Gregory Corso’s Birthday

Gregory Corso‘s birthday today. We celebrate (courtesy Raymond Foye) with this reading from Louisville, Kentucky, in 1994.

The transcript is, of necessity, given the length, over two postings – see here and here

November 1994 – The film begins with anticipation, the organizers meeting Gregory at the airport.

GC: (on stage) …the last minute.. A guy like Allen Ginsberg, he would have had it. Also he would have been here before you people came. He would have (had) a table set up and know(n) how he sat, he would have known, and, say, if, he talks and it, (the microphone) was too tall, or not.. He would have had it all straight.

That’s why Allen can make his moves and I don’t, I don’t go out and read to people. It’s very rare I do this shot (Gregory begins attempting to adjust his microphone) – oh , see that? – I don’t know what’s happening with this.

Yeah, Allen knows, he comes here before. These guys should have known.

Gregory is formally introduced

Ron Whitehead: Here from New York City for his first ever reading in Kentucky, unacknowledged legislator of the world, please welcome the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti calls “the greatest poet of them all”, world poet, Gregory Corso

GC: I can’t do it. I tried to do it. I tried to walk on air. I swear I’ve been having dreams and in the dream, I go like this (Gregory mimics walking on air) and I go along the ground and I don’t know I’m dreaming, and people are looking at me, and I say “Look, what I did?” – I really didn’t know I was dreaming, (but I was). But I did it. So when he mentioned.. Yo, yo, I tried to do it, and I wish I would’ve done it. What would you have thought if I had come out here..? It’s almost like walking on water, right?. If (William) Burroughs, the only man I respect on this planet.. (for the simple reason, the.. I was a kid, I said, “Gee I wish I’d lived in the past centuries – to have met a man like Alexander the Great or Michelangelo, or Vermeer, or Shelley, or Shakespeare. Today, there’s nobody like that. And I did meet that… I met the beautiful people – I met Mr. Kerouac. Mr. Ginsberg, Mr. Burroughs. And the beautiful women that I knew in life. The women are there. Most of those guys who were gay, but, yeah, let’s see, Burroughs, Ginsberg – (not Jack or me). So the women were there.

Because they asked me, “So what about that Beat thing, Gregory, that probably did cause a change that brought Beat, Hippie into it – tumbling act – I said. “Yeah, there were women. There was a girl that I knew named Hope SavageHer father was mayor of Camden, South Carolina And on her window was scraped, with a diamond ring, “Thou shalt be satisfied’. That was the woman whose husband was shot in the last duel in the South. “Thou shalt be satisfied”. A cabin in South Carolina. This angel they put in a loony-bin (early in the game, what? 1947?) – they give shock-treatment to – for the simple reason there were too many squirrels in the magnolia trees. So the mayor, her father, got the sheriff and his deputies to blow away the squirrels, and my beautiful Hope, fifteen years old, (stood) against the trees – “You’ve got to do me first before you do the squirrels” – She was a woman in that Beat Generation that was big. She put her body on the line. They grabbed her, the family thought they were doing great – pay fifty dollars a day to get shock treatment. Remember this was 1947. I don’t know if you people know what was happening right after World War II. So I just wanted to bring in the accolade of angel women-kind in this thing that he (Ron Whitehead) was praising for men like me.

Hope Savage

I’m not as known, I don’t think, as these people that I’ve mentioned, a Burroughs, a Kerouac, and a Ginsberg, for the simple reason that I am a fuck-up. I just don’t like facing people. I either have to get drunk or take drugs to face them, for the simple reason that (with) my poetry (it’s) written deep here (points in vague direction of the heart) and to get to repeat it, there’s something hypocritical about it. I can’t recreate the same feeling.

So the only thing I can do when I read my poetry is to read the light ones (the heavyweights, I would never do for you – that, you take in the darkness of your cave, your home (whereas guys like (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, they can can get on up there and let their shot out, all bare-assed naked, yoo-hoo! . And I said, “Wait a minute, this is not the depths of their souls, they’re not suffering it again”. Let me try it and see, but I’ll do one thing which I was warned not to do by a man named (Lord) Byron, who said “Do not explain your explanations”. But I think that’s the best way that I can pass with the poetry tonight. I’ll say something about them – whether before or after, ok?

I’ll start with my first shot I was what? fourteen-years-old?. I was raised in orphanages. I never saw my mother. I was told she had left.. and I got to know who my father was, (he was a real asshole), she left him when I was born, she went away, (where) they don’t know (but I figured she went back to Italia) – Okay – “Sea Shanty” – (“My mother hates. the sea/ my sea especially…”….” – Thy mother’s feet”) (Now, so as a fourteen year old, I always thought anything that drowns comes back to the shore. That’s why I got the feet. So if it left me, it went across the ocean, it did come back. But that’s a fourteen-year-old head that kind of a head, to think that way, That was the first poem I ever wrote.

