Archives For April 2011

Happy Birthday, Carolyn Cassady

Carolyn Cassady was born 28th April, 1923. She is best known for her participation in the Beat Generation – both as a character in the works of the Beat writers, as well as for her memoir, Off the Road.

Spencer Kansa interviewed Carolyn Cassady for the last issue of Beatdom. Take a look.

Or search Beatdom’s archives for more info about her.

Old Bill Burroughs in Trouble Again

It seems that William S. Burroughs is being summoned to court once again in defense of his work, despite having been dead for some time. In his place, thankfully, goes Sel Publishing House, whose rational and considered response to the accusations levied against Burroughs have probably only helped his book sales.

Rather than the United States, where the trial surrounding Naked Lunch helped rid the country of the scourge of overzealous censors, this new series of events has taken place in Turkey, where Burroughs’ The Soft Machine was released in January.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister’s Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications was called in to investigate Burroughs’ book… raising the question: Is Burroughs’ really considered a children’s author in any country?

Oh well, thankfully his publishers have jumped to his defense in court, and we’ll just have to wait and see whether or not reason prevails. Check out their statement:

It is impossible to understand the insistence in sending books written and published for adults to councils that specialize in minors. If we consider things from this perspective, then dozens of such reports could be written about TV channels, newscasts and thousands of books…

Just as no writer is under any special obligation to highlight humanity’s fair attributes under every circumstance, the measure of whether a book has any literary value or not, and the judge of what the book may add to the reader’s reservoir of knowledge, is not an official state institution, but the reader himself.

Once again, societies comprised of modern, creative and inquisitive individuals are formed by reading and being exposed to literary texts and works of art that can be considered as the most extreme examples of their kind.

Beat Links for April

It seems that everyone is digging the Beats this month. Google just added an “Allen Ginsberg” section to my Google News, and it’s yielding some interesting results. His name keeps popping up, probably with a bit of encouragement from the flurry of new movies about his contemporaries.

So here are a couple of links that might be of interest to our wonderful readers:

The Plot Turn On the World: The Leary/ Ginsberg Acid Conspiracy

Time Travel: Allen Ginsberg on Marijuana Tourism

The Soul of the Beats

And of course, there’s the news about Big Sur: The Movie

Many Loves

by Dr Madhu Mehrotra and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra

“Resolved to sing no songs henceforth but those of manly attachment”

-Walt Whitman

“Longing is a better muse than satisfaction” says Regina Marler the author of ‘Queer Beat: How the Beats turned America onto sex’ and this is very true with regard to the nucleus of the generation which broke all rules of hegemonic, heterosexual, square society, a generation that questioned procreation itself, that regarded ‘manly love’ as the source of all enlightenment and divinity. Without Kerouac there would have been no ‘Howl’, without Neal there would have been no On the Road and without Ginsberg there would have been no Naked Lunch. It is rather amusing that all these poets were at some point of their lives unrequited lovers of each other. While Ginsberg longed for sexual unification with Kerouac and Neal, Burroughs on the other hand loved Ginsberg who in turn loved Burroughs but not the way he loved Neal and Jack and his long time flame Peter Orlovsky. Though there were many heart breaks, and Ginsberg felt that both Kerouac and Neal “ didn’t want anymore sex” with him and that they actually “rejected” him, but “had there been direct, requited, unhampered love between any two Beats, they would have paired off and broken the circle”.  This is what is so unique about these writers, they were muses  to each other  and without one the other was incomplete.

The generation has been accused of being sexist, though women were not very popular as a part of the Beat generation, there were few who made some impact and were part of the grand orgy. Diane Di Prima, a bisexual bohemian, the writer of ‘ Memoirs of a beatnik’ and the co-editor of a newsletter  ‘The Floating Beer’ was one such magnetic woman who quite often made out and participated in orgies involving almost all the major Beat poets. She describes one such occasion when all the poets got involved in one of the most mystifying orgies of their time. She says “it was a strange, nondescript kind of orgy. Allen set things going by largely and fully embracing all of us, each in turn and all at once, sliding from body to body in a great wallow of flesh.” Ginsberg in particular loved to “lie down between the bridegroom and the bride” and would embrace “those bodies fallen from heaven stretched out waiting naked and restless.”

