H e a r t S o n s & H e a r t D a u g h t e r s of A l l e n G i n s b e r g
N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 4 : A r c h i v e s E d i t i o n
“Heard The Old Poet Corso Died, Did…
…you know him?” Friend wrote card to my mountain retreat
and I’ve been trying, yes, I knew him, trying for two weeks now to
recollect everything I know of him, so will tell her since she’s a
Kind woman, Generous, and Gregory himself said:
“I’ve lived my whole life upon the kindness of Jews and Women”
and he did live and write because of the Muses’ kindness
and his own “kind king light of Mind.”
First Death news delivered before evening class of Lama
Tharchin Rinpoche by burgundy robed Nyima Marc Olmsted
Buddhist poet, buddy these many years.
“Did you hear: Gregory Corso died yesterday”
OM MANI PADME HUNG leapt from my mouth…
Diane Di Prima, now one of last Beat survivors seated behind me
in crowded room, wondered of his literary estate’s destination:
“That’s something very valuable,” she said solemnly
…as I would wonder over the next week, sitting with my mind
gazing at the sky, meditation on empty self, thoughts of Gregory…
"As long as I'm alive, superstars will die," Corso poet said of Elvis
Summer of Sam in NYC, summer of ’77 Boulder, Colorado
Naropa Buddhist writers’college reading—he commandeered the
stage and pronounced the King of Rock dead then introduced an
Hell’s Angel type who wanted to read a poem. "I'm soooooo
embarrassed," he yelled after the lousy poem read, teetering
between danger of a biker stomp and the crowd's adoring hostility.
Gregory had what it took: poetic chops to bust down the crypts
of Shelley and Keats, a silver winged tennis shoe smelling of old
socks, a broken caduceus he would pawn to create visionary
everyday myth…or get high on heroin. Ah, Gregory...
Gregory Corso is dead and there are no more superstars
of words that flow like water in the desert of Academic Poetry—
true poet, lost like Rimbaud, crying for his Muse ("don't write on
junk," he told me, "the Muse...She don't like that")
His cigarettes endlessly smoked, thin watery junkblood
spritzed on walls of countless toilets across America but mostly in
SF and NYC where he could score easy. And when the money
dried up he'd just copy a page of an old manuscript, spill some
coffee and ashes on it, hold it over the stove burner et voila, a
literary "find" Gregory would give to Vinny to take to the Rare
Book Dealers and they'd salute the Dark Prince of H. again.
Last summer Vinny visited him, said his death was gonna be good
—being nursed by a long lost daughter with organic mushroom-
barley soup who spooned him Dilaudid-flavored ice cream to ease
cancer pain—massaging his feet—cooing him to sleep…
Then last fall said he didn't think Gregory would last much
longer. And Corso told long time friend George Scrivani:
“I did abuse my body so…”
That summer of ’77 first intro to the bad boy of Poetry. I was
young poet apprentice to Allen Ginsberg at Naropa for the Kerouac
School Of Disembodied Poetics. Got to know Gregory, tho mostly
just in class where he chastised us for not having read enough:
“You mean no one’s read Celine’s trilogy? Oh babies, you gotta
read this guy!” Or to snap at someone: “Beware of people who
laugh too much—they’re hiding something.”
He also taught François Villon and so identified
with him I thought Gregory possible reincarnation & confided to
new buddy Mark Fisher (now Madison Avenue success) that we
should call Corso “François Fucketier” due to his gargoyle rep in
the quiet Buddhist community that suffered through wild summers
when the writers descended and Gregory threw firecrackers in a
shrine room full of meditators—or once a huge black dildo tossed
into the Women’s Writers workshop
(I actually found, by chance, week before he died
old Naropa Newsletter recounting this gossip of Corso’s antics)
…memories flood back: Yelling Drunk Parties, “borrowing”
money from Ginsberg to buy booze at the all night liquor store
wicked scalding hangovers I’d bleach out with mid-morning sun
and strong coffee by apartment pool with Vinny.
Gregory, reluctant student of “Choggie Baby” (Chögyam Trungpa
Rinpoche) sometimes sat through Rinpoche’s teachings, but when
asked, declined to take Refuge as Buddhist, instead declaring:
“Buddhism is a religion—and I don’t dig religion per se—
it’s the best religion, but it’s still Religion.”
And once, spotting a Tibetan Monk jogging by in full
burgundy and gold robes, yelled:
“Stop that man, he just stole an Ego.”
But like so many Mafioso (or Kerouac), he went out Catholic
“like a regular Italian American” George said, “insisting on open
casket so we could kiss him goodbye, which tradition goes back
to Ancient Rome: the final kiss to take in Essence of departed…”
And there was an all day wake, mass in Our Lady of
Pompeii, Manhattan West Village where he was baptized seventy-
one years ago...but no priestly confession before he died—his
muse enough: “toodle-oo…”*
And it isn't until just this afternoon when I finally
say phowa for him; place his picture in front of Buddhist text for
transference of consciousness at death; chant the words in Tibetan
and visualize Gregory smiling as his mortal words and positive
actions take him to Pureland rebirth—not till just now these
memories begin to form—ghosts of the three times buzzing like
that insistent fly into woodsy view-window near ragged cobweb
dangling in the now chill winter afternoon.