Now lets see what the goody-gumdrops are. Alright “Greenwich Village Suicide” – Now I was born in Greenwich Village. It was in an Italian neighborhood, and, of course, bohemians moved in, and so it was a beautiful mixture. I was born there in 1930, right in the core, the heart of it, Bleecker and MacDougal Street – “Greenwich Village Suicide” (“Arms outstretched/hands flat against the windowsills….”..”And a store-keeper throws hot water on the pavement” – (That’s a cold poem for a young man. I think what would break it? I think was the “Bartok, New Yorker cartoon and Van Gogh”. (“She looks down/thinks of Bartok, Van Gogh/And New Yorker cartoons/ She falls..”))

Ah, this one was when I was just losing my Catholicism. It’s called “The Wreck of the Nordling” – (“One night, fifty men swam away from God/ And drowned…” “…fifty souls and pointed towards eternity”) – Well that was good at the end of it, right? I made these guys get what they wanted. The winner, if I would look back on my life, that I was a poet-man, I would say, the first line, “One night, fifty men swam away from God” – that’s the ball-game, and the rest of that prose hits it.

I knew then.. I knew that a philosopher could never tell people, “Hey, I’m a philosopher”. A philosopher has to be told he’s a philosopher. But a poet.. oh, believe (me), a poet has to know, poet has to know, Nobody’s gonna tell a poet he’s a poet. You know you’re poet. Let’s see, Gregorio.

What do I like here? …Yeah, simple youth, loving girls – “On the Walls of a Dull Furnished Room”, I hang old photos of my childhood girlfriends….”…” the weak mouth of Jane” – Yeah, that woke me up. In life, I didn’t know how to look at people. The “weak mouth of Jane” was the winner. Not the “golden hair of Susan” or the “proud eyes of Helen”

Here’s one, tagging heritage, I was in an Italian neighborhood and they hated me for this poem. It’s called “Italian Extravaganza”. “I mean, the fellow was laughing”, I wasn’t laughing. Hey, it was just a shot that happened. The title says it all – “Italian Extravaganza” – (“Mrs Lombardi’s month-old son is dead…”… “Wow! such a small coffin and ten black Cadillacs to haul it in”) -Yeah, it’s fine. I thought it was funny and…

Alright, “Birthplace Revisited”. I think people have this.. at least being born in the city, I would know that I would.. when they get old and look back to the place where they were born, that other people would be there. Most people, I guess, born here in Louisville you have the same home for generations. Anyway, take a city guy that was born in New York City. -“Birthplace Revisited” (“I stand in a dark light in a dark street…”..”I pump him full of lost watches”) – That’s when I graduated in poetry. That’s when I knew, “Well, this is through Surrealism“, but it said something, of killing someone with lost time – “pump(ing) him full of lost watches”, (those were heavy bullets!)

So the poem that follows this one was written the same day, shows you how I make a jump in time ellipsis“The Last Gangster” (“Waiting by the window, my feet…”… “guns rusting in their arthritic hands”) – That’s power I used there. I had those rub-out artists gonna kill me, age, right before my eyes, and they got palsied arthritic hands, – their guns are rusting, So I jump time there, it’s an ellipsis of time.

Hey, it’s good that I do what I’m doing . Don’t explain the explanations, but nonetheless what I’m doing here is probably giving you something about how I write and looking at it in this day and age, many years later, tell you about it

Here’s a poem I knew I would be in life to have to pay – hubris – I’d have to pay for this one – “I am 25” – (” I am 25…”…..”I HATE OLD POETMEN!”…”rip out their apology-tongues/ and steal their poems’) – The only thing that saved me on this is the last line “and steal their poems” so, I’m not such a hurtful person, I put myself as bad – Aw, jeez at 25, I write that shit – Alright… I must have been so goof to write something that i thought was being real heavyweight, you know. Okay, I think now it was unkind, very unkind. Ok..let me see..

Yeah, here’ s where I think I looked at life ok. It’s called “Three” — “The streetsinger is sick/, crouched in the doorway, holding his heart”….”Outside the wall/ the aged gardener.. “Death weeps because Death is human/ spending all day in a movie when a child dies”)

Here’s where I got in trouble. I was always getting in trouble – “The Mad Yak” – Yes, this poem..Buddhism was just happening in America. Gary Snyder (came around the Buddhists), right? – And I found the flaw and I exercise it. Here’s the flaw – “The Mad Yak” – it’s the animal talking – it’s the only animal in Tibet that they have – (“I am watching them churn… “…”how many shoelaces will they make of that?”) – I was still not wise enough to know that the yak was used for everything and benefited these human beings that lived in a high terrain called Tibet.

Ah, here’s one when I start getting spooky in life – It’s a dream, and it’s called “Last Night I Drove A Car” – ( ‘Last night I drove a car, not knowing how to drive, not owning a car…” “….excited about my new life’) – Yeah that’s a good one, that wins at the last line again, though. The last line, yeah..let me see, Gregory…. As I get in my years, there’s not many of these poems that I like to read. I did like it then. I don’t know. What happened to me now?