In the 1950s it often seemed that the only openly gay poet was Allen Ginsberg. The enormous publicity that Ginsberg received made him an important figure, whose avowal of homosexuality was part of his larger attempt to undermine American society and its pretensions to respectability. Although many of the Beat writers were homosexual or bisexual (such as Burroughs or Kerouac), it was Ginsberg who made his sexuality an integral part of his public image and his poetry. ‘Howl’ was the first poem to bring Ginsberg public attention, and its treatment of homosexuality is characteristic of Ginsberg’s position during this time. Ginsberg followed the poetic tradition of Whitman and spoke about the ‘self’ in his poems, though Whitman kept his sexuality mostly underground emphasized behind the themes of procreation in his work, Ginsberg on the other hand celebrated it. Whitman’s sexuality was portrayed as both active and passive in his works; he devoted much attention to the image of two lovers happy together as to actual moments of sexual penetration.  In Ginsberg the desire for religious vision is transformed into a desire to be laid, whereas in Whitman the experience of sexual pleasure leads to a greater understanding of the world. Ginsberg takes inspiration from Whitman when he transforms an ultimately peaceful vision of human unity into an affirmation of the homosexual’s alienation from the “straight” world and a desire to become an object of love rather than a participant in it.

The  writing  of obscene, and provocative phrases like ‘Butler has no balls’ and ‘Fuck the Jews’ and tracing two lewd drawings, one of a phallus and testicles and the other of a skull and cross bones on the dust of his dorm window, led to the expulsion of Allen Ginsberg from Columbia University. What could have caused Ginsberg to create such an outrage? For answers we might have look into his childhood. Naomi gave birth to Irvin Allen in Newark, New Jersey in 1926, his father Louis was for Allen an ‘old fashioned’ lyric poet who was used to making ‘clever puns.’ Ginsberg was in a silent and intense war against his parents, his silent revenge, gave birth to the most remarkable pieces of American poetry, ‘Howl’ and ‘Kaddish’. Ginsberg was always haunted by the ghosts of his parents; he would be haunted all his life by Naomi, which resulted in some very provocative and obscene episodes in ‘Kaddish’. Bill Morgan in his book I Celebrate Myself: the somewhat private life of Allen Ginsberg captures the appalling incidences that took place in the house of young Allen: “she seldom wore a dress around the house and Allen became quite familiar with his mother’s anatomy. He was particularly upset when he saw her wearing only a bloody menstrual pad while doing her chores.”

His motherless childhood starved him of loving touch and affection, physical contact became a very strong need. He would share the bed with his brother, who would push him away as he would desire to be physically close to him. “I must have been a sexpest to the whole family” confessed Ginsberg years later. Louis Ginsberg called him a “Little Kissing bug” as he desired to be physically close to his father and brother. His yearning to be close in childhood manifested itself in a profound sense of alienation in his youth, his sense of alienation was intense and excruciating, even in the company of the like minded crazy men, whose minds were ‘destroyed by madness’, Allen always remained a lone star, he wanted Jack to remember that he was a Jew and an outcast “I am alien to your natural grace,” he wrote. “I am in exile from myself.” He added, “You are an American more completely than I, more fully a child of nature and all that is the grace of the earth…I am not a child of nature, I am ugly and imperfect.”

