Corso Arrives in Rome
By Massimo De Feo & Corine Young
Note: our friends Massimo De Feo and Corine Young, who
live in Rome, sent the Journal a report on what happened
at the recent interment of the poet Gregory Corso next
to Percy Shelley.
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, a nurse from Minneapolis, who 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.
"I remember once," recalled Robert Yarra during the
chapel service, "he made me jump off a train in order
to take a look at the Coliseum. Later that night he
said: 'I will show you Europe's oldest synagogue' -
and we arrived there running, but the police stopped
us with machineguns, thinking we were terrorists. Gregory
started screaming to them, pointing at me: 'he's a Jew,
he's a Jew.'"
After a short commemoration and the reading of a few
of Corso's poems by Yarra and Penny Arcade, the urn
was put into the ground and Sheri slowly cascaded a
shower of red rose petals on it. The crowd hushed as
she murmured "Gregory always loved roses." Mozart flowed
through the air from loudspeakers, and the notes of
an "independent" clarinet played old Spanish revolutionary
Following the petals into the grave were various objects:
written verses, dedications, a seashell (taken from
the beach of Castelporziano, where many years ago a
Poetry Festival was held with Ginsberg, Burroughs, other
beat poets and Corso), and last but not least a joint
that had been ritually smoked.
(which is a verse written by Gregory) reads:
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
(Officially known as "cimitero acattolico" [non-Catholic
cemetery)], it hosts about four thousand guests, the majority
being foreigners: English, Germans, Americans, Russians,
and Greeks, but there are also some Italians. The first
official resident was buried there in 1738. In the past,
according to ecclesiastical law, burials could only take
place at night. The use of the crucifix or any other epigraph
indicating concepts like eternity, beatitude, etc. was
prohibited until 1870, as they were the exclusive monopoly
of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Today it is difficult
to be buried there. The tenacity of Hannelore Messner,
a long time resident of Rome, after many laborious negotiations,
succeeded in obtaining Gregory's final wish.)
Untamed Poet Crosses River
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Most obituaries are total eulogies,
uncontaminated by any unkind cuts at the beloved or other
straight talk. Don't "dis" the dead, etc. Well,
that's OK for some dead folk, but not for Gregory Nunzio
Corso who crossed the big river this past January 17th.
The announcement of a memorial service for him in lower
Manhattan proclaimed he was "America's greatest lyric
poet," although he certainly wasn't as lyrical as
Whitman or Edna St.Vincent Millay, or even the early e.e.cummings.
But that kind of judgment is always subjective and personal,
isn't it? Corso was lyrical all right, but in a highly
original, cutting sort of way.
On the back of Corso's early City Lights book, Gasoline,
Jack Kerouac said, "Gregory was a tough young kid
from the Lower East Side who rose like an angel over the
rooftops and sang Italian songs as sweet as Caruso and
Sinatra, but in words. 'Sweet Milanese hills' brood in
his Renaissance soul, evening is coming on the hills.
Amazing and beautiful Gregory Corso, the one and only
Gregory the Herald." Very poetic-- but "sweet"
is one thing Corso wasn't every day. ("Bittersweet"
would be closer.) And it wasn't Milanese hills in his
soul. He was no refined northern Italian, but a Calabrese,
born in 1930 in Greenwich Village of parents from the
very depths of the Mezzogiorno. And Gregorio was mezzogiorno
through and through, handsomely dark, heavy-browed, often
brooding, like that savage landscape on the unshod boot
of southernmost Italy, swept with burning sun and storms.
And he had its dark lyric spirit that could burst forth
untutored and raw in great raves of poetry.
And he was always in your face, often not singing sweetly,
but challenging you in some wild way, daring you or putting
you on, shaking you up or at least mocking your ordinary
way of looking at things. How many times did I hear him
interrupt some solemn voice on stage with a loud shout
from the back of the hall, comic or obscene, the outsider
challenging the whole scene? But he was no mere egocentric
wiseacre. He was a tragi-comic poet with a crazy sense
of humor, as in poems such as his much-quoted "Marriage"
with its parody of T.S.Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred
And a trait of his that has never been noted is that he
had a great graphic talent and could have been a great
painter, if he hadn't been so heavily into poetry, drugs,
booze, and women. Some of his classic paintings and drawings
were exhibited early in the 1990s at New York University's
Beat Art show. Graphically, he was the equal of any of
the New York School painters who hung out with the poets
at the old Cedar tavern in Greenwich Village in the 1950s
and 60s. When he drew with pentel or brush he had a classic
line that was instantly recognizable as his own, much
in the way Picasso's line was distinctively his and no
Ed Sanders' Woodstock Journal published a beautiful
obit, including a note from poet Robert Creeley that said
Corso "had been ill for much of the past year but
had recovered from time to time, saying that he'd got
to the classic river but lacked the coin for Charon to
carry him over. So he just dipped his toe in the water."
Some of Corso's most powerful poems focussed on death,
as was the case with so many other great poets. (The second
and last reading that Dylan Thomas gave in San Francisco
in the 1950s was totally centered on death, with poems
by many others as well as himself.) Corso's mad mouthfuls
challenged death as he challenged everything else. Read
his dire comic eulogy to it in "Bomb" to get
the full blast.
But even in death, this gadfly wordslinger is triumphing
on his own terms. He wanted to be buried in Venice or
Rome, and in the latter he might well have been happy
under the paving stones of the Campo dei Fiori, in the
center of which is a statue of Giordano Bruno, the heretic
burned unrepentant by the Church in 1600, whom Corso no
doubt saw as a brother. But the British Romantic, Percy
Bysshe Shelley, was Corso's most loved poet, and Shelley
is in the Protestant cemetery in the workingclass Testaccio
district of Rome. That's where Gregory's going, thanks
to the initiative of his friends, including attorney Robert
Yarra, George Scrivani. and a powerful lady in Rome named
So, farewell, devilish angel poet, hail and farewell!