Gregory Corso (1930-2001)

Oh, why don’t I read a poem to you that I used to read with Mr Allen Ginsberg, early in the ball game, in the ‘Fifties, when we finally got known, and me, I was reading all the the world, I would say. And he would read his “Howl” poem (which is heavyweight) and I would read my “Marriage” poem (which was something that.. yeah, so why don’t I… let’s see if I can recreate it. This thing was written in, let’s see, 1957 – and I’m sixty-three, so how many years ago is that? – (oh, come on Gregory, get a grip.. what’s wrong with me? – sixty-three, wait, fifty-seven! – you fuckers are as slow as I am! – I’ll get it! – wait, fifty-seven, sixty-three) – twenty-six years!

Audience: Thirty-three!

GC: Thirty-three! , oh my god, that’s a long time.Okay, lets see how it happens. I wasn’t married yet so lets see how it happens – [Gregory begins reading Marriage in its entirety] -(“Should I get married, should I be good…” ….”…bereft of 2000 years in the bath of life”) – Did you see how I broke the pattern at the end? I saw bullshit at the end

Le me go on with this how I caught it. My whole tone broke when I said “If all the universe.. everybody else..married, (all the universe but me – ugh! – how sad I am?”) – I just realized now that that wasn’t it, that’s not it. For the sake of poetry I would write – “Ah yet would I know that were a woman possible as I am possible then.marriage is possible” – (that’s bullshit! – the best I could do, romantic). You know who “she”, who “she” was? Anybody here know who “she”? It’s capitals S-H-E H.Rider Haggard wrote a book called She. at the time that Burroughs (not William, the other one, Edgar Rice (Burroughs) wrote Tarzan and. “She” lived forever and was always waiting for her Egyptian lover to come back….. . So I did.. After I wrote this poem, (see, I wrote this in 1957-58), I got married twice, in 1963 and… god, Gregory! – 1960… no, 1971 – yeah, yeah, and it was.. and oh, the people were beautiful, the ones that I married, beautiful… I had four children by four different people, ok? dig the game. Now, I don’t think I could ever have two children by one woman because that means I ‘d have to work, I’d have to take care of myself, and I can’t. (I’m a) total fuck-up, a poet-man. So these women wanted the children. This blessing, they asked for it. It was no accident (and I see the kids, and all that, it’s fine). But no two kids by one woman. One child by one woman. Of course the last woman wanted two from me to be different to the others. I said, “No way, oh, no, no, no, no”.

So I have four beautiful kids, the oldest is..what?..twenty-one? – and she made me a grandfather, yeah – the next one, she’s a girl (Cybelle), the next one, so the next one is my son Max he’s seventeen – then.. god, Gregory, get your kids! Well, Nile is the earliest, he’s only nine years old – there’s Nile? – oh no, the oldest.. Miranda, that’s how I blew it! My first-born, Miranda, she’s twenty-seven, that’s a woman, she’s grown up – Okay

Oh god – Life’s… Why do I even talk about these.My life is on the line if I write poetry and I talk real, so I feel I have to do this shit, I have to do. It’s said in the poetry, right? Oh, ok, lets see, Gregory.

Here’s a poem some people like. I don’t want to read anything deep here. I just don’t feel it. I feel very nice and light and happy. but I want to be smart with you people. I want to really give you something. I really do. I don’t want to be a bore, but, to me, reading from a book (Gregory displays his book) is a bore (because I don’t feel the same as I did when I wrote this shit). That’s why I don’t understand people who sing songs, how they can do it? What good the singer who sings and doesn’t sing his own song?. I asked someone tonight did Elvis Presley ever sing his own song? For that man… In fact, (Frank) Sinatra – “Do they ever write their own song? They never did, they interpreted others, and they thought “Yeah, my feeling goes that way” – huh? And the reason why they’re so big and great is all you people. What I’m reading here, if you can get some connection with, that means that what Elvis did, and what Frank Sinatra did. – they’re connecting with you, they’re interpreting, they didn’t have to write the songs. I’m the man who wrote this shit and it’s heavy to do it. I’d rather have others interpret it to you than me. When I was young, writing poetry, I never thought I would get up on the stage, giving poetry out to people. Why I love Shelley and all that is that they wrote poetry and you read it after they are dead and gone. It’s not to get up, like some drunk asshole, before you, and blow the beauty of it? – no way, it’s sad. And why am I doing this? Not solely for the money? – my god! – I don’t get up there to do this game. So why does Ginsberg do it? They don’t need the money. They do it because they think they’ve got something to say. I’ve got nothing to say, I’ve already said it. I don’t know why I’m here. I mean it, I’m trying my best. Am I doing ok?

Audience: Yeah!

Corso reading transcript continues here

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