“Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power” - Gregory Corso
Gregory Corso: A Traveler Who Trusted The Bend In The Road
March 26, 1930 – January 17, 2001
Friends, poets, and collaborators who traveled with Gregory Corso talk - and write poems - about their experiences, personality and his work. This is the second part of tribute, for the first part click here: Tribute to Gregory Corso
Image of Gregory Corso 2013 © by Alex M. Bustillo constructed specifically for this tribute
What did you learn about yourself from the friendship with Gregory?
One thing I learned from Gregory is not to hold grudges. One evening in Positano, Gregory and I had the mother of all fights, although I can’t remember what it was about. He pushed me on the shoulder about five or six times, and screamed at me, “You’re niente!” while a crowd gathered. Although I am almost never violent, I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I cocked my fist and said, “Gregory, if you touch me one more time, I’m going to lay you out!” I really meant it. And Gregory knew that I really meant it. So he backed away and said with a snarl, “Ah, Roberto, now I know you’re alive.” I was furious and was absolutely determined never to see or speak to him again. I took a walk near the sea in order to calm down. As I was returning to town, I passed below the restaurant, La Cambusa, the best restaurant in Positano, and looked up and saw Gregory with two pretty Swedish ladies.
Then I saw him put his penis on the table as he said to them, “Look at my cazzo. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s just right. Don’t you think?” Seeing Gregory with his dick on the table while talking to the ladies made much of my anger dissipate, and I really had to smile thinking that this is the last memory I would ever have of Gregory. About five minutes later, I heard a pounding on my hotel room door. I opened it up and there was Gregory, who pleaded, “Bobby, Bobby, I got these two chicks, man. I can’t hold ‘em myself! Come downstairs and help me!” And, of course, I went with him. And, of course, I loved Gregory then. I learned that he never held grudges and didn’t even remember that we had even fought.
Which memory from Gregory makes you smile?
Gregory always enjoyed pushing things and situations way beyond normal limits. Once, during a crowded bus ride in Positano, I watched as Gregory slid his hand into the pants of an attractive lady standing in front of him, who also happened to be the wife of the mayor of the town. She didn’t flinch, but waited until we got off of the bus, at which time she turned to him and said, “I don’t care, Gregory, if you put your finger in my culo. But if my husband finds out about this, he will kill you.”
Another time we were in the backseat of a taxi in London with a lovely woman sitting between us. Without so much as asking, “Do you mind?” Gregory put his hand under her skirt and pushed his finger into her pussy. She was so astonished that she didn’t know what to do; but she wasn’t pleased. Gregory could often astonish.
Gregory always had a desire to be buried in Rome? Was your initiative or had he asked you in person to be buried in Rome?
On my birthday on October 20, 1999, a bleak, sad and rainy day, I came to New York from California to help Roger Richards take Gregory to St. Vincent’s Hospital. I walked in the door of Roger and Irvyne’s apartment and saw Gregory on the couch in obvious distress. He said to me plaintively, “Bobby, Bobby, I love you, my Bobby. The machine has broken down and I’m in the maelstrom!” It was terrible to see him so ill. He couldn’t walk, and so I basically carried his dead weight down four flights of stairs. Roger Richards, bless him, that dearest of dear angels, tried to help, but Roger was probably about 130 pounds and not strong at all, so I had to move him alone down, and, later, back up the stairs. It was a chore and it was frightening. Once downstairs we got a taxi and drove to St. Vincent’s Hospital. I took Gregory into a series of examination rooms where I repeatedly had to unzip his zipper and pull down his pants and then pick up and zip up his pants again in order for him to be examined. Gregory was helpless. The doctors did all kinds of tests and found out later that he had advanced prostate cancer. After that he went progressively downhill. I later came to New York in July of 2000, at which time his daughter, Sherrie, a nurse, had come from Minnesota to take care of him. As I walked into the apartment, bringing caviar and other goodies that I knew that Gregory had always liked, I saw him lying on a mattress on the floor in the living room looking more dead than alive. He had the pallor of death. I thought to myself, “He’s not going to make it another week.” But then, miraculously, through the ministrations of Sherrie made with such love and care, Gregory miraculously came back to life! He lived another six months. Gregory was so sweet during this time. It almost didn’t seem that this could be the same Gregory! He had had a reprieve from death, and was so gentle and kind. He had a chance to say goodbye to his family, friends, and the people he loved.
