Corso, Gregory Nunzio

(1930–2001)
   Poet, novelist, and playwright Gregory Corso was born on March 26, 1930, in New York City to Fortunato and Michelina Corso. Abandoned during his first year by his teenaged mother, Corso grew up in a series of orphanages and in a succession of foster homes. Both at school and at home, he was frequently subjected to beatings and to other harsh punishments, often unjust and undeserved. Running away from home repeatedly, living in the streets of New York by day and sleeping on rooftops and in the subway by night, Corso was caught and brought home again and again until he was finally sent to a reform school for two years. He also spent “3 frightening sad months” in the Bellevue mental hospital, a child among adult inmates, and later, at the age of 12, spent five months in the New York city jail, the infamous “Tombs,” where he was beaten and abused by the other inmates. Corso’s youthful misfortunes culminated when at the age of 17 he was sentenced to three years in Clinton State Prison for robbery.
   At the same time, at intervals during this period of intense, direct experience of the “woe and plight of man,” Corso was also experiencing events of quite another order. Beginning at the age of five, he was subject on occasion to strange sensations and perceptions, waking visions and vivid dreams. The most remarkable of his visions included an apparition of the figure of God among the clouds above the city, an apparition of a dying Indian mounted on a horse amid the city traffic, and another of fiery lions surrounding him as he awoke at night on a rooftop. These revelations of an unknown reality provided him with psychic sustenance. During his confinement in the Tombs, for example, in the face of the unrelenting cruelty and the terrible isolation to which he was subjected, Corso was able to maintain an inner life of beauty and vision: “when they stole my food and beat me up and threw pee in my cell, I, the next day would come out and tell them my beautiful dream about a floating girl who landed before a deep pit and just stared.”
   Corso’s imaginative, visionary faculty also prepared him to receive and to respond to what he has named the “books of illumination,” proffered him by fellow prisoners during his incarceration at Clinton Prison. These books, which were to prove so vitally important to him, included The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Red and the Black by Stendhal, and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, together with works by Thomas Chatterton, Christopher Marlowe, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the “1905 Standard Dictionary . . . with all the archaic and obsolete words.” Through the medium of these works, Corso was brought into contact at last with his own verbal imagination, and the experience may be said to represent the true birth of his spirit and the inception of his vocation as a poet. Released from prison in 1950, Corso returned to New York City where soon afterward—following a chance meeting in a bar in Greenwich Village— he formed a friendship with the young Allen Ginsberg, to whom he showed his prison poems. Ginsberg expressed admiration for Corso’s work, encouraged him in his poetic vocation, and introduced him to other poets and writers, including jack kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Under the influence of Ginsberg, Corso began to moderate the archaic–romantic tenor of his poetry and to compose in a more modernist style. In the years immediately following his release from prison, Corso moved between the West Coast and the East Coast of the United States, supporting himself by working as a laborer, a junior reporter (for Gregory Corso, Marin headlands, 1978. Photographer Larry Keenan: “Gregory Corso was one of the many poets reading at the Whole World Jamboree. Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Meltzer, and more were all there. The event lasted for 3 days. We all camped out, played, and ate together.”
   The Los Angeles Examiner), and a merchant seaman. He settled for a time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where as an unofficial (unenrolled) student he attended classes at Harvard and availed himself of the university library. At length, Corso began to attain some degree of recognition for his literary work, and in 1954 his first published poems appeared in The Harvard Advocate and The Cambridge Review. At the same time, a play by Corso, In this Hung-up Age, was performed. The following year Corso’s first volume of poems, The Vestal Lady on Brattle was published in Cambridge by Richard Brukenfeld. The circulation of Corso’s debut volume was quite limited (of 500 copies printed, 250 were lost). Accordingly, the book attracted little notice. A copy of The Vestal Lady on Brattle did, however, come to the attention of the poet and critic Randall Jarrell, then poetry consultant for the U.S. Library of Congress, who was sufficiently impressed with it to write to Corso to invite the young poet to visit him at his home in Washington, D.C. Corso’s poetry also impressed poet and publisher lawrence ferlinghetti who solicited poems from him for a volume to be published in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.
   Corso continued to travel, back and forth from East Coast to West Coast, to Mexico, and then to Europe where he made Paris his base for further journeys. In Paris, Corso lived for long periods at the now famous “Beat Hotel”—then a nameless, shabby 13th-class establishment—where he collaborated with Burroughs in literary experiments and wrote a novel, The American Express, published by the Olympia Press in 196l. While Corso was living in Paris, his second collection of poems, Gasoline (1958) was published by City Lights.
   Gasoline was the book that established Corso’s reputation as a poet, both in the United States and internationally. Though neither widely nor particularly favorably reviewed in literary journals, the collection soon found an enthusiastic readership, quickly selling out of the first printing and passing through numerous subsequent printings. Indeed, since the date of its first publication to the present time—for nearly 50 years—Gasoline has remained constantly in print. During the years that followed this literary breakthrough, Corso confirmed his uncommon and original poetic gifts with the publication (by New Directions) of two strong collections: The Happy BirtHday of deatH (1960) and Long Live Man (1962).
   It was, however, during this same fertile period that Corso became addicted to heroin, a factor that contributed significantly to his somewhat chaotic life and limited poetic output thereafter. In the decades that followed, Corso often lived a handto-mouth existence, committing acts of petty theft, selling his notebooks and manuscripts to university libraries and private collectors to support his heroin habit, and yet somehow managing to travel and write and even to marry and father children. Fueled by his prodigious intake of drugs and alcohol, Corso became infamous to some and celebrated by others for his unpredictable and outrageous public behavior. He was often loud, rude, discourteous, and disrespectful, while at other moments he was capable of being sincere and generous. At times, Corso’s wisecracks and pranks were aimed at deflating the pretensions of fellow poets, self-serving literary pundits, and self-appointed gurus, while on other occasions his inconsiderate behavior seemed merely spiteful and mean spirited. Probably the traumas of his early years contributed to his psychic instability.
   Appearing at increasingly long intervals, further collections of Corso’s poems were published during the 1970s and 1980s. Elegiac Feelings American (1970) was followed 11 years later by Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit (1981). Finally, in 1989, Thunder’s Mouth Press brought out Mindfield: New & Selected Poems, which contains generous selections from the poet’s previous volumes but only seven new poems. The next year Corso appeared as an unruly stockholder in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III. Roger and Irvyne Richards took care of Corso for more than a decade at the end of his life. Between 1989 and Corso’s death at age 70 on January 17, 2001, no new volume of poems was published, though until the time of his death Corso remained active as a lecturer and as a performer at poetry readings. Near the end of his life, a private detective hired by producers of a documentary film found clues that led to Corso being reunited with his mother for the first time since he was a baby. Corso’s daughter, Sheri, took care of him in Minnesota before he died.
   Robert Yarra, Corso’s friend, suggested that Corso be buried in Rome. Hannelore DeLellis, Yarra’s friend in Italy, helped this dream become a reality with additional financial support from two of Corso’s ex-wives, others including Yarra, and a fundraiser organized by Patti Smith. According to his wishes, Corso’s ashes were buried in Rome in the city’s cimitero acattolico (non-Catholic cemetery), in a tomb near his beloved Percy Bysshe Shelley. Corso’s epitaph is taken from his poem “Spirit,” which appeared in Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit:
   Spirit
   is life
   It flows thru
   the death of me
   endlessly
   life a river
   unafraid
   of becoming
   the sea
   In 2003 New Directions issued An Accidental Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso, edited by Bill Morgan. This thick volume with notes and commentary by the editor offers many insights into Corso’s life and thought, as well as into the composition of individual poems. It remains to be seen whether a biography of Corso will be undertaken. Corso’s contribution to American letters has been assessed and examined in various critical studies, and among the current generation of literary critics there seems to be agreement that Gregory Corso was a distinctive and vital voice in American postwar poetry and that his work has enduring value.
   A documentary, Corso: The Last Beat, directed by Gustave Reininger, is scheduled for release in 2007.
 Bibliography
■ Corso, Gregory. An Accidental Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso. Edited by Bill Morgan. New York: New Directions, 2003.
■ Miles, Barry. The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
■ Olson, Kirby. Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.
■ Skau, Michael. “A Clown in a Grave”: Complexities and Tensions in the Works of Gregory Corso. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.
■ Stephenson, Gregory. Exiled Angel: A Study of the Work of Gregory Corso. London: Hearing Eye, 1989.
   Gregory Stephenson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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  • Corso, Gregory Nunzio — ▪ 2002       American poet, playwright, and novelist (b. March 26, 1930, New York, N.Y. d. Jan. 17, 2001, Robbinsdale, Minn.), was along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac at the centre of the bohemian Beat literary and social movement from its …   Universalium