We spoke of what will remain of Gregory: the deathless
poesy, the Heraldic Nunzio now gone after surviving addiction
for so many years: “the last limping leg of the Beat Generation,”
George said and we grew silent too...
…for I was a drunk and shared the love of heroin and the
rush of Poem with Corso and, sober now thirteen years, wondered
about the two woven together, the drugs and poetry, and how they
entwined my generation following in those decadent footsteps
hoping to hit a vein and live to tell it all, tell it fast, “’cause the
road is fast” and because everyone else just talked about sports.
I’ve used my blood
like an extravagance.”
Vinny returned to the big Apple to live East Village
railroad walkup after Naropa—he and Mark became drug buddies
with Gregory—I, in San Francisco, published Birthstone poetry
magazine with Naropa Writers.
Didn't see Gregory again until summer of ’80 International
Poetry Festival Rome, Italy the American Hotel lobby waiting to
go out with George and Ginsberg. I was wearing skin tight black
Levis, a lizard print shirt, yellow canvas shoes. Gregory, inclining
his head towards me said to Burroughs: “What do ya think about
this piece of rough trade?” nudging me towards the Thin Gray
Duke, who chuckled his sardonic WC Fields “heh heh heh...”
Corso introduced me to young Italian Poets who scored morphine
ampoules which I in turn sold to Burroughs—it was Corso who set
it all up so he could geeze for free...
Alone half-hearted attempt to shoot up on train back to Paris, but
too squeamish to hit vein, then tried skin pop in ass cheek, spilt
most of it when train bumped out of some station in the dark.
Back in SF, Vinny’s phone call: “Gregory wants to see you, he’s
broke, needs a place to hang out, needs cheap drugs, told him
you’d fix him up...”
And so: The Visit.
I pick him up at Embarcadero YMCA, where 8 years earlier had
sad, farewell sex with college True Love, the one who made me
Poet as I watched desolate Greyhound buses pulling onto freeway
taking her away...
His room was rank with him. Overflowing trash ciggie
butts and dirty clothes. He just left it behind. So Poetman arrives
chez moi with nothing but his brain and Poetry. We sit hours at big
kitchen table smoking my homegrown pot, cooking up Dilaudid.
Gregory, unlike Vinny, wouldn’t help shoot me up mainline:
“I don’t give nobody their first drugs; I don’t shoot people up.”
He’s in the tiny bathroom hunting un-collapsed veins in his feet
spritzing pink bloodwater from the cleaned needle on my
punk-rock flyer plastered walls.
I’m in the kitchen jabbing a too-large gauge needle into my
asscheek trying to skin pop, once actually see inside the muscle—
the glutei sinewy black somehow like a hole opened up into the
Void— I shudder just now, remembering, shift butt in
Gregory would quote himself to me: “I met a man/ who died”
about Kerouac then riff on what he meant, how he edited.
Waves of language of sublime Mind slithering forth on clouds of
grass and cigarette smoke. I was rapt, was stoned, could hardly
follow sometimes (he could take so many drugs and be energized!)
I grew mute, stultified while he Sang.
I said something about my ambition once: “Watch Out for
Ambition!” he shouted, “and don’t think Ginsberg’s shit doesn't
“Ah you’re a beautiful man Peter Marti,” he said once, cupping my
face gently and gazing into my eyes, the connection of deep
Poetry/ Truth, about something anyway, that felt important there in
the dark little kitchen. I was hanging out with my literary heroes!
He rewrote some of the poems he was publishing as Herald of the
Autochthonic Spirit, sometimes a few words, never much tho…
The only thing left in the room was Death
hiding beneath the kitchen sink:
“I’m not real!” It cried
“I’m just a rumor spread by life...”
from “The Whole Mess...Almost”
So, Kind Lady, to you who wrote me asking about the Old Poet
I pick up the thread...
It’s Sunday in the Gone World of airplane drone and bird
chirps (and even THUD...one smacking into clear plate glass
window just now, startling me & leaving feathery tuft on the glass
flying off unharmed)…more of Gregorio Nunzio, il miglior fabbro,
the better maker, the Poet who never tired of his Muse, nor She he.
Gregory would often say: “what about the Poet? you gotta pay the
Poet.” Desperate for money once, challenged by R. Rodgers to
write a poem on the spot, this bought by poet friend Richard
Modiano for $20:
You’ll never die
because when you’re dead
you won’t know it
He wasn’t in a hurry and he wasn’t greedy and he may have stolen
but, as George said: “he wasn’t attached to what he stole”
For that matter, he never stole from George…
Fall, 1980 my basement apartment was cozy for Gregory
I doled out the drugs and cooked the food, Gregory held forth.