After having spent time with Gregory in Rome and Positano, and after seeing how much he was loved and respected in Italy, I had the idea of Gregory having his ashes buried in Rome. I got word to him to see if he was interested. The answer was yes. Gregory wanted to be buried in Rome or Venice. I have an amazing friend in Rome, Hannelore Delellis, who gave me gracious hospitality at her palazzo on the outskirts of Rome during my many visits to that great city. Hannelore Delellis is a woman of stout resolve. I called her in Rome and asked if she could help get Gregory buried in Rome at the Protestant Cemetery. The Protestant Cemetery is a famous cemetery where Keats and Shelley and many other notables are buried. There are also a multitude of fat happy cats running around the cemetery, which only adds to its beauty and charm. Hannelore told me that she would speak to the cemetery management and see if it could be done. We spoke later that week and she told me that she couldn’t arrange the burial. They wouldn’t let Gregory in. After listening to the bad news, I said with some urgency, “It really is so very important to have Gregory buried in the same cemetery as his beloved Shelley. Can you try again?” Hannelore then responded emphatically: “It can be done! It must be done! It will be done!” Through Hannelore’s great resolve, not only did Gregory’s ashes get buried in that cemetery, but also, somehow, she arranged for his ashes to be buried at the actual foot of Shelley’s grave!
After Gregory died, I enlisted the aid of George Scrivani to help me choose one of Gregory’s poems for the inscription on his gravestone. Even though Gregory had often said that when he died he wanted the inscription, “Oops. I died,” we decided on the poem “Spirit.”
“Spirit . . .
it flows through the death of me, endlessly,
like a river unafraid of becoming the sea.”
My girlfriend, Naomi, who also did all the transcription for my legal work, had neglected to put the second “i” in the word spirit, which error I hadn’t caught when I sent it to Hannelore. So on Gregory’s tombstone there is the word “spirt” instead of “spirit.” I didn’t think that Gregory would have minded. I was able to have an apostrophe added after the “r,” so the word is now written as “spir’t” on his gravestone. And so it remains.
I was in charge of raising the dough to have Gregory buried. I had to track down and badger many people to try and raise the money. Raising money is a horrible, despicable, thankless job, and I never want to do it again. But it had to be done, and many people helped. Patti Smith did a benefit at St. Mark’s Church and raised $3,600. After all of the contributions were in, we were still lacking about $1600, so I paid it.
Gregory Corso believed in angels, the way I do.
Remembering Gregory / LES / March 11, 2001
“Ah, if I were dictator I'd have poets throwing bombs!” - Gregory Corso
I was in New York 24 hours and I'd still not slept.
I'd met Regina Weinreich the year before at a London showing of her exquisite movie, Paul Bowles; The Complete Outsider. I was wearing a Herbert Huncke t-shirt so she walked up to me, chirping approvingly: “Ah, Herbert Huncke!” We chatted; Regina had verve and panache.
She gave me her details but later I lost them, so when I got to the Chelsea Hotel I wanted to track her down. This was the early days of search engines so I just found some disparate stuff on the web, and nothing so convenient as an email address or a phone number.
However there were various vague mentions of a tribute to Gregory Corso due to take place a few day's later which Regina was slated to attend. I had nothing better t o do on the night in question, and I approved of Corso, so I decided to go; it would be fun to see Regina again. I couldn't make out from the confused information I had on this Corso event whether it was going to be five old guys in the back room of a bar somewhere or whether it would be something else.
It was something else.
The venue was the Angel Orensanz Centre on Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side. I wondered if Ira Cohen was going to be there. I had Ira's home phone number and planned on catching up with him. I couldn't imagine an NYC poetry event happening without Ira unless he was away on his travels.
The Orensanz Foundation was housed in an old German synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue in New York, a Gothic revival masterpiece built to hold 1500 worshippers. Almost derelict when the Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz bought it and rejuvenated it, it's now one of the most uplifting places in the city.
The body of the synagogue, now the performance area, was filling up bit by bit. This was clearly not going to be five guys in the back of a pub. Gangs of exotic middle aged women in all manner of furs and leathers demonstrated the prosperity of Manhattan. And the beauty of the women who were attracted to Corso. Panthers.
