Gregory Corso’s Birthday

Gregory Corso and his son Max Orfeo Corso, 1977. Washington Square, San Francisco. Photo by Raymond Foye

Gregory Corsos birthday today. We’re thrilled to announce from Lithic Press, the much-anticipated upcoming publication of his final (posthumous) collection, The Golden Dot

The editors note the continuing morphing of the title:  “For many years the working title of this book was The Golden Dot. In keeping with his ever-reductive impulses, Corso later shortened it to The Dot. A few years later it became simply Dot. Then in a final subversive stroke he titled it simply  .  – a point in space, the big bang, the black hole. And, as Corso sometimes explained, what you see when you take a line and turn it on its end.
It would be a title unique in literature and one that would be a permanent headache for publishers, librarians, writers, et cetera, (and so) with a certain regret we have returned to the poet’s original title, while feeling obligated (and not a little guilty) to share this background information.”

Patti Smith (who’s memory of Gregory can be read here) tells it like it is: “Place this book in your survival kit. Let Gregory, the youngest, most high-spirited of the Beat poets guide you through the hallowed days, as he did for my generation. He will steer you through the minefields of existence, poem by poem, drawn from his irreverent benevolent revolutionary heart”

Raymond Foye, along with George Scrivani, one of the book’s two co-editors, writes:

“Between 1980 and 2000 Corso wrote constantly, but he chose not to publish. His work was changing radically in both subject-matter and style, and from week to week he was uncertain of the shape or direction his writing was taking. He enjoyed following the muse wherever she led him, and he seemed to feel he had all the time in the world. In 1997, a diagnosis of terminal cancer and the death of his closest friend and staunchest supporter Allen Ginsberg, made it clear that he did not. He set aside everything that he had written up to that point, and began composing what amounted to his poetical last will and testament.

As a working manuscript, The Golden Dot has existed in many versions since the 1980’s, some of which have circulated in private hands. In these versions, Corso examined such disparate topics as the murder of John Lennon, the Branch-Davidian in Waco, Texas, and the racial injustice of the Port Chicago disaster of 1944. At times the manuscript contained extensive autobiographical writings, and Corso usually included as centerpiece his longest poem to date,  “The Day After Humankind”, an imaginative romp that takes place the day after the nuclear extinction of the human race. None of these poems, nor many other fine examples, appear in The Golden Dot. The poet himself turned away from this material as he narrowed his focus to his final subject – death itself, and the reckoning that comes with this ultimate and inevitable fact.

The Golden Dot is a book that (I believe) will revive Corso’s reputation in the minds of the reading public and will stand as the capstone to his career as one of America’s great lyric poets. Personal and direct, Corso deals with many painful subjects he had long shied away from – an orphan who had grown up in a series of cruel and neglectful foster homes, stints in prison while still a teenager (the Tombs, Dannemora Prison), his addiction to heroin, and pretty much all of the seven deadly sins – the worst in his view being pridefulness (hubris). It is also a book of gratitude for a long life full of gifts, loves, and friendships. These are poems no-one else could have written.”

Here’s a sample poem:

“It sneaks up on you…”

It sneaks up on you
Things are left uneaten
What falls is left where it fell
I wake up and that night sleep
in same unmade bed
Upon a quilt blanket of down
Another quilt of down covers a most comfortable night of sleep
The phone rings I answer it not
My doorbell rings…I return no answering ring
I force myself to carry down the garbage daily
a person of the street, an inmate amongst others
I enjoy living alone, a becoming recluse
I swore off the drink now that I’ve ceased reading aloud
poems to an audience of strangers…the pain to read what
no longer pains me…truly shy, I’d get drunk and feel
no pain; I am unable to read aloud what was written from
the soul’s very depth—– I learned to read the poems that caused laughter…
I prayed the day I’d be read as I read Keats, Clare, Vaughan
Now that I have given up reading in public
I delve into the depth of the soul and tear it apart
that I surgeon like cut out the horrid ill
brought down to us ancestrally
by the expelled one, he rightfully is by form and name
the Great Con—eat, he told them, and you’ll know
all your Master knows—In truth they found what the snake
knew, which was slight—Confounded Faith with Intelligence
They, like the snake, were expelled
Old friend, regard my hands
they seem Egyptian; mummified—
I am too tired to connect with my children;
about a year ago I had energy enough
It came asudden; like when overnight my hair turned white
Today at age 66 I wonder if I’ll see my 70th year
A mere 4 years…and I have my doubts!
A decade earlier age 56 I was facing year 2000, 14 years hence
I could outlive a cat in that amount of years; they’d 8 extra
But 4 years, you ain’t gonna outlive no cat—
My oldest friend, poetry, and a close second old friend,
the poet Allen, has passed the 4, he being 4 years older than
me—Chemicals; Kerouac and I agreed dexies kept us awake;
but prose is remembrance and lots of detail;
when i wrote nigh ten years of notebooks, scraps of paper
speed had me complete the work of 10 years in a month or less
—I paid big. Speed had me crash hard; the only panacea
was heroin. The poems were long since done—typing was the final
draft—I’d augment; I’d delete.

Five more poems from The Golden Dot can be read here in The Brooklyn Rail 

We’re thrilled that The Golden Dot is finally making it out into the world.

“Go, little book”

& Happy Birthday, Gregory!


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