Gregory Corso‘s birthday. We thought to present today (alongside a portfolio of photographs) a few rare recordings of some of his earliest poems. The reading (courtesy the intriguingly inventive Ragged Lion Press‘ RLP series) dates from 1970, in Buffalo, and was recorded by the late poet-scholar Allen DeLoach.
We have previously featured a Ragged Lion/De Loach/ Gregory Corso reading – see here
Now six more poems – Vintage Corso
GC: This is the first poem that I ever wrote I was sixteen years old when I wrote it.. because I never saw my mother, and the family that I had told me that she went back to Italy. So this is a poem that I wrote regarding that – “Sea Chanty” – “My mother hates the sea/ my sea especially,/I warned her not to;/it was all I could do.Two years later/the sea ate her./ Upon the shore I found a strange/yet beautiful food;I asked the sea if I could eat it,/and the sea said that I could/.- Oh, sea, what fish is this/so tender and so sweet? -/- Thy mother’s feet” – [In the later published version, Gregory adds the additional words “was its answer’]
GC: I haven’t read here (Buffalo) in a long time. I did teach class here in (19)64, and last year at the University of New Mexico at Alburquerque, but just lecturing – But reading poetry, I haven’t done in a long time. So.. I’ll pick out for you people what I think are my best poems. There’s a whole lot – Okay? – “ Greenwich Village Suicide” – Now this was done in 1952 – – “Arms outstretched/ hands flat against the windowsides/She looks down/Thinks of Bartok, Van Gogh/And New Yorker cartoons/She falls/ They take her away with a Daily News on her face/ And a storekeeper throws hot water on the sidewalk.”
GC: In 1951, when I saw someone almost die on heroin.. I never made it with that, but living with that was later years in life, but this was.. what? – when I was twenty-one years I saw this – and this is called – “The Horse Was Milked” – and nobody at the time when this book came out, in 1954, knew what I meant by “The Horse Was Milked” – do you get milk from a horse? – what? – “In a room a spoon upon the fire/was cooking his secret desire/ When all was cooked he got a belt/ and hurried before the horse could melt/ He strapped the belt across his arm;/ wiped the needle so it’d not harm/ and tightened, tightened the belt for a vein./He pulled and his arm began to pain./ With steadied hand he waited the bulge -/ waited the dream in which he’d indulge./ And it came, and the needle filled it with joy/But the horse was milked, and there was no joy./ He fell to the floor without a sound./and roll’d his head like a merry-go-round./ Then he rubbed and shook and yanked and shook his hair,/and vomited air, nothing but air./ Deep in the nigh he rolled and groaned./ O never was a poor soul so stoned.”
GC: This poem was published at Harvard at a time where you were a hipster and all that was just not in the book. That was in 1954. And it’s called “In The Tunnel-Bone of Cambridge” -” In spite of voices-/Cambridge and all its regions/Its horned churches with fawns’ feetIts white-haired young/and ashfoot legions-/I decided to spend the night – But that hipster-tone of my vision agent/Decided to reconcile his sound with the sea leaving me flat North of the Charles/ So now I’m stuck here-—/a subterranean/ lashed to a pinnacle – I don’t know the better things that people know/All I know is the deserter condemned me to black-/ He said: Gregory, here’s two boxes of night one tube of moon/And twenty capsules of starlight, go an’ have a ball-/He left and the creep took all my Gerry Mulligan records with him/- But he didn’t cut out right then/I saw him hopping/On Brattle street today-/he’s got a bum leg/on his way to the tunnel-bone/He made like he didn’t see me./He was trying to play it cool/ – Wild in the station-bone/Strapped in a luggage vision-bone/made sinister by old lessons of motion/ The time-tablebone said: Black/Handcuffed to a minister/Released in a padded diesel/The brakeman punched my back: Destination, black/ Out the window I could see my vision agent/hopping along the platform/swinging a burning-lantern-bone like mad/All aboard, he laughed, all aboard/Far into the tunnel-bone I put my ear to the ear/of the minister–and I could hear/the steel say to the steam/and the steam to the roar: a black ahead/ A black ahead a black and nothing more.”
GC: This one’s called “In My Beautiful…and Things” – “All beautiful things/My things/In dead dogs in cellophane wrapped and tied/And still as beautiful as mine/In my tomb-rooms of dust and no things/ A present practice of mine/When a beautiful chick passes by/ To squeeze it thru my keyhole/Or slip it under the door if she’s old/And not like a mother or a bitch/ Or a motherless dog/Then I’ll take her in my beautiful/And things/And will love her in cellophane with string/Like music for a world and no things But I’m not proud with my dirty sink/And her things hanging on my doorknob to dry/It were better to be alone than a bitch/ Housewifing my unwrapped dust/With nylons and sticks of tea and no things”
GC: This one, I got hung-up on Ancient Egypt – “Amnesia in Memphis” – “Who am I, flat neneath the shades of Isis,/ This claypskinned body, made study/by the physicians of Memphis?/ Was it always my leaving the North/Snug on the back of a crocodile?/Do I remember this whorl of mummy-cloth/As I stood fuming by the Nile?/ O life abandoned! half-embalmed, I beat the soil!/Nor sponge my life back with the charm of Ibis oil – / Still-omen of the dribbling Scarab!/Fate that leaves me into the chamber of blue perfumes! /Is there no other worthy of prophecy/ Than the Decker who decks my spine with ostrich plumes!/ No more will the scurvy Sphinx/With beggy prophets their prophecies relate -”
[In the original of this poem, in a letter, writtten to Allen from Paris dated June 12, 1957. there’s an additional (later omitted) line – ” “The papyrus readers have seen the falcon’s head/ Fall unto the jackal’s plate” and the commentary: – “I think it (“Amnesia in Memphis”)’s a good poem. somewhat like (W.B.) Yeats but not really. It surely sounds unlike me, though. I wrote it on ship coming over, intent on seeing Egypt, etc, etc; enough to capture all those real dreams I used to have, but somehow I felt that – ” the falcon’s head/ Fall unto the jackal’s plate”. That all was really over and that today is 1957 and not history books that sing 5,000 B.C., etc, etc, etc. I’ll send that poem to Don Allen. He should be quite happy with it. If he isn’t, fuck him, poetry doesn’t come too easy for me anymore…”]
But this was only 1957, and it certainly did keep coming.