The seating filled up with the older attendees. Bunches of juicy arts students and band members, mostly sitting crosslegged on the ground, spoke to the popular appeal of the Beat fantasy. A good selection of Japanese women – up for anything male and hairy and dressed in denim. Many older poetry scene kind of celebrities and a smattering of Beat or street characters. I could see Ira holding court over near the lectern. I decided to go seek him out after the performances. There was no sign of Regina Weinrich but it was hard to tell; there were lots of glamorous women whirling around excitedly.
One of the reasons I liked Gregory Corso was because he was a lady's man in a Beat world full of queers . The other reason I liked him was because of the rough and brutal beauty of his poems. Most so-called “Beat Poets” were very bad writers. Corso was in the same league as a Yeats or a Shelley. He took some time with his writing and put correct thought andd emotion into it.
Amongst the readers and performers worth noting were Laki Vazakas, the great poet Marty Matz, Penny Arcade, Hal Wilner, Debbie Harry, Ira, Taylor Mead, Patti Smith with Oliver Ray, Raymond Foye of Hanuman Books fame, and Andy Clausen. Many of the participants were grieving for their recently dead friend, and I heard intimate details of his last days dying from cancer. This brought him home to me.
Afterwards Ira introduced me to Patti Smith and Marty Matz. When Patti Smith departed Matz said, “Gregory used to comb his hair when he knew Patti Smith was coming to call. He certainly brushed his hair when Debbie Harry was expected.”
NEWS OF CORSO'S DEATH
lama's consort tells
class high in
Santa Cruz mountains
- I let Diane di Prima poet
know, also here:
years of Manhattan streets
- find Peter Marti poet
who let him stay
shoot up in Peter's bathroom
steal pills & cash
the "ragman" who
- myself - memories
of the New York Italy
voice'd genius derelict
so often from
ashes of junk & wine
- o! his language
"forked clarinets" -
© by Marc Olmsted
Gregory shared the same birthday as Harold Chapmam. Chapman first took me along to the Beat Hotel. And the rest follows ...
All these impressions of Gregory makes me wonder if our time will be thought of as the Beat Apostolic Age. The Daddies (Kerouac/Ginsberg/Burroughs/Corso) - each believed in the written word - as the gnosis. For me - this accounts for their lasting influence.
Corso was contained like the marble pieces in a Roman table. I think him more like Coleridge than Shelley. Both seemed to have kept that sacred pact made while young - "to be wantoning in wild poesy - the whole life long." This quotation by Coleridge is somewhere in his voluminous writings.
Interesting to read Ginsberg once said he thought he enjoyed Gregory's poetry more than his own. Gregory achieved the near-impossible (as I finish-off these tributes) - to remain a lyric poet - a lifetime.
I have profound appreciation of his work in poetry.
I know Gregory would be pleased that these recordings (Paris Records) were played in a country (Greece) that he loved.
I remember Gregory getting up off his deathbed to record for us one last time--and seeing his saintly daughter cry when we drove away.
FOR GREGORY CORSO
We all have a little
Of the gangster inside us
Al Capone or Lucky Luciano
Or Bugsy Malone
We all dream the dream
Of Diamond Jim
Only to wake up in the morning
A sweating numbers man
In a dead-end alley
In Chicago or New York or Sicily
Until the nights pile up like litter
Waiting on the Mafia man
To collect his dues
And there is always a torpedo
From Cleveland or the Bronx
Waiting by the window
With a machinegun or a “45”
And if the government and taxes
Don’t do you in
And you somehow manage to escape
The long line of endless dull jobs
That stretch out like endless coffins
Floating in the sea
You can count yourself lucky
Ignore the mad sirens
Wailing in the distant night
The black-gloved messenger of fear
That caresses the lining of your soul
The oxygen that begs deliverance
The cough that weakens the lungs
The chill that blankets the bones
The heartbeat moving from piano keys
Like Bob Kaufman said
“There ain’t no piano for
There ain’t no telephone for
There ain’t no jazz on
Just the dark waters
Running along the shore
© by A.D. Winans
STANDING WITH GREGORY CORSO
OUTSIDE THE POETRY FOUNDATION
There is a shuffle in the icy sky,
a brisk sharp wind coming off the lake.