We’d stroll to Cafe Floré to drink beer or coffee (where cute
counter-girl /friend of mine named B. worked)
“Getting laid... It’s all about pheromones” he whispered
confidentially, eyeing B. “Any woman’ll go for you if she gets a
whiff of your pheromones,” And with that, he reached into his
pants and, as he narrated: “rubbed under the foreskin cause that’s
where the pheromones are,” then proceeded to go pick up our
order, first passing his fingers beneath B.’s nose, then patting her
face to make sure she got the full-on Gregory Experience.
He asked her out, but she declined him...maybe next time...
So this is some kinda elegy, not fawning since Corso
could turn mean on you, turned on Ginsberg more than once
turned on benefactors, turned on drug buddies and me too.
I sit streaming sweat in the California winter glare, first
week February, pictures of kind Buddhist teachers on these walls
picture of sweet dead cat, pet of 18 years as he reposed on fiancée
Nancy’s lap and the picture of Gregory, next to keyboard.
Having done my Buddhist prostrations for the day
imagining Corso, dead friend Ross, Cat, Parents, all the dead
beings killed by me, animals eaten, enemies fought with, ex-wife,
relatives, co-workers... I sit sweating at the keyboard, thinking of
that time, that karos, what the Greeks called the nexus of perfect
place, time, and circumstance that was that fall when Corso came
It was Election Time, Reagan heading for victory when
Phone rang: “Hi Mom...no, just sitting around...”
“Oh, is that your Mother? I gotta talk to her...Mrs. Marti
you got a beautiful son here. Who ya voting for? Anderson? Nah,
you should vote for Reagan, see that way things’ll get really bad
again in the country, like when Eisenhower was president. That’s
when really creative things happen to the Spirit.”
And so the magic ends, the players evaporate as phantoms, beauty
fades, his words, scribbled on a sheet of typing paper, left next to
my folded out poetry magazine with his annotated poem: “I only
took that which you could afford to give.” And other words, now
forgot stuck in a box somewhere in storage, with posters of his
blood, with pictures from Rome, with my own poems writ inspired
by his voice, my own hesitant efforts, barely filling even one slim
volume because I too had the Dark Habit to contend with.
Gregory took about 30 dollars and the pills I’d “hidden”
in the house. I had dozens more securely stashed for his hopeful
extended visit, now cut short by his urge to move on.
I was indignant, calling everyone “did you hear what Corso did?
after all my blah blah bow wow woof woof...”
He once said: “those that most demand respect seldom deserve it;
best not to disrespect.”
…and yet I felt the lack. Months later, at big
downtown poetry Scene, made mistake of confronting him:
“Be careful Peter Marti, be careful of what you’re accusing,”
and glaring broken toothed like real menace personified, then
softening, told me how they tried to kick him out of theater for
jerking off: “I never took it out of my pants, but that girl was so hot
I had to cum.”
...and I told him of how I wanted a rock ’n roll band: “They say
‘what a great poet’ Jim Morrison is. Jim Morrison was no poet.
You know why? He repeated himself—the refrain—it’s the whole
Troubadour shot. Nothing wrong with song, but it ain't Poetry.”
But of course I didn’t listen… Wrote song “Arms of
Morpheus” as elliptic goodbye to him, met my dreamed-after
blonde musician future wife and chased the Troubadour Dream
parking my own Muse behind the booze bottles of Fame Ambition
Sex and MORE! until years later it all came crashing down and
bereft of all I wept at typewriter one night and heard Her faint
voice stir again…
And the years pass and the poets who lived became
Dharma practitioners who wrote, and some died but the Poet still
lived on—now scoring H. now on Methadone, now boozing, now
living with woman poet, now supported by famous Japanese Artist
now by bookstore owner and wife—who knows if he got sober/
straight what woulda happened his Muse?
Ginsberg: “I never understood how smart guys like you
and Marc and Gregory could get hooked…”
For Corso it was part of the whole Shot, but not the whole Mess.
And I never saw him again after that Fall of My Youth...
At his memorial, Patti Smith sang “Nature Boy,” David
Arram played, some guy was chased out of the service by an
Italian woman in dreadlocks. “She was possessed by the spiritus
of Gregory,” Mark Fisher said. And they lined up to kiss him ’bye
to take a taste of the Essence, just as I kissed the cold flesh of my
Father goodbye a few years ago, understanding nothing….
And his ashes to be interred in Rome next to Angelic
Shelley and Keats.
So I sit in the broiling sun naked on this ragged lotus of chair
revealing the only treasure I got: Some dusty memories and Faith
—not that anyone will care.
George, who loved him best, spoke SF memorial:
“I said that if they ever get a chance
everyone should love a Poet...”
So, kind lady, Gregory Corso the Poet is dead and I did sort
of know him, and in remembering found something of myself
buried away, the part not tortured by dreams of Money and Fame
or next meal even, that never worries, but stares at the View
beyond window beyond eyeball beyond time, deathless Mind
Awake, awake awake...
*Last line of elegy writ by GC for Allen Ginsberg, April 1997.
[“Heard The Old Poet Corso Died, Did…” is reprinted from BEATITUDE Golden Anniversary 1959-2009 (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, Editors). Used by permission of the author. Originally published in NHS 2012, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs12/.]