Paean and Lament for the Wing'd Heel'd Herald
by David Cope
"Nothing is mine, a Prince of Poetry
made to roam the outskirts of society"
"Gregory's difficult," so said friends. Yes, the François Villon of the fifties, poet maudit of the beats & Prince of Poets, Gregory Corso, could be damned difficult—every poet I know has a "Gregory story." In a recent pre-mortem edition of Woodstock Journal, famous elders & our own contemporaries told a few of 'em, and I got this weird sense of Gregorio's bleak humor as he must've read these like aged Huck Finn reading in memoria for his own funeral-to-come, smile crooked at Big Daddy Death. Next, his nurse daughter was caring for him, & Eliot Katz went up to read him Shelley poems when he got a chance. Yes, Gregory could be trouble—tho I thank God to have seen him reading, ecstatic so I thought Shelley himself was among us, in 1982, & again in 1994 like a wild wing'd heel'd boy-father come home to be Gregory at last, moving measured sense of farewell and passage with lines so lovely you could turn on 'em in air. He turned me on to Corelli & drove me nuts when as a boy-hick I came out of Michigan to Naropa's annual summer beat rendezvous on Allen Ginsberg's invite in 1980, not knowing what to expect. When I started my first lecture on Charles Reznikoff, Gregory shouted from the back, where he'd camped against a wall, "you're an asshole," and came up and said he was taking over my stage. I said, "it's not my stage," & sat silent on the desk while he made big spiel. When I tried to start again, he said, "you're an asshole, I'll throw you through the window." I said, "if you do, you're coming with me." Later, he sat down, inexplicably, & I read Reznikoff's Kaddish for his mother, which brought Allen to tears, earned me big kiss and thank-you afterwards. At the time, I was really pissed at Gregory, but eventually I came to see it as my rite of passage: he made me show myself to everybody there, & later, I can remember, for years whenever I had difficult passages to come, I'd think, "if I can face off with Gregory, I can sure as hell handle this." I think in some ways he made me grow up fast & find my sea legs in that rocking & rolling scene, that crazy Rimbaudian ship of mad-dog poets, seers, & fools, and for that I thank him. His poem "The Doubt of Truth" still stops me in my tracks in my most tender moments, dreaming of the passages we all make into the great silence. Wherever he goes, may he drive all the gods and demons crazy, wake up all the sleepers & kill all boredom forever.
“Paean and Lament for the Wing’d Heel’d Herald” first appeared in The Paper 2.4 (January 25-31).