January 24th, 2013

Gregory Corso: up down and all around

I was introduced to Gregory Corso’s poem “Marriage” by a boyfriend long ago, and it stuck in my mind because it was one of the few poems I’ve ever read that is genuinely funny; more a comedy monologue than a poem, really.

The poem was written in 1958 but I didn’t encounter it till the late 60s. But I’d never heard Corso’s voice till now, when I watched this YouTube video of him reading the poem, and his voice surprised me by sounding something like Fiorello LaGuardia and something like the mid-20th-century New York cadences of most of the boys I went to high school with (although they weren’t writing poetry):

After I watched it, I realized I knew next to nothing about Corso except that he was one of the Beat poets, and so I looked him up. When I did, I found a life so wildly picaresque, so varied and so improbable, that it leaves fiction sprawled behind in the dust.

Read it. Corso was clearly one of the most lucky and unlucky people who ever lived, as well as a being possessed of a charm that helped account for his survival against gigantic odds, and an intelligence and love of learning that quite literally saved him.

Throughout his life, especially before he became famous but even afterward, Corso seems to have brought out the mentor/caretaker in others. He kept meeting people who wanted to help him; how many people can say that about themselves? And the people who were eager to do him favors tended to be the literary and the famous themselves.

Corso did get married, by the way: three times.

11 Responses to “Gregory Corso: up down and all around”

  1. George Pal Says:

    There was a fascination for me of the Beats and especially Kerouac – I was behind them by a decade but with them, to some small degree, in spirit. Ginsberg, for all his outrageousness was less interesting for being more predictable – from Beat to Hippie. It’s understandable that he and Kerouac had a falling out. Kerouac was, even for all his personal failings, a traditionalist who admired the country, certainly the people. I had heard of Greg Corso but was by that time over the Beats.

    I’ve just given the link a cursory look and haven’t listened to the poem but intend to look up Corso more so – out of nostalgia for the past and a relief from the present. However mad the men were they were not so mad as times are now. Back then, it hadn’t occurred to anyone to put mad men in charge of anything but howling.

  2. Cornflour Says:

    At the start of 1975, I heard Gregory Corso, and some other Beat poets, read at St. Mark’s Church, in the East Village, New York. William Burroughs was interesting and only slightly repulsive, Corso seemed tired, and Patti Smith stole the show.

    When people write about marriage, it usually gets to be a novel; but I can think of a couple marriage songs I like better than Corso’s poem: Greg Brown’s “Marriage Chant” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFcIExPvPWs) and John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5axlwCBXC8).

    On this song, Prine is accompanied by Iris Dement, who’s married to Greg Brown, who’s accompanied by Iowa guitar legend Bo Ramsey, who’s married to Greg’s daughter Pieta, who’s also a wonderful songwriter, and who’s usually accompanied by Bo Ramsey. When marriage enters the picture, even songs becomes novels.

  3. sbruce45 Says:

    Thank you for providing that reading of Marriage. Back in the 60s I loved that poem. I read it enough times to be able to recite it by heart. I still have that book of his poetry. But I didn’t run in any circles where other people I knew were familiar with the poem. Nice to know other people do remember it.

  4. Mac Says:

    When I saw this, I thought “I bet that’s the poem that X read at the wedding of Y and Z in the spring of 1967.” And it is–I remember a few phrases, enough to identify it. I also remember that even as a naive and yet cynical 19-year-old, I didn’t think this was a very good way to start a marriage. Maybe that’s why I’ve remembered the scene for so long. Not surprisingly, the marriage didn’t last very long.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Mac: I can’t imagine reading that poem at a wedding.

    Then again, remembering 1967, I can imagine it.

  6. Occam's Beard Says:

    Call me a philistine, but I’ve always regarded the Beat poets as a sorry collection of self-regarding hairballs. But that may be because I’ve never cared much for poetry, and even less for hairballs.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Occam’s Beard: did you read Corso’s Wiki page? That’s really the main point of the post. Quite a story.

  8. Occam's Beard Says:

    neo, in all candor, I hadn’t heard of Corso before, and his story is remarkable by any standard. I was speaking generically of the Beat poets, but as I indicated, I’ve never connected with poetry.

  9. Mac Says:

    Neo, in retrospect that wedding seems a very sad affair. There was more than a touch of mockery in the whole thing, as I guess is pretty obvious from the fact that the poem was read.

    You know…now that I think about it, part of the reason for the wedding may have been to secure a draft deferment for the groom. Crazy, sad times. Personally my view of the ’60s is more like Joan Didion’s in The White Album than that pushed in the dominant mythology.

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    Mac: I don’t have good memories of the 60s at all. A few, but mostly not.

    The music was great, though.

  11. Mac Says:

    It would be interesting to compare notes. If you haven’t read that Didion book, I recommend it.

    Indeed it was. Almost everything in popular music since is an elaboration or continuation of something that started then.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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