Birds in chipped grey paint whip it up
with migratory wings and speed past
like frenzied brushes
on a black and white canvas
straight out of a John Ford film.
Corso lights another Pall Mall
and blows smoke in his own face
because, as he explains to me,
hopping in place
to keep from freezing to death,
he always does his best thinking
inside a swirling blue tobacco haze.
It’s business as usual, he says.
Like some Medea in the nameless night
sleeping in the veins that bleeds our words
until all meaning is pale and still.
Get lost in it.
The technology demands
that you stare into your hand.
I don’t know what he’s talking about.
I blow on my fingers to keep them
from breaking off and remind him
that he doesn't belong here now.
Perhaps he never did.
Besides, I point out,
what does any of this have to do with us?
Corso laughs like Jake LaMotta
about to punch his fist through a wall.
Then he stops.
I watch his crazy eyes trace the path
of escaping birds above our heads,
noticing, waiting for something,
hoping for anything to just happen.
I may be dead, he finally says,
but that’s beside the point, isn’t it?
I can’t feel my toes and I’m talking to a ghost.
I don’t know, I tell him. Is it?
© 2013 by Paul Fericano
Corso is an enduring favorite of mine. I have a lot of memories of Corso, which crystallized into two poems. I'm glad you're doing a tribute. Keeping Corso's name and work in circulation is doing the Lord's work!
TWO SONGS WITH INTERVAL
I was just walking down the street
and there stood Gregory Corso,
looking just like Gregory Corso—
to a T the spitting image
(He was, in fact, spitting.)
I congratulated myself on such fine luck
my very first day in San Francisco,
and pushed on.
© 1981 by klipschutz
North Beach Crier
Hear ye! Hear ye! Let it be made known—
Gregory Corso is paying child support!
In his 67th year, as per all reports,
in Connecticut swinging on a swing,
Demon Conscience has possessed him
to Do That Thing
by the five sainted mothers of his five offspring.
The poems have stopped, his teeth are gone,
and every time I floss a Beat Revival’s coming on.
(Machine-cut royalty checks keep arriving.
He signs them over and kicks and swings higher.
Second childhood? He never had another.)
Hear ye! Hear ye! Let it be made known—
Gregory Corso is paying child support!
© 1997 by klipschutz
Here's two poems of mine, I'll change some to mention Corso.
Knucklehead Jones said it meant fucking
squealing like a bullfrog getting its legs fried
grasshopper love in a pile of yellow snow
grandpa shitting his pants after he smoked cherry marijuana
looking like velvet bazookas & hand grenades
tattoos, Willy Peter, 9 yard machineguns, & alligator shoes
fool’s gold douche bag nirvana & Ezra Pound
16 penny nails , mackerel shark & PTSD, thwart scorn
bitchslapped blue balls, being sorry with no sorrow
People think money sets them free,
really greed makes them a prisoner,
ask Greg Corso’s spirit.
© by Catfish McDaris
Thoughts For The Prince
Known as the fourth musketeer of
the Beatnik Kings, D’Artagnan to
Ginsberg, Kerouac, & Burroughs
Did a deuce for stealing a dress, put
in Clinton, the poets prison of Dannemora
self taught word man, one of the best, saw
Ginsberg at the Pony Stable headed west
Met the West Coast Beats & saw Henry
Miller, read in the nude in Los Angeles
blowing away avant-garde minds
Just a Minnesota lad like Dylan & Prince
wrote “Gasoline” “The Happy Birthday
of Death” later taught poetry in Greece
Married Sally November & twice more,
finally substance abuse beat him down
Mr. Corso was free like the wind, love
hate happiness nothing else to live for.
© by Catfish McDaris
In the few times that I met him in July of 1994, I observed Gregory Corso as having a larger than life persona.
I recall Gregory nodding off during a panel discussion at Boulder High School, being welcoming and kind to his admirers afterwards, giving autographs and enjoying the attention.
Gregory exhaled through his nose,
a cloud rose into the Colorado blue
above a Buddhist cocktail party.
Drink in hand, a matron approached.
“People will give you whatever
you want, you just have to know
how to ask. Watch this.”
