On Corso’s Virtues

by Allen Ginsberg


        Gregory corso’s aphoristic poet, and a poet of ideas.

What modern poets write with such terse clarity that their

verses stick in the mind without effort? Certaily Yeats,

Pound, Williams, Elio, Kerouac, Creely, Dylan & Corso

have that quality.


Corso’s handling of ideas is unique, as in various

one-word-title-poems (“Power”, “Bomb”, “Marriage”,

“Army”, “Hair”, “Death”, “Clown” and later “Friend”).

He distills the essence of archetypal concepts, recycling

them with humor to make them new, examining, contrasting

and alchemizing common vernacular notions into

mindblowing (deconstructive or de-conditioning) insights.

In this mode, his late 1950’s poems (like Kerouac’s 1951-52

scriptures on “Joan [Crawford] Rawshanks in the Fog”

& “Neal and The Three Stooges”) manifest a precursor

pop artistry, the realized notice of quotidian artifacts.


        Poetic philosophe, Corso’s uncanny insight mixes

wisdom & logopoeia. “I’d a humor save me from amateur

philosophy,” he writes: “Fish is animalized water”-“knowing

my words to be the acquainted prophecy of all men / and

my unwords no less an acquaintanceship”-“Nothing sits

on nothing in a nothing of many nothings a nothing king”-

“I found God a gigantic fly paper”-“Standing on a street

corner waiting for no one is Power”-“A star / is as far / as

the eye / can see / and / as near as my eye / is to me”-“And how

can I trust them / who pollute the sky / with heavens / the

below with hells.”


        As poetic craftsman, Corso is impeccable. His revision

process, which he calls “tailoring,” generally elision and

condensation, yields gist-phrasing, extraordinary mind-jump

humor. Clown sounds of circus, abstracted from plethora

are reduced to perfect expresion, “Tang-a-lang boom. Fife

feef! toot!” Quick sketch, sharp mind scissors.


        As engineer of ideas, certain concepts recur retailored

for nuance, such as “I shall never known my death,”

(i.e. dead he won’t know it) and “You can’t step in the same

river once.”


        His late work, “The Whole Mess ... Almost” is a

masterpiece of Experience, the grand poetic abstractions

Truth, Love, God, faith Hope Charity, Beauty, money

Death & Humor are animated in a single poem with

brilliant & intimate familiarity.


        As poetic wordslinger he has command of idiomatic

simplicity, to wir: “A hat is power,” “fried shoes” or:

O bomb i love you

I want to kiss you clank eat    you boom

You are a pean an acme of scream

a lyric hat of Mister Thunder


as well as exuberant invention as “an astrologer dabbling

in dragon prose”:



from your belly outflock vulturic salutations

Battle forth your spangled hyena finger stumps

along the brink of Paradise


        Corso also excels as political philosophe; his many years

as classic artisr wanderer dwelling in european hotels,

castles, & and streets gives him perspective on North America.

His crucial position world cultural revolution mid-XX-century

as originator of the “Beat Generation” literary movement,

along with Kerouac, Burroughs, Orlovsky and others, grants

him an experience inside history few bards or politicians have

known. Readers of the poem cluster “Elegiac Feelings

American” will appreciate Corso’s generational insight into

Empire sickness. Earlier poems like “Power,” “Bomb”,

“Army”, & many brief expatriate lyrics prove Corso to be

Shelley’s natural prophet among “unacknowledged legislators

of the world.”


        Corso is a poet’s Poet, his verse pure velvet, close to

John Keats for aour time, exquisitely delicate in manners of

the Muse. He has been and always will be a popular poet,

awakener of youth, puzzlement & pleasure of sophisticated

elder bibliophiles, “Immortal” as immortal is, Captain Poetry

exampling revolution of Spirit, his “poetry the opposite of

hypocrisy,” a loner, laughably unlaurelled by native whose

wild fame’s extend for decades around the world the world

from France to China, World poet.


March 1989

                                                        ALLEN GINSBERG





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