To top it all 1950’s was an era of sexual liberation and revolution. The concept of ‘Free Love’ as expressed by hippies, didn’t just appear overnight. It was a philosophy with roots deep in human consciousness and the 50’s which just required a little encouragement to surface. That encouragement appeared in the 1950s in the form of new knowledge about human sexuality, ‘the pill’, psychedelic drugs, and a counter-culture which rejected the conservative ways and embraced individual freedom. A new awareness of human sexuality began to spread among Americans starting with the Kinsey Report in 1948. It was a nine year study of human sexuality which opened everyone’s minds to the diversity of sexual behaviour. The result of the survey indicated the astonishing truth that up to 10% of the entire population was gay. One statistic suddenly put homosexuality into a whole new light for many people. Another statistic from the study that shocked people was the fact that nearly everyone masturbated. The backdrop for a new generation to explore their sexuality in a free and uninhibited way was initiated in the late 50’s. Allen Ginsberg and his circle wrote popular books that embraced sensuality and sexual experimentation as an essential ingredient to living life to its fullest. Yet it took America with its conservative, Puritan roots a while to catch on to this new awareness and freedom as Americans were programmed at an early age to regard sex and marriage as a sacred pair, not to be separated. So the whole generation growing up in the 1960s, developed a radically different attitude towards sex as compared to their parents. Drugs like marijuana, alcohol, LSD and cocaine loosened inhibitions and sex became just another ‘turn-on’. Gay men and women started coming out of the closet in the cities. Communal living situations fostered short-lived relationships, and much sexual experimentation. As a young student when Ginsberg got admitted to Columbia, he neither had any notion of what literary style he would adopt for his poetry, nor did he realize his potent and hidden homosexuality. He, for the first time explored his homosexuality through the company of men Like Lucien Carr and Kerouac. 1950’s was not an era of sexual liberty and liberation, homosexuality on the other hand was considered abomination by the civilized ‘square’ society. Ginsberg kept his homosexuality hidden and used coded language to communicate with likeminded intellectuals. Homosexuality being considered as felony caused homosexuals to go underground and create their own secret society, it was this secret society that Ginsberg communicated with, in bars and coffee shops. He started reading books on the subject of ‘sex’, both fiction and nonfiction, Clifford Howards’s idea of ‘phallus’ being “the embodiment of creative power” interested him the most and he formed his own mythology of phallus being the fountain of all creativity. Jonah Ruskin, the writer of ‘American Scream’ gives us an account of Ginsberg’s sexuality and his fascination for sex and Kerouac.  “Sex and sexuality became the subtext of his fiction and poetry; almost all his symbols were sexual symbols, he explained to Kerouac. At eighteen Ginsberg fell in love with Kerouac and wrote love poems and love stories about him.” He confesses in his gay sunshine interview , conducted in 1972 in his Cherry Valley  farm in upstate New York that when he realised in the early 50’s that he was in love with Kerouac, he told him one night, “Jack, you know I love you, and I want to sleep with you, and I really like men.” Though Kerouac didn’t seem to be really interested at that time, Ginsberg felt that “he wasn’t going to reject” him “really, he was going to accept my soul with all its throbbing and sweetness and worries and dark woes and sorrows and heartaches and joys and glees and mad understandings of morality…” Eventually both of them caught up together, Ginsberg recollects that “I blew him, I guess. He once blew me, years later. It was sort of sweet, peaceful.”

