More than any of his contemporaries, Gregory Nunzio Corso lived the true Beat life. Brought up in the slums of New York City, with practically no formal education, Corso was, in the words of the poet-critic Kenneth Rexroth, “a genuine naif. A real wildman, with all the charm of a hoodlum . . . a wholesome Antonin Artaud.”
He was born in New York City to poor Italian immigrant parents, Fortunato Samuel and Michelina (Colloni) Corso. His mother died when he was a child, and about this loss Corso wrote: “I do not know how to accept love when love is given me. I needed that love when I was motherless young and never had it.” His unhappy childhood was marked by his being sent to an orphanage at eleven and to the Children’s Observation Ward at Bellevue Hospital when he was thirteen. At that time, Corso later wrote, “I was alone in the world—no mother and my father was at war . . . to exist I stole minor things and to sleep I slept on the rooftops and in the subway.” In summarizing his thirteenth year, however, Corso insists that although he went “through a strange hell that year” of 1943, it is “such hells that give birth to the poet.”
After three years on the streets of New York, having lived with five different foster parents, Corso was arrested with two friends while attempting to rob a store. Instead of being sent to a boys’ reformatory, Corso was sentenced to three years at Clinton Prison, where he began to write poetry. According to Corso, prison “proved to be one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.” He even dedicated his second book of poems, Gasoline, to “the angels of Clinton Prison” who forced him to give up the often “silly consciousness of youth” to confront the world of men.
After his release from prison in 1950, Corso took on a number of short-term jobs, including manual labor from 1950 to 1951, reporting for the Los Angeles Examiner from 1951 to 1952, and sailing on Norwegian...
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