Mindfield (1989) signed by Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs
First Edition, First Printing, 1989
Hardcover, Thunders Mouth Press
Signed on copyright page by both Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs
Mindfield is a large selection of Gregory Corso’s poetry encompassing numerous collections and spanning most of his life. This first edition, published by Thunders Mouth Press comes with original dust jacket featuring one of Corso’s drawings, and is one of 250 signed and numbered by Corso, and signed also by William S. Burroughs, who wrote one of its forewords.
Gregory Corso’s an aphoristic poet, and a poet of ideas. What modern poets write with such terse clarity that their verses stick in the mind without effort? Certainly Yeats, Pound, Williams, Elliot, Kerouac, Creeley, Dylan & Corso have that quality. Corso’s handling of ideas is unique, as in various one-word title poems…
Gregory Corso was born in New York City in 1930. His mother, Michelina, left sometime in his first year, and his father, Sam, abandoned him to foster care. When World War II broke out, his abusive father took him back to try and avoid the military draft. He was drafted regardless, and Corso again found himself alone and homeless on the streets of Little Italy. He continued to attend Catholic school, where he was a talented student, and survived mostly on running errands for local merchants in exchange for food.
During one of these errands, a passerby offered to buy from him a toaster he’d been asked to deliver to a neighbor. He used to money to buy a shirt and tie, and went to see a movie. When he returned, he was arrested for petty larceny, and sent to The Tombs, the former New York City jail. The experience was deeply traumatizing, from abuse by other inmates, to being housed next to an insane murderer who’d killed his wife with a screwdriver. Thus began a series of arrests for petty crimes.
After he was arrested for breaking into a tailor shop, no longer a minor, he was sent “up the river” to Clinton Correctional, which he credits with making him a poet. As luck would have it, Corso was housed in the cell recently vacated by Lucky Luciano, who’d made a wartime deal with the US government for the mafia to protect New York harbor from Axis sabotage in exchange for his release. In the meantime, Luciano had donated a prison library, where Corso spent many hours poring through the stacks, particularly Greek and Roman classics, encouraged by the mafiosi at the prison, endeared and entertained as they were by Corso’s wit an antics. He dedicated his collection Gasoline to “the angels of Clinton Prison who, in my seventeenth year, handed me, from all the cells surrounding me, books of illumination.”
Following Corso’s release from Clinton, he met Allen Ginsberg for the first time at the Pony Stable in Greenwich Village, one of NYC’s first lesbian bars. The two quickly became friends, and Ginsberg introduced Corso to the rest of the Beat circle, wherein he became an integral member. The other Beats respected Corso’s brilliance, and this young, poet of the streets, this “urchin Shelley” (as Bruce Cook calls him), well-versed in the classics seemed to fit perfectly in their milieu, and became one of the movement’s most important poets. Corso’s poetry is often described as juxtaposing classical themes and imagery with contemporary, idiomatic language.
Gregory Corso moved to Cambridge in 1954, hanging around Harvard’s Widener library, sitting in on classes, and sleeping on dorm room floors. He was nearly expelled, but when he showed dean Archibald MacLeish some of his poetry, he was allowed to stay as a non-matriculated student. Later, he traveled west, lured by murmurs of a burgeoning, iconoclastic poetry scene, and after spending some time in Los Angeles, arrived in San Francisco, having missed the historic reading at the Six Gallery by just one day. Corso continued to travel, from SF to Big Sur (where he and Ginsberg met Henry Miller), back to Los Angeles as a guest of Anaïs Nin and Lawrence Lipton, and hitchhiked with Ginsberg to Mexico to visit Jack Kerouac, who was living in Mexico in a shack above a brothel, working on his novella Tristessa. In 1957, he traveled with the other Beats to Tangiers to visit William Burroughs, and then went on to Paris, living with the other Beats in the dilapidated rooming house they dubbed the Beat Hotel. Here Corso enjoyed one of his most prolific periods, producing The Happy Birthday of Death (1960), Minutes to Go (1960), The American Express (1961), and Long Live Man (1962). He continued to travel Europe, visiting Italy and Greece, Germany, and met up with Chet Baker while in Amsterdam. He later gave a reading at Oxford, where one of his best known poems, “Bomb,” met with considerable controversy, when the student audience mistakenly interpreted the piece as pro-nuclear war (as had Lawrence Ferlinghetti). Corso returned to New York in 1958, where he reunited with the other Beats. In 1959, he and Ginsberg took a bus trip to Chicago for the launch of Big Table, which further galvanized their rebel image. They traveled the country, giving readings mostly at colleges. Students loved them, while the major magazines hated them. As the ’60s drew on, and the Beats gave way to the Hippie counterculture, Corso struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. He continued to travel, living in Rome for many years, then Paris, and taught in Greece. He returned to New York again, where he lived at the Chelsea Hotel, and lived in San Francisco off and on through the 1970s and ’80s. Gregory Corso died in 2001 at age 70.