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Gregory Nunzio Corso (March 26, 1930 – January 17, 2001) was an American poet, youngest of the inner circle of Beat Generation writers (with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs).
Corso and Ginsberg decided to head to San Francisco, separately. Corso wound up temporarily in Los Angeles and worked at the L.A. Examiner news morgue. Ginsberg was delayed in Denver. They were drawn by reports of an iconoclast circle of poets, including Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch. An older literary mentor, the socialist writer Kenneth Rexroth, lent his apartment as a Friday-night literary salon (Ginsberg's mentor William Carlos Williams, an old friend of Rexroth's, had given him an introductory letter). Wally Hedrick  wanted to organize the famous Six Gallery reading, and Ginsberg wanted Rexroth to serve as master of ceremonies, in a sense to bridge generations. Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder read on October 7, 1955, before 100 people (including Kerouac, up from Mexico City). Lamantia read poems of his late friend John Hoffman. At his first public reading Ginsberg performed the just-finished first part of "Howl." Gregory Corso arrived late the next day, missing the historic reading, at which he had been scheduled to read. The Six Gallery was a success, and the evening led to many more readings by the now locally famous Six Gallery poets. It was also a marker of the beginning of the West Coast Beat movement, since the 1956 publication of Howl (City Lights Pocket Poets, no. 4) and its obscenity trial in 1957 brought it to nationwide attention. Ginsberg and Corso hitchhiked from San Francisco, visiting Henry Miller in Big Sur, and stopped off in Los Angeles. As guests of Anaïs Nin and writer Lawrence Lipton, Corso and Ginsberg gave a reading to a gathering of L.A. literati. Ginsberg took the audience off-guard, by proclaiming himself and Corso as poets of absolute honesty, and they both proceeded to strip bare naked of clothes, shocking even the most avant-garde of the audience. Corso and Ginsberg then hitchhiked to Mexico City to visit Kerouac who was holed up in a room above a whorehouse, writing a novel, "Tristessa." After a three-week stay in Mexico City, Ginsberg left, and Corso waited for a plane ticket. His lover, Hope Savage, convinced her father, Henry Savage Jr., the mayor of Camden, S.C., to send Corso a plane ticket to Washington, D.C. Corso had been invited by the Library of Congress poet (precursor to U.S. Poet Laureate) Randall Jarrell and his wife Mary, to live with them, and become Jarrell's poetic protege. Jarrell, unimpressed with the other Beats, found Corso's work to be original and believed he held great promise. Corso stayed with the Jarrells for two months, enjoying the first taste of family life ever. However, Kerouac showed up and crashed at the Jarrells', often drunk and loud, and got Corso to carouse with him. Corso was disinvited by the Jarrells and returned to New York.
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In 1957, Allen Ginsberg voyaged with Peter Orlovsky to visit William S. Burroughs in Morocco. They were joined by Kerouac, who was researching the French origins of his family. Corso, already in Europe, joined them in Tangiers and, as a group, they made an ill-fated attempt to take Burroughs' fragmented writings and organize them into a text (which later would become Naked Lunch). Burroughs was strung out on heroin and became jealous of Ginsberg's unrequited attraction for Corso, who left Tangiers for Paris. In Paris, Corso introduced Ginsberg and Orlovsky to a Left Bank lodging house above a bar at 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur, that he named the Beat Hotel. They were soon joined by William Burroughs and others. It was a haven for young expatriate painters, writers and musicians. There, Ginsberg began his epic poem Kaddish, Corso composed his poems Bomb and Marriage, and Burroughs (with Brion Gysin's help) put together Naked Lunch from previous writings. This period was documented by the photographer Harold Chapman, who moved in at about the same time, and took pictures of the residents of the hotel until it closed in 1963. Corso's Paris sojourn resulted in his third volume of poetry, The Happy Birthday of Death (1960), Minutes to Go (1960, visual poetry deemed "cut-ups") with William S. Burroughs, Sinclair Beiles, and Brion Gysin, The American Express (1961, an Olympia Press novel), and Long Live Man (1962, poetry). Corso fell out with his publisher of Gasoline, Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Bookstore, who objected to "Bomb," a position Ferlinghetti later rued and for which he apologized. Corso's work found a strong reception at New Directions Publishing, founded by James Laughlin, who had heard of Corso through Harvard connections. New Directions was considered the premier publisher of poetry, with Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Thomas Merton, Denise Levertov, James Agee, and ironically, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. While in Europe Corso searched for his lover, Hope Savage, who had disappeared from New York, saying she was headed to Paris. He visited Rome and Greece, sold encyclopedias in Germany, hung out with jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in Amsterdam, and with Ginsberg set the staid Oxford Union in turmoil with his reading of "Bomb," which the Oxford students mistakenly believed was pro-nuclear war (as had Ferlinghetti), while they and other campuses were engaged in "ban the bomb" demonstrations. A student threw a shoe at Corso, and both he and Ginsberg left before Ginsberg could read "Howl." Corso returned to New York in 1958, amazed that he and his compatriots had become famous, or notorious, emerging literary figures.
