Monday, June 22, 2009

From 1959: Far Out Poet Wriggles Toes, Totes 'Bomb', Hair, Kerouac

This article is from the May 17th, 1959 Hartford Courant.  

This past week my 8th grade daughter asked me to help her study for her final exam in history, and one of the terms was 'Beatnik'.  It reminded me of the article below, which I came across last month.  It's not 50, 100, or 150 years ago exactly, but I thought it provided an interesting intersection between the Beatnik poets and our city.  I have transcribed it exactly as it read in the Courant, even though the article seems to have a few oddities of punctuation and word usage.  

The photograph below shows from top left, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Peter Olovsky, Lafcadio Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso, in the late 1950s.  

by Richard Ahles

The second poet laureate of the Beatnik movement stopped off at Wesleyan Saturday on his way to Crete, where he plans to "pull in long nets from the sea, marry a little Greek girl, have little Greek babies and start my own Olympus."

Like Mushroom

Gregory Corso, author of "Bomb," a 184-line poem shaped like a mushroom, and other works, was accompanied by Jack Kerouac, author of "On the Road," and reputed to be the Beatnik's leading novelist.

The barefoot Corso was invited to speak at the University's John Wesley Club--and Kerouac accompanied him "on like a sentimental journey, because I was a gas station attendant in Hartford when I was 19."

"I was the goofiest gas station ever," Kerouac admitted.  "All I did was write plays and I didn't know how to change truck tires."

Kerouac, who attended Columbia University for a time, "and got an 'A' in Mark Van Doren's Shakespeare class and cut everything else," preferred to let Corso speak for both of them because "I never give interviews to the press except like when a reporter asks me to."

Under Mom's Sink

Corso finished school in the sixth grade and "learned to write poetry in my mother's kitchen and under her sink."  He was giggling too much to explain the merits of sub-sink study.

Having been characterized by Time Magazine as a poet who has never owned a comb, Corso said that he had nothing against Time.  "It has some beautiful writing," he said, "and when a magazine like Time has a headline that says 'Fried Shoes,' like it did on the story about me, it's good for the world. Sometimes journalists get us mixed up with switchblades, razors and like that, and that's when I get mad. I'm not beat; I'm not a Beatnick; I'm Gregory and I'm happy.

"Like when one poet said he was crazy as a daisy and crazy as a fire hydrant," he continued-like, "I said I was Gregory and I wasn't crazy at all. That was pretty funny because I really was crazy."

Asked if he had ever consulted a psychiatrist when under the impression he was crazy, Corso said he had met only one psychiatrist in his life.  

"It was when I was taking my Army physical. This psychiatrist talked to me, and gave me a piece of candy and I never heard from the Army again."

Corso hadn't met any professors at Wesleyan.  "The last professor I met said to me:  "Why the hell do you use "like" the way you do?" and I said to him, 'why do you use hell?"

Corso, who tended to ramble, like from thought to thought, was asked of he wished more people were beat. 

"Of course not, then we wouldn't have any barbers.  And you remember when Henry James died," he continued logically, "and his last words 'were,'now for the distinguished visitor,' which he thought was death.  It wasn't death; it was Woody Woodpecker."

And with that thought, the second string poet laureate of the Beat Generation shrieked a passable imitation of Woody Woodpecker, signaling the end of the interview.  

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