ok, that’s enough, let’s go to the bar”, or something like that, you can fine me. That’s why the University of Paris is a great university. Very early on it’s called the liberal university. Not the church running it. And they had the good teachers like Aquinas, who came from the church…”

You can’t afford to miss Gregory’s “crazy wisdom” pedagogy

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