  • Corso, Gregory — born March 26, 1930, New York, N.Y., U.S. died Jan. 17, 2001, Robbinsdale, Minn. American poet. A troubled adolescent, Corso spent time in prison. In New York City he became acquainted with Allen Ginsberg, who became his mentor. Corso became a… …   Universalium

  • Nunzio (disambiguation) — Nunzio may refer to: A masculine Italian name. James Maritato (born 1972), who has used it as his ring name. People Other people with the name include: Gregory Corso, AKA Gregory Nunzio Corso (1930–2001), a Beat poet Nunzio DeFilippis, an… …   Wikipedia

  • Gregory Corso — Gregory Nunzio Corso (* 26. März 1930 in Greenwich Village, New York City; † 17. Januar 2001 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota) war US amerikanischer Dichter der Beat Generation. Leben Corsos Eltern, italienische Einwanderer, waren bei seiner Geburt… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gregory Corso — Gregory Nunzio Corso, nacido el 26 de marzo de 1930 y muerto el 17 de enero del 2001), fue un poeta estadounidense miembro de la Beat Generation (como Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg o William Burroughs). Biografía Su madre, de dieciséis años de… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gregory Corso — Gregory Nunzio Corso (26 mars 1930 17 janvier 2001), est un poète américain. Il fut le quatrième membre majeur de la Beat Generation, aux côtés de Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, et William Burroughs. Incarcéré à Dannemora pour… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nunzio — ist ein italienischer männlicher Vorname.[1] Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Herkunft und Bedeutung 2 Bekannte Namensträger 2.1 Vorname …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Corso (disambiguation) — Corso is usually used as a shorthand for the Via del Corso, a street in Rome. It is also a surname, held by Daniel Corso (born April 3, 1978), Canadian hockey player Gregory Nunzio Corso (1930–2001), American poet Lee Corso (born 1936), sports… …   Wikipedia

  • Gregory Corso — Infobox Writer name = Gregory Corso caption = Poet Gregory Corso in 1981 birthdate = birth date|1930|03|26 birthplace = New York City, New York deathdate = death date and age|2001|1|17|1930|03|26 deathplace = Minnesota occupation = poet movement …   Wikipedia

  • Corso — Cọr|so: ↑ Korso. * * * Corso   [ kɔːsəʊ], Gregory Nunzio, amerikanischer Dichter, * New York 26. 3. 1930, ✝ Robbinsdale (Minnesota) 18. 1. 2001; wurde im Zusammenhang mit der »Beatgeneration« bekannt. Seine Gedichte verwenden Stilbrüche,… …   Universal-Lexikon

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