He spilled a large amount
of burgundy on his white pants
while dramatically exclaiming
in that ridiculous voice,
“Oh gees, look at that! That’ll
never come out!” He rubbed it in,
just to make sure. The woman
gasped, fought back a gag and
teetered before us as if
he’d slapped her face.
Gregory grinned up at her,
“Say, could ya give me twenty bucks?”
She nodded, fished a picture
of Jackson from her purse
and handed it over.
6 March 2004
© by Sargent
I remember conducting an interview with Allen Ginsberg, a portion later used in my liner notes to "Kaddish" CD as well as the full Q & A in my first book. Here was AG solo in the Rhino Records conference room in Westwood, California. And the thought flashed on me that so often I would see photos of the Beat writers and poets with their friends and fellow writers. They often presented their work collectively.
Then, just as the tape started to roll, Gregory Corso walked in the room and sat for the entire interview. We had a quick hello, as he and Allen, Corso called him Ginzy, were then off to a local radio interview in the neighborhood to promote the Ginsberg box set.
I thought Gregory lived in San Francisco or New York. The inclusion and touting of Corso also underscored the team player aspect of Allen as he often promoted and encouraged friends into the media as well as his stellar promotional and documentation acumen.
I met Gregory Corso in Milwaukee one autumn night in 1980 give or take a square digit and that’s as close as I can get due to being under the influence of one thing or another for a number of years. More like decades if anyone bothered to count. I didn’t.
Back then you could still find jazz up or down the street or around the corner without looking too hard. The Eighth Note, Sweetwater, The Estate: those were the days.
And not to mention the bars: Century Hall before it burned in a that spectacular midnight fire, Hooligan’s in its great heyday, and the infamous Lie to Me Lounge, God love it and rest in peace and shade.
And always Ron Cuzner and his Dark Side on WFMR,
Look it up.
So it had to have been, in an equal might have been way, the Gallery up on Center where Corso was reading that night. My great pal Danny Harmon could remember the better half of the facts or at least build a convincing story from the leftovers if he hadn’t crossed the river a couple years back. There’s a reason why we called him Radio Free Danny but whatever the frequency he’s broadcasting from these days isn’t on the regular dials, God love him and rest in peace and shade.
Danny was there for sure, he and I both great traders of lines, literary and Bolivian and otherwise, and big drinkers, bourbon for me and gin for him, and maybe we each had a girl on the arm give or take but one guess is good as another.
Corso, though, in Milwaukee: that was good enough for rapture and Danny and I went, hell or high water would not have stopped us.
The reading was a joy to the heart and a blur. Whatever poems Corso read or didn’t read I don’t know. I can remember he sat on a barstool under blue light during his hour on stage, drinking responsibly before we had a clue such a thing existed—and never in Milwaukee!—and the big breweries bought the copyrights to the phrase anyway.
Except for a couple things. First, The Last Gangster from Gasoline Alley:
Waiting by the window
my feet unwrapped with the dead bootleggers of Chicago
I am the last gangster, safe, at last,
waiting by a bullet-proof window.
I look down the street and know
the two torpedoes from St. Louis.
I’ve watched them grow old
…guns rusting in their arthritic hands.
Look it up.
And then, after the reading in the john, Marlboros in shirt pocket, unzipped and pissing when Corso himself for Christ sake saunters up and plants himself in the urinal next.
“Love your stuff,” I turn and tell him.
“Love your town,” he says. “Bum a smoke?”
And zipping up and after washing hands and shaking a stick out of the pack and sharing that flame with him, then some chit and chat about this and that, and back to the table and telling Danny:
“I just met Corso in the john. Great guy. We pissed and smoked. Dig that.”
My story, and I’m sticking to it.
Corso. A great guy. Rest in peace and shade.
At the late-spring 1995 protests of the academically tinged Beatnik Conference at NYU & Town Hall where people paid $140 to hear scholars gush over the very Kerouac they would have sneered at had culture not so surpassed them that they, in an effort to recoup their credibilities, embraced this most anti-academic of writers. Daughter Jan Kerouac had not been invited to speak [because she is not an academic!] & she joined the Unbearables who were outside protesting the commodification of Kerouac & the Beats. We were later also joined on the picket line by one Gregory Corso. He had had enough & declared the conference shit – with a smirk – & joined the Unbearables in chanting slogans like “DON’T BUY THE BEATS,” chanting every bit as loud as any of us. This was fully covered by the New York Times in its snarky neutral tone of distantiation. The Beatnik conference protest came hot on the heels of earlier protests at that fortress of official vainglorious culture, the New Yorker, where we were demonstrating against its “swimming pool” poetry & advocating the inclusion of more relevant poets with chants like “FREE VERSE!”