The principal episode in the life of Ginsberg which changed the course of his writing forever was his affair with Neal Cassady. It was in the year 1946 when Allen Ginsberg and Neal Casady met; Allen instantly fell in love with the wild, young and handsome boy he came across. Cassady was “The Mover, compulsive, dedicated, ready to sacrifice family, friends, even his very car itself to the necessity of moving from one place to another.” Cassady was a sexual outlaw and Ginsberg was aware of his dark ‘caliban’ side. Cassady was a sadist and derived pleasure in abusing Allen both physically and emotionally, but Ginsberg on the other hand ‘turned the agony of their relationship into the ecstasy of art. If he was sexually abused he would be inspired to write poetry.” Neal Cassady was the major influences that inspired ‘Howl’, and it is Cassady who is the sexual hero of the poem, in the poem he appears to be the ‘Adonis of Denver’ Adonis being a Greek mythological figure associated with male youth and beauty. In ‘Howl’ Ginsberg describes Cassady as “flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake” who “went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver—joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too…” Indeed, Cassady often took on a larger than life persona in much of the Beat literature. ‘Please Master’ is one of the most graphically written works by Ginsberg about his relationship with Neal Cassady. Ginsberg portrays sadomasochistic sexuality precisely as a symbolic relationship, with language, too, that is ironic in its erotic affirmation of the master’s dominance and slave’s submission. In ‘Please Master’ Cassady seems self-evidently the controlling master having his way with a submissive Ginsberg. However a closer reading of the poem dramatizes sexual activity that, of course, would not occur without the person in the slave subject position initiating intercourse. However, it was Peter Orlovsky with whom Ginsberg had a long lasting affair which continued as long as Ginsberg was alive. The Pygmalion legend came true for Allen when he first saw a painting of Peter made by a young artist by the name of La Vigne, he was at once in love with this young boy in the painting with his yellow hair and a pleasing smile. Peter was primarily heterosexual and cried the first time after making love to Allen. Allen explained this later by stating that “the reason he wept was that he realised how much he was giving me, and how much I was demanding, asking and taking” while Allen on the  other hand knew that in Peter he had found a long lasting union, he wrote a poem called ‘Malest Cornifici Tuo Catullo’ addressing it to Kerouac, describing his inner state of mind after having Peter in his life:

I’m happy Kerouac, your madman’s Allen’s

finally made it: discovered a new young cat,

And my imagination of an eternal boy

Walks on the streets of San Francisco,

Handsome, and meets me in cafeterias

And loves me…

Later when Allen and Peter moved in together they shared a beautiful bond of trust, faith, friendship and love. Peter was much younger to Allen and looked up to him, together they travelled a lot to Asia, especially India, where they lived for several years and kept on visiting later. Allen for the first time proposed marriage. It was Peter with whom he wanted to share that special bond of trust and everlasting love. He proposed that he and Peter should take marriage vows and one morning at 3 AM “We made a vow to each other that he could owe me, my mind and everything I knew, and his body; and that we would give each other ourselves, so that we possessed each other as property, to do everything we wanted to, sexually or intellectually, and in a sense explore each other until we reached the mystical ‘X’”

Allen as a lover had always been demanding but at the same time he had given freedom to his partners to explore their own sexuality. The desire to be laid, and to be loved are the strongest in Ginsberg. He always feared separation and pain and begged his lovers not to condone their love. In one of his journals, he wrote an entry addressed to Peter saying, “So I don’t care who else you screw, make it with girls, only to be sure to keep compassion for me, answer call when I break down to need of love moment- initiate my liberation and sexual revelation of self. Far as I know I want to be tied to bed and screwed, whipped, want to wrestle and blow and come in unison, sexual ecstasy…”

On the other hand with Neal Cassady Ginsberg shared a sadomasochistic relationship. Neal abused Allen, which he encouraged, “I want to be your slave, suck your ass, suck your cock, you fuck me, you master me, you humiliate me” wrote Ginsberg in one of his journals. Ginsberg’s father Louis Ginsberg, knew that Neal was a bad influence and he warned his son to “Exorcise Neal”. Ginsberg finally understood that Neal was not the partner who could have shared a bond of eternal love and ecstasy with him.

Ginsberg was a self declared homosexual and thus kept off woman for most of his life. It is said that he embraced misogyny in the 50’s and though he admitted that he hated women, he did have some female partners. He fantasised making love to Neal and his wife Carolyn which he mentions in his ‘Love Poem on Theme by Whitman’ He had both male and female lovers who came together for the celebrated orgies at his apartment. In the beginning of 1955, he wrote to Jack telling him how he had come to enjoy the company of women too, “something great happens to me in Frisco. After girl now for first time in life boy.” Johan Raskin talks about Ginsberg’s liberated and ecstatic life in California, he says “California was dream-like not because he was writing great poetry, but because he was enjoying great sex.”

