One of my very favorite poets was born on this day in 1930. That’s right: Gregory Corso. He was quite a few years younger than his friends—William S. Burroughs was born in 1914, Jack Kerouac in 1922, Allen Ginsberg in 1926—but was one of the first published. Kerouac had published The Town and the City in 1950, but the novel that would put him on the map—On the Road—wasn’t published for another seven years. Ginsberg’s Howl was published in 1956. Corso published his first poetry book, The Vestal Lady on Brattle, in 1955. He was only twenty-five years old. Speaking of which, Corso wrote a lovely poem called “I Am 25.” I remember back when I was in college, reading it and thinking how far off that seemed. Twenty five. What a magical age. I wrote a little poem emulating his about how old I was then, and instead of saying “I HATE OLD POETMEN!” like the line in his poem, I wrote “I LOVE OLD POETMEN!” And I do. Gregory Corso is brilliant. Both a classicist and a rule breaker.
If anyone could be called “beat,” it was Corso. Most of the people who came to be associated with the Beat Generation were middle-class suburbanites, or something close to that. Corso was born to a sixteen-year-old Italian immigrant in New York City, who later abandoned him to the Catholic Church Charities. He was sent to live with foster parents and ended up homeless on the streets of New York, eventually doing time in prison at thirteen years old for petty larceny. The story goes that while in The Tombs, the Mafia encouraged him to read, and he fell in love with poetry.