Tell me a few things about your first meet with Gregory Corso, are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?
I met Corso for the first time in Colorado in 1981 and he was very impressed to learn that I was his translator; he almost immediately wanted to try my ring on which I naively handed to him, but then he said "now you see it, now you don't see it- it's a very nice ring, now it's mine!". It took Allen 3 weeks to get it back to me. However, he showed to be one of the nicest, most generous people I had met when the police arrested me for smoking a joint in the street (also in Colorado) and I had an audience 6 months later. As I moved to NY and could not fly to Colorado to show up in court, I had not any money, I ran into Corso at Allen's and when he had heard my story he pulled out 400 dollars out of his sock and said "Take it, kiddo, for the plane ticket, you need to show up before a judge, you don't need a bad record in the US."
There is a very dear one: I met Corso (perhaps for the last time in my life) in 1986 in New York with my father at Astor place where people were peddling goods and selling second-hand objects. Corso said "see, it's a shame you, the worthwhile guys from the East, are just trying to buy some technical gadgets, while we, the Americans, are trying to get rid of them"...He sounded so real, so profound, so true...
How important was the music in Corso's life and why Gregory Corso is connected to underground culture?
I think that the questions are superfluous, as Corso, like all "the Beat cats" had profound and close ties to jazz and all the music of his era, and why he was connected to underground culture, or any culture at all, is like trying to find out why any people like culture and some are not inclined to it altogether! why do some people become artists and some do not? who knows, this world is so beautiful because we are all so different!!
I remember hearing that Allen Ginsberg at a Beat Poetry Reunion in New York, took care of Corso even when Corso was stark raving mad and doing all kinds of crazy things.
Allen Ginsberg, William Burrough and Gregory Corso at Beat Poetry Reunion, New York
John Penley Photographs Collection. Courtesy of Tamiment Library, New York University. Photograph © by John Penley
I met Corso probably hundreds of times at Naropa Institute. He lived across from me in a townhouse complex in Boulder, Colorado. I saw him every day for two whole summers. Much of this ended up in my book on him in the early chapters. Every once in a while Corso was sober. He read my poems and told me which ones were best. He was unerringly correct. Corso had taste. If you saw him early enough in the morning he would make sense and he was spot on genius. By late afternoon he was a lunatic. By evening he was a full-on cyclone. He had hundreds of girlfriends. Most said he did things like ask them to jump on a bed with him then he would fall asleep and snore. He was fifty years old at the time.
Do you know why the blues / jazz are connected to Corso and what characterizes the sound of Corso’s poems?
Corso loved jazz music. He grew up in a milieu where a parallel search for individual freedom was going on in the jazz world. I never knew that world and don’t like the poems where he references jazz. I grew up in a small town where important musicians had never lived (it’s in the Pocono Mountains about two hours’ drive from New York City). Corso knew jazz musicians and loved them. I never knew them, and although I listened to all the important rock and blues people, I hate jazz. It has its own lingo but it seems forced. There is however in Corso a search for authenticity. To me jazz is a kind of forced spontaneity. I would rather find a fixed form. This is certainly found in the blues, but is also found in classical music, all of which are referenced in Corso’s poems. What can’t be found in Corso’s poems is love toward rock music. Corso looked down on rock musicians. He explicitly denounced Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan for being false poets. He didn’t accept that them and was furious that they had eclipsed poetry. He hated Donovan. Ginsberg accepted Dylan, and Morrison, and rock singers as poets. Corso rejected them. Corso increasingly came to hate music. At one point Corso smashed all of Allen Ginsberg’s jazz records from the fifties. He told Allen that jazz music was a prison for him, and he needed to liberate Allen. This was in 1977 at Naropa Institute. I don’t think Allen felt liberated, but corso really did feel he had helped Allen.
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