Gregory Corso, 1930–2001

Remembering a Poet

Gregory Corso, the flower of the beat generation, is gone. He has been plucked to grace the Daddy garden and all in heaven are magnified and amused. I first encountered Gregory long ago in front of the Chelsea Hotel. He lifted his overcoat and dropped his trousers, spewing Latin expletives. Seeing my astonished face, he laughed and said, "I'm not mooning you sweetheart, I'm mooning the world." I remember thinking, how fortunate for the world to be privy to the exposed rump of a true poet.

And that he was. All who have stories, real or embellished, of Gregory's legendary mischief and chaotic indiscretions must also have stories of his beauty, his remorse, and his generosity. He took benevolent note of me in the early '70s, maybe because my living space was akin to his—piles of papers, books, old shoes, piss in cups—mortal disarray. We were disruptive partners in crime during particularly tedious poetry readings at St. Mark's. Though we were aptly scolded, Gregory counseled me to stick to my irreverent guns and demand more from those who sat before us calling themselves poets.

There was no doubt Gregory was a poet. Poetry was his ideology, and the poets his saints. He was called upon and he knew it. Perhaps his only dilemma was to sometimes ask, Why, why him? He was born in New York City on March 26, 1930. His young mother abandoned him. The boy drifted from foster home to reformatory to prison. He had little formal education, but his self-education was limitless. He embraced the Greeks and the Romantics, and the Beats embraced him, pressing laurel leaves upon his dark unruly curls. Knighted by Kerouac as Raphael Urso, he was their pride and joy and also their most provocative conscience.

He has left us two legacies: a body of work that will endure for its beauty, discipline, and influential energy, and his human qualities. He was part Pete Rose, part Percy Bysshe Shelley. He could be explosively rebellious, belligerent, and testing, yet in turn, boyishly pure, humble, and compassionate. He was always willing to say he was sorry, share his knowledge, and was open to learn. I remember watching him sit at Allen Ginsberg's bedside as he lay dying. "Allen is teaching me how to die," he said.


There was no doubt Gregory was a poet. Poetry was his ideology, and the poets his saints. He was called upon and he knew it.


In early summer his friends were summoned to say goodbye to him. We sat by his bedside on Horatio Street in silence. The night was filled with strange correspondences. A daughter he had never known. A patron from far away. A young poet at his feet. On a muted screen, Robert Frank's Pull My Daisy randomly aired on public television—unaware of its mystical timing. Images of the Daddies, young and crazy, black and white. Snapshots of Allen taped to the wall. The modest room lorded over by Gregory's chair in all its shabby glory. So many dreams punctuated by cigarette burns. He was dying. We all said goodbye.

But Gregory, perhaps sensing the devotion surrounding him, became a participant in a true Catholic miracle. He rose up. He went into remission just long enough for us to hear his voice, his laughter, and a few welcomed obscenities. We were able to write poems for him, sing to him, watch football, and hear him recite Blake. He was here long enough to travel to Minneapolis, to bond with his daughter, to be a king among children, to see another fall, another winter, and another century. Allen taught him how to die. Gregory reminded us how to live and cherish life before leaving us a second time.

At the end of his days, he still suffered a young poet's torment—the desire to achieve perfection. And in death, as in art, he shall. The fresh light pours. The boys from the road steer him on. But before he ascends into some holy card glow, Gregory, being himself, lifts his overcoat, drops his trousers, and as he exposes his poet's rump one last time, cries, "Hey man, kiss my daisy." Ahh Gregory, the years and petals fly.

He loved us. He loved us not. He loved us.


Donations can be sent to Giorno Poetry Systems/Gregory Corso Fund, 222 Bowery, New York, NY 10012.

 
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