Twenty-one-years on from his passing, we remember Beat legend, Gregory Corso.
A guest-posting today from Kurt Hemmer – a draft of an excerpt from his forthcoming biography, A Revolutionary of the Spirit – A Gregory Corso Biography
– fittingly, in this year of the Centennial of Jack Kerouac“ – “Gregory Corso Reading With Jack Kerouac at Wesleyan”:
“Though still not comfortable at his own readings, Gregory Corso read with Jack Kerouac at Wesleyan University’s John Wesley Club on May 16, 1959, and, to everyone’s surprise, even got along with the academic poet, Richard Wilbur, whom Corso had met during his tarry at Harvard. After the event, Corso wrote to Allen Ginsberg, “Also went with Jack to Wesleyan to read and great great (sic). Had a nice talk with Wilbur, very sweet guy.”
Richard Ahles of the Hartford Courant wrote about the event for the May 17, 1959 edition in an article called “Far Out Poet Wriggles Toes, Totes ‘Bomb’, ‘Hair’, Kerouac.” Ahles quoted Corso as telling the audience that he planned to go to Crete to “pull in long nets from the sea, marry a Greek girl, have little Greek babies, and start my own Olympus.” According to the article, “Corso finished school in the sixth grade and “learned to write poetry in my mother’s kitchen and under her sink.” Asked about Time magazine, Corso respond, “It has some beautiful writing and when a magazine like Time has a headline that says “Fried Shoes”, like it did in the story about me, it’s good for the world. Sometimes journalists get us mixed up with switchblades, razors and like that and that’s when I get mad. I’m not Beat; I’m not a Beatnick (sic); I’m Gregory and I’m happy.”
Corso continued, “Like when on poet said he was crazy as a daisy and crazy as a fire hydrant, I said I was Gregory and I wasn’t crazy at all, That was pretty funny because I really was crazy.” According Ahles, when asked if he wanted more people to be beat, Corso replied, “Of course not, then we wouldn’t have any barbers. And you remember when Henry James died and his last words were, “now for the distinguished visitor,” which he thought was death. it wasn’t death; it was Woody Woodpecker.” And with that thought, the second string poet laureate of the Beat Generation,” wrote Ahles, shrieked a passable imitation of Woody Woodpecker, signaling the end of the interview.”
The same issue of the Hartford Courant ran a photo by George Embrey of Kerouac in shades sitting on a couch with a shoeless Corso.
On May 19, Kerouac wrote to Ginsberg, “on whim went to accompany Gregory and had big fantastic time almost endless to describe…. The reading: G’s “Bomb” reading made me weep (quietly), I read Doc Benway to roars of laughter, read like Bill (Burroughs) does. Also read last 2 pages of (The Dharma Bums).” At the end of May, Corso wrote to Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, “Jack and me had ball at Wesleyan and all’s good”.
John Hazlehurst was a seventeen-year-old undergraduate who attended the reading at Wesleyan, He writes, “The coolest guy at school? that was Eliot Glassman, an upperclassman who actually knew Kerouac. Or maybe he didn’t. But in any case, he arranged for Kerouac and Gregory Corso to participate in some kind of dreary literary seminar.” Hazlehurst continues, “I went to the seminar, listened worshipfully to the great men, and somehow ended up hanging out with them for an after-party at Glassman’s place. I was sitting on the floor near Kerouac when he took a pouch from his jacket pocket and carefully rolled what I later realized was a gigantic spliff.” At the end of the night writes Hazlehurst, “Corso kissed me on the lips. Kerouac looked at me foggily and said, “Someday you’ll understand everything”.