[sixties-l] Gregory Corso, a Candid-Voiced Beat Poet, Dies at 70

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Jan 22 2001 - 17:06:02 EST

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    Gregory Corso, a Candid-Voiced Beat Poet, Dies at 70


    January 19, 2001


       Gregory Corso, a poet and leading member of the Beat literary
    movement that shook American social and political life in the late
    1950's and 60's, died on Wednesday in Robbinsdale, Minn., where he
    lived with his daughter Sheri Langerman. He was 70.

      The cause was prostate cancer, Ms. Langerman said.

      To the literary world, Mr. Corso was considered less political than
    Allen Ginsberg, less charismatic than Jack Kerouac, but more shocking,
    at times, than either of them. In his book, "The Beat Generation"
    (Scribner, 1971), Bruce Cook calls Mr. Corso "the most avid
    nose-thumber of them all," a man regarded as a nemesis by those who
    detested his "hip, easy, wiseguy manner and direct artless diction."

      A put-on specialist at poetry readings, Mr. Corso would delight
    his fans and inflame his critics by muttering into a microphone
    disconnected thoughts like "fried shoes," "all life is a Rotary
    Club" and "I write for the eye of God."

      But he could also be a serious social critic, re-examining an
    institution like marriage, said Ann Douglas, a professor of
    American studies at Columbia University. The lines of his poem
    "Marriage," for example, are wry and optimistic. The poet begins by
    asking playfully, "Should I get married? Should I be good?" and
    concludes constructively: "Ah, yet well I know that were a woman
    possible as I am possible then marriage would be possible."

      Mr. Corso's early work helped pave the way for the feminists of a
    later generation, Professor Douglas said. "Women looked at Corso
    and the other Beats," she said, "and asked, `If these men can free
    themselves from constricted gender roles -- getting married, working
    for a corporation and so on -- why can't we?' "

      Mr. Corso's finest poem, most critics agree, is "Elegiac Feelings
    American," which is an elegy for his friend Kerouac and for dead
    notions of America and a new hope:

      O and yet when it's asked of you `What happened to him?'

      I say,
      "What happened to America has happened

      to him the two were inseparable" Like the wind

      to the sky is
      the voice to the word. . . .

      Like other Beat poets, Mr. Corso's work was less elegantly
    stylized than that of his predecessors, and closer to ordinary
    feelings. It was personal and candid in the expression of intimate
    feelings -- sexual desire, despair and things that would not have
    surfaced in an earlier time.

      While Ginsberg and Kerouac came from upper-middle-class backgrounds
    and got to know each other through Columbia University, Mr. Corso's
    upbringing was troubled.

      Gregory Nunzio Corso was born on March 26, 1930, in New York, the
    son of teenage parents who parted when he was a year old. He bounced in
    and out of foster homes and jails and never made it to high school. At
    12 he was caught selling stolen merchandise and sent to prison for
    several months while awaiting trial.

      His fellow inmates were "terribly abusive," he wrote years later
    in an autobiographical sketch. When acquitted, he spent three
    months under observation in Bellevue Hospital.

      When Mr. Corso was 16 he returned to jail to serve a three-year
    sentence for theft. It was then that he read the classics
    Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Shelley and Christopher Marlowe among others
    but also became, as he expressed it, "educated in the ways of men
    at their worst and at their best."

      He once told an interviewer for Contemporary Authors: "Sometimes
    hell is a good place -- if it proves to one that because it exists,
    so must its opposite, heaven, exist. And what was heaven? Poetry."

      Mr. Corso was released from prison in 1950. Soon after, at a bar
    in Greenwich Village, he encountered Ginsberg. Mr. Corso was then
    writing fairly conventional verse, and it was Ginsberg who introduced
    him to long Whitmanesque lines and surreal word combinations.

      At this time in his life, Mr. Corso was traveling the country,
    working as a laborer, as a reporter for The Los Angeles Examiner
    and as a merchant seaman.

      In 1954 he settled briefly in Cambridge, Mass., where he virtually
    took up residence at the Harvard University library, poring over
    the great works of poetry. His first published poems appeared in
    the Harvard Advocate, and his play, "In This Hung-Up Age," a macabre
    drama about how a group of tourists are trampled to death by a herd of
    buffalo, was performed the next year by Harvard students.

      His later poetry exhibited an eclectic vocabulary. Referring to
    his study of the dictionary, Mr. Corso told the critic Michael
    Andre that he "got that whole book in me, all the obsolete and
    archaic words. And through that I knew that I was in love with
    language and vocabulary, because the words and the way they looked
    to me, the way they sounded, and what they meant, how they were
    defined and all that, I tried to revive them, and I did."

      Mr. Corso moved to San Francisco in 1956, too late to attend
    Ginsberg's famous reading of "Howl" but in time to be recognized as
    a major Beat poet. In an introduction to Mr. Corso's early collection
    "Gasoline" (City Lights, 1958), Ginsberg called him "a
    great word-swinger, first naked sign of a poet, a scientific master
    of mad mouthfuls of language."

      Later, with Ginsberg, the two poets wrote a manifesto, "The
    Literary Revolution in America," in which they announced their
    convention-bashing "discontent, their demands, their hope, their final
    wondrous unimaginable dream."

      While Mr. Corso was never as politically involved as some of the
    other Beats, in 1965 he was dismissed from a teaching position at
    the State University of New York at Buffalo because he refused to
    sign an affidavit certifying that he was not a member of the
    Communist Party.

      In recent years, Mr. Corso continued to write, teach and lecture.
    He published 13 books of poetry, two books of plays and several

      Mr. Corso's first marriage, to Sally November, ended in divorce.

      In addition to Ms. Langerman of Minneapolis, he is survived by his
    second wife, Belle Carpenter of Santa Fe, N.M.; two other daughters,
    Miranda Schubert of Manhattan and Cybelle Carpenter of Minneapolis; two
    sons, Max Corso of Guam and Nile Corso of Hamden, Conn.; his mother,
    Margaret Davita of Trenton; a brother, Joe Corso of Long Island; seven
    grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

      Mr. Corso often played the wayward child among his friends. The
    novelist Herbert Gold recalled sitting with him and other Beat writers
    in a Paris cafe when Mr. Corso impulsively snatched the check,
    exclaiming, "I never paid a check before!" Ginsberg, Mr. Gold said,
    "took the check from him and gave it to me with a reproachful glance at
    Gregory. It was assumed that Gregory would never be able to pay a

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