Gregory Corso passed away on January 19, 2001 at the age of 70, after a long illness. Corso was one of the major figures of the Beat Generation. He was a poet, painter, traveler, and occasional lecturer. His vibrant, vital, authentic poetry celebrates the mystery of life and death through everyday detail and mystic visions.
Though he never gained the truly widespread fame that his fellow Beats Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs enjoyed, his work had an impact on contemporary poetics that continues to this day.
His poetry has earned praise from many. Jack Kerouac is quoted as saying (on the back cover of Corso’s “Gasoline”) “I think that Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg are the two best poets in America and that they can’t be compared to each other.
Gregory was a tough young kid from the Lower East Side who rose like an angel over the rooftops and sang Italian songs as sweet as Caruso and Sinatra, but in words. ‘Sweet Milanese hills’ brood in his Renaissance soul, evening is coming on the hills. Amazing and beautiful Gregory Corso, the one & only Gregory the Herald. Read slowly and see.”
Bob Dylan has spoken about how the early Beat writing, and particularly Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind,” and Corso’s “Gasoline” awakened him to new possibilities of the written word.
Corso was born in Greenwich Village, New York, on March 26, 1930. He had a turbulent childhood, his mother abandoning the family to return to Italy, and his father unable to offer much support. Gregory was a chronic runaway, and was in and out of jail during his adolescence.
He began reading & writing poetry while serving time in prison for theft. Shortly after his release, he met Allen Ginsberg in a Greenwich Village bar, and, after showing Ginsberg some of his poems, the two became close friends. Allen Ginsberg introduced Corso to Kerouac, Burroughs, and his other literary friends. Thus was the beginning of a great literary career.
Some of Gregory Corso’s major publications are:
- “The Vestal Lady on Brattle & Other Poems, 1955
- Gasoline, 1958
- The Happy Birthday of Death, 1960
- The American Express, 1961
- Long Live Man, 1962
- Elegaic Feeling American
- The Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit, 1981
- Mindfield: New and Selected Poems, 1989
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Here’s some more info on Gregory Corso:
Last Night I Drove a Car
Last night I drove a car
not knowing how to drive
not owning a car
I drove and knocked down
people I loved
…went 120 through one town.
I stopped at Hedgeville
and slept in the back seat
…excited about my new life.
They deliver the edicts of God
And are exempt from apprehension
And with their God-given
Petasus, Caduceus, and Talaria
ferry like bolts of lightning
unhindered between the tribunals
of Space and Time
in human flesh
is assigned a dependable,
thoroughly poet existence
upon its sojourn in life
It does not knock
or ring the bell
When the Messenger-Spirit
comes to your door
It’ll enter like an electric midwife
and deliver the message
There is no tell
throughout the ages
that a Messenger-Spirit
ever stumbled into darkness