Eroticism and its elements have long been considered mystic in the poetic traditions of the world. It could be the troubadours of the English courtly love poetry or the erotic Sanskrit verses, mysticism can be said to be inherent in them. Ginsberg refers exclusively towards the glorification of the human body. In fact, it will not be an overstatement to say that Ginsberg is a neo humanist; he aims at establishing a contact with his spirit and the universal human spirit through extensive allusions to the body, in Ginsberg the allusions to the body and the longing to make love and be loved represents a yearning thirst to satisfy the instinct for spiritual growth. Ginsberg may be easily compared with the few poets who could understand the transcendence of sex into the realms of spirituality much on the lines that Osho later picked it on. Osho argued in his book ‘Sex Matters’ that love and sex are inseparable and that orgasm is an inside into timelessness and thoughtlessness. These were the lines on which Ginsberg wrote his erotic love poetry.

It is true that Ginsberg’s sexual self and his ‘Many Loves’ dominated most part of his life and had a remarkable influence on his writings. It seemed that the more sex he got the better he wrote. Sex inspired him and worked as an elixir; though he had many affairs mostly disappointing he continued his search for the ultimate love making that could take him to the ‘mystical X’ he was searching all his life.

Happy Birthday, Bob Kaufman!

On this day in 1925, Bob Kaufman was born.

From Beatdom Issue One:

Bob Kaufman: The Unsung Beat


It always baffles me to find Bob Kaufman omitted from a great many books and documentaries and websites and talk about the Beat Generation. For me, Kaufman is the embodiment of Beat. That is not to say that the more well known names and faces did not embody the spirit they are most widely credited with creating and fulfilling, but rather that Kaufman was as Beatnik as any of them, and people today forget that all too easily. Hell, many critics argue that it was Kaufman who actually coined the phrase “Beat”, and not Jack Kerouac.

What would Kerouac say? Kerouac and his well-known Beat Generation contemporaries respected Kaufman as much as anyone, but he has been downplayed by later critics and fans. In France, where his largest following existed, he was known as the ‘Black American Rimbaud”.

Maybe there is a simple explanation for this apparent amnesia… Kaufman only wrote his poetry down on paper when forced to, preferring instead to read it aloud in public, or to indulge in a little guerrilla poetry, posting notes on shop windows, criticising society and the police. He preferred to recite his works in coffee shops and on the streets, once reading to Ken Kesey before the two knew each other, and frightening the young Kesey with his mad appearance, but impressing him nonetheless. Consequently, little accurate biographical information is available for willing scholars, and Kaufman remains for most a mythical Beat figure.

“My ambition is to be completely forgotten,” he once told Raymond Foye, editor of his collection of poems, The Ancient Rain.

His poetry had many of the influences of the works of other Beats, primarily jazz and Buddhism. He also had drug problems and run-ins with the law. And his life consisted of stories the equal of those that made famous. For example, when John F Kennedy was assassinated, Kaufman took a vow of silence that he never broke until the end of the Vietnam war. When he spoke, he recited a poem he had written, entitled “All Those Ships that Never Sailed.” Although he did speak after this, he remained more or less in solitude until his death in 1986.


The following bio is drawn from an extremely wide selection of reading, containing a number of conflicting dates and stories. Although this is testament to the wonderfully elusive life and times of the poet, it also means: Take the info with a pinch of salt, friend.

Bob Kaufman was born in New Orleans in 1925, to a German Jewish father and a Martinican black Catholic mother. His grandmother was a practitioner of Voodoo, while he was active in both Catholic and Jewish traditions, and later he became a Buddhist. It could therefore be stated that he was influenced in one way or another by a variety of religions and had an unusual and diverse racial heritage.

To add to these experiences, Kaufman joined the Merchant Marines when only thirteen, survived four shipwrecks, and travelled the world, meeting Jack Kerouac. He read widely and studied literature at New York’s The New School, where he met William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. He led unions and spoke on the docks on both coast, and was friends with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus. In 1944 Kaufman married Ida Berrocal, in 1945 their daughter, Antoinette Victoria, was born, and in 1958, he married his second wife, Eileen Singe.

