Gregory Corso was a key member of the Beat movement, a group of convention-breaking writers, including William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who were credited with sparking much of the social and political change that transformed the United States in the 1960s. Corso’s spontaneous, insightful, and inspirational verse once prompted Ginsberg to describe him as an “awakener of youth.” Although Corso enjoyed his greatest level of popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, he has continued to influence contemporary readers and critics.
Writing in the American Book Review, Dennis Barone remarked that Corso’s 1989 volume of new and selected poems, Mindfield, was a sign that “despite doubt, uncertainty, the American way, death all around, Gregory Corso will continue, and I am glad he will.”
My own poem was inspired by a short poem (“For Lisa 2”) written by Corso and dedicated to Lisa Brinker, his eventual wife and surrogate mother to his son, Max. I used this wonderfully evocative text many times while teaching creative writing in Brazil.
For Lisa 2
I saw an angel today
with human smile
and nothing to say
a poetic gift of such intensity
that his wolfish eyes were capable of
penetrating the core of a palm tree so as
to observe infinitesimally its actual
That brooding, not-guilty gaze he acquired
in the years when barely out of adolescence
he served a jail sentence, there learnt to read,
learnt there to write poems. Yet prison was no
for the angels he would later catch sight of,
in diners, on street corners, sometimes with
an unlit cigarette in their mouth, sometimes
not, but always a beauty to behold. He made
of love, but truly believed in the coming
together of two bodies as a celebration
of being. Friendship was second nature
to him: poetry was his first.
20 September 2004