Gregory Corso was born in New York City on 26 March 1930. His mother, sixteen years old when Gregory was delivered, abandoned the family a year later and returned to Italy. Afterwards, Corso spent most of his childhood in orphanages and foster homes. His father remarried when Gregory was eleven years old, and he had his son stay with him, but the boy repeatedly ran away. He was removed to a boy's home, from which he also ran away. His troubled adolescence included a stint of several months in the Tombs, the New York City jail, for a case involving a stolen radio, and three months of observation in Bellevue. At seventeen, he was convicted of theft and sentenced to Clinton State Prison for three years
During his incarceration, he read avidly from the prison library and began writing poetry. After his release in 1950, he met Allen Ginsberg, through whom he also became acquainted with William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, as well as other New York writers and artists. In 1952 he worked for the Los Angeles Examiner and later served as a merchant seaman. In 1954 he unofficially attended Harvard University, where students contributed to the publication of his first collection of poems, The Vestal Lady on Brattle and Other Poems. Two years later he joined Ginsberg in San Francisco, where Lawrence Ferlinghetti published
his volume of poems Gasoline. In 1957 Corso joined Kerouac and Ginsberg for a series of unconventional readings and interviews. Since that time he has traveled extensively, especially in Mexico and Eastern Europe. He taught briefly at the State University of New York at Buffalo and occasionally during summer sessions at the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. His major publications after Gasoline include The Happy Birthday of Death (1960), The American Express (1961), Long Live Man (1962), Elegaic Feelings American (1970), Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit (1981), and Mindfield (1991). Though he never gained the truly widespread fame that his fellow Beats enjoyed, his work continues to have an impact on contemporary poetics. His poetry has earned praise from many. Jack Kerouac is quoted as saying (on the back cover of Corso's Gasoline) "I think that Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg are the two best poets in America and that they can't be compared to each other. Gregory was a tough young kid from the Lower East Side who rose like an angel over the rooftops and sang Italian songs as sweet as Caruso and Sinatra, but in words. 'Sweet Milanese hills' brood in his Renaissance soul, evening is coming on the hills. Amazing and beautiful Gregory Corso, the one & only Gregory the Herald. Read slowly and see." Bob Dylan has spoken about how Corso's "Gasoline" awakened him to new possibilities of the written word. Gregory Corso died on January 17, 2001 at the age of seventy years old.
Transformation & Escape
I reached heaven and it was syrupy.
It was oppressively sweet.
Croaking substances stuck to my knees.
Of all substances St. Michael was stickiest.
I grabbed him and pasted him on my head.
I found God a gigantic fly paper.
I stayed out of his way.
I walked where everything smelled of burnt chocolate.
Meanwhile St. Michael was busy with his sword
hacking away at my hair.
I found Dante standing naked in a blob of honey.
Bears were licking his thighs.
I snatched St. Michael’s sword
and quartered myself in a great circular adhesive.
My torso fell upon an elastic equilibrium.
As though shot from a sling
my torso whizzed at God fly paper.
My legs sank into some unimaginable sog.
My head, though weighed with the weight of St. Michael,
did not fall.
Fine strands of multi-colored gum
suspended it there.
My spirit stopped by my snared torso.
I pulled! I yanked! Rolled it left to right!
It bruised! It softened! It could not free!
The struggle of an Eternity!
An Eternity of pulls! of yanks!
Went back to my head,
St. Michael had sucked dry my brainpan!
Only skull in heaven!
Went to my legs.
St. Peter was polishing his sandals with my knees!
I pounced upon him!
Pummeled his face in sugar in honey in marmalade!
Under each arm I fled with my legs!
The police of heaven were in hot pursuit!
I hid within the sop of St. Francis.
Gasping in the confectionery of his gentility
I wept, caressing my intimidated legs.
They caught me.
They took my legs away.
They sentenced me in the firmament of an ass.
The prison of an Eternity!
An Eternity of labor! of hee-haws!
Burdened with the soiled raiment of saints
I schemed escape.
Lugging ampullae its daily fill
I schemed escape.
I schemed climbing impossible mountains.
I schemed under the Virgin’s whip.
I schemed to the sound of celestial joy.
I schemed to the sound of earth,
the wail of infants,
the groans of men,
the thud of coffins.
I schemed escape.
God was busy switching the spheres from hand to hand.
The time had come.
I cracked my jaws.
Broke my legs.
Sagged belly-flat on plow
My spirit leaked from the wounds.
A whole spirit pooled.
I rose from the carcass of my torment.
I stood in the brink of heaven.
And I swear that Great Territory did quake
when I fell, free.