So when he moved to San Francisco in 1958, with Ginsberg and Burroughs, it would be fair to say that he had gained quite a bit of life experience. He met Ferlinghetti and Corso in San Francisco and helped develop the local literary Renaissance. Here he devoted himself to spontaneous oral poetry that flowed to the beat of jazz and bebop, the music that pulsed through the dives and haunts of the Beatnik North Beach area. He often took his son, Parker (named after Charlie Parker), into coffee houses and cafes, to “hold court”.

With Allen Ginsberg, John Kelly and William Margolis, Kaufman founded Beatitude magazine in North Beach, in 1959 (or ’65 or ’75 depending on the used resource). The magazine today exists in name and memory through Beatitude Broadside and Beatitude Press. Coupled with this accomplishment, and the creativity of his poetic performances, Kaufman read at Harvard and was nominated for the English Guinness Award.

However, as with so many Beats, Kaufman found himself addicted to drugs, in financial strife, and in frequent trouble with the law. Then when arrested in New York City for walking on the grass of Washington Square park, he was arrested and forced to undergo electro-shock therapy. So, with the assassination of JFK, Kaufman withdrew into silence. After the end of the war in ‘Nam, he regained some creativity, but soon went into a sort of retirement until his death in 1986.

He published three volumes of poetry, Solitudes Crowded With LonelinessGolden Sardine, and Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978. He published Golden Sardines, as well as a number of chapbooks in the mid-sixties, through City Lights. He also founded Beatitude and a variety of ‘Abomunist’ texts, including theAbomunist Manifesto.


Kaufman’s poetry blends high English with street language, the structure and rhythm of African-American speech, surrealism, and the beat and improvisational qualities of jazz. He would recite his poetry aloud in the Coffee Gallery or in diners or during traffic jams, rarely writing them down, except perhaps in loose note form on napkins. Many listeners state that his best performances were done alongside a jazz musician.

Naturally, for a poet so obsessed with the orality of his poems, Kaufman’s work reflects speaking patterns – and not just through reciting his poems aloud. The words that make up his poems are everyday words, and the rhythms reflect everyday speech, in keeping with the style of Walt Whitman, although imbuing it with contemporary streetwise language.

He frequently features in volumes of African-American and avant-garde poetry, but seems forgotten in the predominantly white world of Beat history. But I guess that although he embodied Beat ideals and poetics, he was extremely unique within the bohemian world and was so occupied with new poetic ideas that he is of greater interest to more specific schools of thought than the often overarching generality of Beat literature studies. Of course, more likely than that is the fact that he preferred to not write down his poetry. Conflicting sources would have us believe that Kaufman’s wives wrote his poems down on his behalf, and also that they encouraged him to write them down himself. Either way, published collections of his work only reveal a small section of the full body.

However, although it is mostly true that he was averse to writing down his poetry, a handwritten manuscript was found by incredible fortune in the burning rubble of a hotel fire, from which Kaufman had narrowly escaped. Many of these poems went into The Ancient Rain.

But back to the poems… And Kaufman is frequently compared to twentieth century surrealist painters for his appreciation and use of strong and madly juxtaposed imagery. His use of symbolism is incredibly vivid and sensual. His Whitman-esque use of lists to build images imbued with sound, colour and feeling also draws upon Pound and W.C. Williams in its minimalist economy and effective conveyance. ‘Jazz Chick’ is a great example of such devices, and is easily available to read online.

Big Sur: The Movie

This past year has been kind to fans of the Beat Generation. First there was “Howl”, the movie about Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem, starring James Franco and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Then came “On the Road”, adapted from Jack Kerouac’s classic novel, and starring Sam Reilly and Kristen Stewart. As it hasn’t reached the cinema yet, it remains to be seen whether it will enthrall Beat fans like “Howl”.

