Gregory Corso was born on March 26, 1930 in New York City. He was the only native New Yorker among the circle of major Beat writers, and was in fact born on Bleecker Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, where as a young man he would meet Allen Ginsberg in a bar. He was not planning a life in poetry at this time, and in fact had spent time in prison on a robbery charge when he was only 16. Now 20 years old, he quickly fell in with the rambunctious crowd of writers and other artists that would become famous as the “Beats”. Unlike many others who merely hung around this scene, though, Corso had a natural talent, and easily began churning out wonderful poems for his friends to enjoy. His poetic voice was simple, colloquial, funny and unpretentious.
His first book of poetry was published by City Lights in 1955. He quickly became popular, and was much more well-known in the 50’s and 60’s than he later became. He was one of the major “characters” in the Beat circle, and appeared as the charismatic Yuri Gregorovic, the guy who steals Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend in Kerouac’s somewhat self-pitying novel ‘The Subterraneans.’
At live readings, Corso recited his verses in his natural voice, a trademark high-pitched “New Yorkese” drawl with subtle undertones of expressiveness. His poetry employed an anarchic style somewhat similar to Allen Ginsberg’s, but his tone was gentler, humbler and less declarative. His favorite poet was Shelley, a Romantic poet who was much too flowery for most Beats. He did not write with Ginsberg’s massive intelligence or protean poetic power, but then who does? He once wrote a love-poem to atomic weapons, ‘BOMB‘, in the shape of a mushroom cloud.
But the hilariously self-questioning ‘Marriage‘ may stand as his most representative work. Bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust —
At an Allen Ginsberg Memorial Tribute at St. Marks Church in 1996, a heavy, lumbering Gregory Corso waddled up to the stage to deliver a one-word poem for his old friend: “Toodle-oo”. At other tributes and events in his last decade of life, he could often be found in lobbies or hallways engaged in deep group conversations, utterly ignoring what was occurring on the stage.
Gregory left New York City in ill health to live with his daughter in Minneapolis only a few months before his death on Jan 17, 2001.
Here’s a tribute page posted after his death. Gregory, Toodle-oo.