Gregory Corso Arrives in Rome
By Massimo De Feo & Corine Young

Editor's 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 songs.
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.

The epitaph (which is a verse written by Gregory) reads:

                               is Life 
                               It flows thru 
                               the death of me 
                               like a river 
                               of becoming 
                               the sea

(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 Prufrock."
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 one else's.
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 Hannalorie.
So, farewell, devilish angel poet, hail and farewell!