Now there is “Big Sur”, based upon another Kerouac classic. According to the day’s news, the movie will be directed by Michael Polish and starring Jean-Marc Barr, Josh Lucas and Kate Bosworth.

Also coming up this year is the long, long, long awaited movie based on Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp and directed by Bruce Robinson.

Gregory Corso: Poet of the Streets

by James Lough

Illustration by Isaac Bonan

If the first string of the Beat writers featured Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, then Gregory Corso was the number one second stringer, an apt metaphor because he loved baseball and wrote about it. When young, in the 1960s, he was a handsome devil, which helped him befriend Allen Ginsberg, who claimed he once seduced Corso. Corso denied it. But Corso’s smooth good looks were belied by his aggressive personality forged from growing up in eight different foster families and fending for himself on the streets. He met Ginsberg at age 20, right after finishing three years in upstate New York’s Clinton prison for several robberies.[i]

Corso’s most well-known collection of poetry was Gasoline/Vestal Lady on Brattle, published by City Lights, but he published something like seventeen books. Probably his most famous poem was “Bomb,” which appeared on the page in the shape of a mushroom cloud and argued that we must learn to love the bomb. Hadn’t we heard that somewhere, say, in Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire of the Cold War? Corso beat Kubrick to the punch, publishing “Bomb” in 1958.[ii]

Corso lived at the Chelsea off and on, gracing the hotel’s literary scene with his literary learnedness, his trickster’s antics and his acid tongue.

Dimitri Mugianis

I was on my way with a couple of friends on 23rd Street, and we saw this crazy old drunk standing on 23rd street, sort of ranting at people on the street. He looked homeless. He was holding this huge framed photograph of Hitler before Hitler became Chancellor. Hitler was dressed in mourning clothes, those ties that are folded over, and his shoes had spats on them.

So this drunk on 23rd was screaming, “Ya wanna buy a pictah of Hitlah?”

Naturally, I was immediately attracted to this guy. I went up and talked to him about his picture of Hitler.

When he turned to look at us, I realized he was Gregory Corso! Corso on the street selling this picture! We started talking to him.

“Are you Gregory Corso?”

“Yeah of course. That’s Corso, yeah,” he said, referring to himself in the third person.

So we started walking down 23rd street with Corso, talking with him, and he was grabbing at people as he staggered down the street. At one point, he stopped right in front of the Chelsea Hotel, and he pointed at Hitler. “Look at him! He coulda done so many good things, the motherfucker! The broads loved him! Look at his shoes!”

And then he walked into the Chelsea. I found out later on that he was going up to Marty Matz’s room.

Before long, Dimitri had introduced Corso to his his young friend, the fillmaker James Rasin.

James Rasin

Gregory Corso and I would go to Atlantic City together. I remember the first time we went, I had just come walking down the block. I was in shorts and a tee shirt and flip flops.

Gregory said, “I’m going to Atlantic City. You wanna come with me? Let’s go to the Port Authority and catch the bus.”

I had just gotten paid – I had about 300 bucks in my pocket, so I said, “Sure, let’s go!”

So we’re walking through the Port Authority, and I was thinking this was pretty cool to be doing this with Corso. But then this homeless guy who’s walking behind us starts saying “Excuse me!” and starts chasing after us.

I thought, “Well, I’m going to ignore this guy!”

But the homeless guy came up to me. He tapped me on the shoulder and then he started shaking me. He said, “This fell out of your pocket!” He was holding my wad of money – it had fallen out of my pocket.

Corso was ecstatic. “You are the luckiest person in the world. I’ve never seen anything like it! I’m so glad we’re going out – you’re gonna be good luck in Atlantic City!”

To have a homeless guy chase you down with your 300 dollars! I felt like kind of a jackass, so I gave the homeless guy some of the money and we went on and had fun.

