For a Feast of Saint Gregory
- "I was very straight at the time, and the whole junkie mentality
really turned me off. The whole death mystique is so strong
with hard-core junkies." -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti quoted in
Ferlinghetti:the Artist in his Time by Barry Silesky (Warner
Books; 1990; page 96)
I'm reading Barry Miles' Beat Hotel and enjoying it
quotes from an interview with Gregory Corso in Writings from OX. The
Times quotes another passage from that interview in Corso's
He died 17 January 2001 aged 70 years.
Interviewing and publishing Gregory was an adventure. He'd visit
with a few pages he wanted published and a burning need for money for
heroin. I managed through Gregory to meet a certain sampling of
Manhattan pushers. Gregory avoided only The Times Square area. I
suspect there were people there he did not want to meet; I bet he
stiffed more than one of the very bad guys who used to hang out
Gregory was secretive and occasionally embarrassed by this drug
problem. He got angry at me when I discussed it once pseudonymously;
he had no problem seeing through my pseudonym. The wrong reputation
would detract from his poetry. Of course, he also spent three years
in prison as a young man. The wrong publicity could lead to a return
Gregory was a wonderful poet. Put off by his wastrel ways, people
would say, me included, that he'd wasted his talent. They'd
Robert Wilson in his new memoir Seeing Shelley Plain, that Gasoline,
Gregory's first book, was his best.
Though I am partial to The Japanese Notebook OX and Writings from
OX, I'm generally of the opinion that The Happy Birthday of
the most characteristic of his genius.
It's the first publication of his best
poem, "Marriage." "Army," "Police,"
"Power" utterly master the
scale of "The Wasteland" or "Howl." Such work gave
me the idea for
The Poets' Encyclopedia. There is an easy mastery of a comic
Surrealist idiom. "Under Peyote" confesses his druggie ways.
too, is there; the poem seemed weirdly prophetic in the `60s; and
play, Hair, by no coincidence, has just been revived at City
Center. "Bomb," an unfolding centerfold, forecasts the
union of the visual and the poetic seen in his later illustrated
texts, particularly his undervalued novel, The American Express, and
The Japanese Notebook OX.
I don't know what to say about Gregory now that he's dead.
fifteen years of his life, when I saw him, I'd think -- how
Gregory takes every chance, main bad or
good. But look at me, a timid little bird; and are we equally alive?
He was somehow moreso.
John Gay and the invention of gin, Robert Burns and Scotch whiskey,
Charles Baudelaire and the need for drunkeness, Arthur Rimbaud and
the derangement of the senses, W.B. Yeats and les poetes maudites --
there's a tradition of poets playing around with substances. The
of Burroughs, Ginsberg and Corso encouraged experimentation with
Corso did not just experiment. He was a junkie. When Gregory tied up
his arm on our living room couch, cooked heroin on the stove, then
casually shot up, my first wife called me into the bedroom. "Get
out of here," she said. Years later, after our divorce, she had
Corso's Earth Egg (and other Unmuzzled OX) thrown into a
I read a letter years ago in the Columbia rare book room from Allen
Ginsberg about an evening with Gregory at Peggy Guggenheim's in
Venice. She didn't like them. She prefers, Allen wrote, "high
poets whereas they prefer to present an image "more
But did Gregory Corso die of a heroin overdose? Or did one of the
many pushers he stiffed finally catch up to him and kill him? Or
perhaps one of the patrons of the arts who, against their will,
supported his drug habit -- did someone finally call the law and have
him incarcerated? Or did he get AIDS from the many needles he
happily shared? None of the above. He died from prostate cancer,
surrounded by family, friends and admirers.
Not only that but the Italian government has consented to have his
remains flown to Rome and buried next to