In later years, Corso disliked public appearances and became irritated with his own "Beat" celebrity. He never allowed a biographer to work in any "authorized" fashion, and only posthumously was a volume of letters published under the specious artifice of An Accidental Autobiography. He did, however, agree to allow filmmaker Gustave Reininger to make a cinema vérité documentary, Corso: The Last Beat, about him. Corso had a cameo appearance in The Godfather III where he plays an outraged stockholder trying to speak at a meeting. After Allen Ginsberg's death, Corso was depressed and despondent. Gustave Reininger convinced him to go "on the road" to Europe and retrace the early days of "the Beats" in Paris, Italy and Greece. While in Venice, Corso expressed on film his lifelong concerns about not having a mother and living such an uprooted childhood. Corso became curious about where in Italy his mother, Michelina Colonna, might be buried. His father's family had always told him that his mother had returned to Italy a disgraced woman, a whore. Filmmaker Gustave Reininger quietly launched a search for Corso's mother's Italian burial place. In an astonishing turn of events, Reininger found Corso's mother Michelina not dead, but alive; and not in Italy, but in Trenton, New Jersey. Corso was reunited with his mother on film. He discovered that she at the age of 17 had been almost fatally brutalized (all her front teeth punched out) and was sexually abused by her teenage husband, his father. On film, Michelina explained that, at the height of the Depression, with no trade or job, she had no choice but to give her son into the care of Catholic Charities. After she had established a new life working in a restaurant in New Jersey, she had attempted to find him, to no avail. The father, Sam Corso, had blocked even Catholic Charities from disclosing the boy's whereabouts. Living modestly, she lacked the means to hire a lawyer to find her son. She worked as a waitress in a sandwich shop in the New Jersey State Office Building in Trenton. She eventually married the cook, Paul Davita, and started a new family. Her child Gregory remained a secret between Michelina and her mother and sisters, until Reininger found them. Corso and his mother quickly developed a relationship which lasted until his death, which preceded hers. They both spent hours on the phone, and the initial forgiveness displayed in the film became a living reality. Corso and Michelina loved to gamble and on several occasions took vacations to Atlantic City for blackjack at the casinos. Corso always lost, while Michelina fared better and would stake him with her winnings.
Corso claimed that he was healed in many ways by meeting his mother and saw his life coming full circle. He began to work productively on a new, long-delayed volume of poetry, The Golden Egg. Shortly thereafter, Corso discovered he had irreversible prostate cancer. He died of the disease in Minnesota on January 17, 2001. Around two hundred people were present in the so-called "English Cemetery" in Rome, Italy, on Saturday morning, May 5, to pay their last respects to Gregory Corso. The poet's ashes were buried in a tomb precisely in front of the grave of his great colleague Shelley, and not far from the one of John Keats. In the tranquillity of this small and lovely cemetery, full of trees, flowers and well-fed cats, with the sun's complicity, more than a funeral, it seemed to be a reunion of long-lost friends, with tales, anecdotes, laughter and poetry readings. The urn bearing Corso's ashes arrived with his daughter Sheri Langerman who had assisted him during the last seven months of his life. Twelve other Americans came with her, among them Corso's old friends Roger Richards and the lawyer Robert Yarra. The cemetery had been closed to newcomers since the mid-century and Robert Yarra and Hannelore deLellis made it possible for Corso to be buried there. (Corso was a Catholic and the cemetery was strictly Protestant, but an exception was made for Corso.) His ashes were deposited at the foot of the grave of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Cimitero Acattolico, the Protestant Cemetery, Rome. He wrote his own epitaph:
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