Corso had just gotten the galley proofs of his book Minefield. The whole bus ride out, he was reading aloud to me from the galleys as he proofread it. Gregory was a great teacher. He was a very, very smart guy, different from Huncke in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I’d go over to his place and we’d watch football together.

We once did a film with Gregory Corso up on the roof of a building. We had him recite and riff on the Bill of Rights. He would read from the Bill of Rights and then say his peace about it. He never liked the film – he thought we had tricked  him and gotten him drunk. He thought he looked like an idiot. He didn’t want us to show that film, so we never did. But I didn’t think he looked like an idiot. The film probably could have turned out better, and he was a little self-conscious, and he was a little drunk, but it’s still an interesting document – Gregory up on the roof saying his peace about the Constitution.

Dimitri Mugianis

One time, Corso was kidding around with me.

“Hey Dimitri, you’re Greek. You’re supposed to know something about the ancient Greeks! You don’t know crap about the ancient Greeks, and you’re Greek!”

So Ramon, the Puerto Rican drug dealer, asks Corso, “What’s that mean?  He’s Greek, so what? What’s that mean?”
“You don’t know?” Corso asks. “You don’t know the ancient Greeks?”

“Nah,” Ramon says, irritated, as if it’s obvious that he wouldn’t know about such things.

Now Corso’s schtick was that there’s not much to know, that there were only about five things about the world that everyone should know. And one of them was the ancient Greeks.

“I’m going to break it down for you, Ramon,” Corso said. So Corso went home and wrote Ramon a history book of the ancient Greeks!  It’s got an inscription in it.

Corso was an intimidatingly brilliant man, and all self-educated.

Later, I told Ramon, “Listen Ramon, you hold onto that book. That book’s worth all the gold you own.”

“Really?” Ramon was incredulous. “From this guy?”  Ramon had just stumbled onto these Beat guys by knowing some of us at the Chelsea. He had no idea who they were.

“Yeah, bro,” I said. “Really.”

James Rasin

He knew so much about the Greek classics and poetry. He knew Greek mythology backwards and forwards.

According to Ginsberg’s biographer, Barry Miles, Corso – who had next to no formal education – learned everything he knew about ancient Greek and Roman literature by reading them in prison. The old convicts there had advised him about prison life: “Don’t serve time, let it serve you.”

But as Ginsberg and William Burroughs could attest, Corso could be a handful.  He was emotionally mercurial and subject to tantrums, hissy fits and general bad behavior.

Robert Campbell

Gregory Corso used to hit on my girlfriend, Carol, and be really abusive in a verbal way.

Dimitri Mugianis

My wife at the time was absolutely beautiful, and one time Corso was being rude to her in my apartment. I wanted to kill him. But later on, I got to know him more, and he said to me that my relationship to her was a blessed thing. I had to beat Corso’s ass, but after I did, he started to be decent to me.

Gregory Corso died January 17, 2001 — ten months before the death of his fellow Chelsea-dwelling poet, Marty Matz.

[i] From Barry Miles’ biography, Ginsberg, Simon and Schuster, 1989.

[ii] For more on Gregory Corso’s poem “Gasoline,” see and

On the Anniversary of the Death of Allen Ginsberg

It’s been fourteen years since he left us.

The Allen Ginsberg Project has some musings on the anniversary of his death.

The Rum Diary Gets Release Date

Great news for fans of Hunter S. Thompson! The long awaited movie based on his semi-autobiographical novel The Rum Diary has finally been given a release date: 28th October, 2011.

The movie, starring Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp and Amber Heard as Chenault, finished production in late 2009 and has since been lost in distribution troubles. It has been a source of constant discussion and frustration for Gonzo fans the world over.

The two year delay, however, has been nothing compared to the 40 yr gap between Thompson writing the book and it finally being published.

The Bukowski Project

Here’s something surely of interest to Beat readers: a musical performance of some of the work of Charles Bukowski. This month, Ute Lemper will perform The Bukowski Project at New York’s Abrons Art Center.

For details about tickets and times, see here.

To read about her previous performances, see here.