Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 731
Corso, (Nunzio) Gregory 1930–
American poet associated with the Beat Generation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
If poets put on various masks in their poems, then … the mask that is most distinctively Gregory Corso's [is] the mask of the sophisticated child whose every display of mad spontaneity and bizarre perception is consciously and effectively designed. It is the mask he wears most comfortably in private life and the one which produces the greatest charm in his poetry….
Lyrical poetry speaks most eloquently in the grammar of feeling, and Gregory Corso has a talent for feeling. Although his poems impulsively avoid the limitations of rhyme and meter, they show, at his best, the sure control of a poetic intuition. His work is always intensely personal; his lyric sense combined with a Renaissance infatuation and an almost tragic irony gives his poems a strikingly unique tone. Though he might not admit it, Gregory Corso is a poet in the true romantic tradition of Keats and Shelley. For him, art is not contingent on reality. It creates reality and the poet like a great magician or a Prince Charming comes to waken the sleeping world with the kiss of spring.
Carolyn Gaiser, "Gregory Corso: A Poet, the Beat Way," in A Casebook on the Beat, edited by Thomas Parkinson, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1961, pp. 266-75.
For Gregory Corso the escape from inhibition is, merely, exhibition. In fact he does not write poems, he writes only poetry, and his refusal to select, to emphasize, to reject ("any door locked against a man is a sad business") is part of his general revulsion from the dialectic of our culture, in which the notion of weeds is automatically created by the notion of a garden, or as Corso's death-hymn "Bomb" puts it: "to die by cobra is not to die by bad pork". For Corso, like Freud, sees our civilization as one in which not only sexuality is repressed, but any form of transcendence….
The great thing, for Corso, is not to choose, not to settle for the possible, but to take everything, to invent the new nourishment as well as to feed on the old….
[All] of Corso's poems are hasty productions, untimely ripped and never quite free of the shreds and shrieks of selfhood; in fact, he rejoices in a certain fakery, the suggestion that out of the anthology of Being he has never quite chosen, never really made his commitment to anything more than infinite potentiality….
Richard Howard, "Gregory Corso." in Chelsea, No. 22/23, 1968, pp. 148-57.
For Gregory Corso, the simple act of choosing has always provided profound difficulties. It is a theme that runs through his poetry—decision-making or, alternatively, refusing to decide—and it can be read even more plainly in the record of his life…. Corso is Saul Bellow's Eugene Henderson, running through the frozen fields of Newfoundland, chanting "I want, I want, I want" to himself…. He wants, in other words, what life has denied him, a sense of mastery, a feeling of achievement to match the hungry, restless desire within him. His has been a hunger of expectation, peculiarly American in its restless, all-devouring, urgent desire. Corso, the poet, is self-invented, a fantasy projection of his own John Garfield self, the slum kid who wants all, takes all, only to feel it trickle through his fingers as he grasps it tight in his hands….
Corso is a poet with a limited number of themes which he tends to repeat with variations over and over again. The best of the Gasoline poems—or at any rate, the most successful—are the shorter pieces, most of them made up of bits of nostalgia and simple, though very precise, description…. Corso shows an uncanny ability in some of these shorter poems to touch reality directly with language….
[Elegiac Feelings American] is a very long and complex work. [One is impressed by] the beautifully sustained high seriousness of its diction. There is nothing of the bombast or facetiousness of his early work. "Elegiac Feelings American" is a poem of great maturity and (something never before felt in Corso's work) power. It is the work of a man who has at last made a fundamental choice, an artist.
Bruce Cook, in his The Beat Generation (reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons from The Beat Generation by Bruce Cook; © 1971 Bruce Cook), Scribner's, 1971, pp. 133-49.
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