Thursday, October 25, 2007
Bill Morgan Returns To Greenwich Library
Author/librarian/editor (and tour guide - I'll explain that shortly) Bill Morgan (pictured on top right) spoke here at the library last May on the life of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (in the picture on the left; Ginsberg, with beard, is standing next to Gregory Corso). That went pretty well, so I arranged for him to come speak about another Beat Gen figure, poet/author Gregory Corso (1931-2001). Mr. Morgan edited a collection of letters to & from Mr. Corso & published them (via New Directions) as An Accidental Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso (with a foreword by Patti Smith) in 2003. Thanks to Marianne Weil & the RM department we managed to get two copies of this collection.
I won't pretend that Corso's poetry was up there with Browning, Whitman or Ginsberg. His earliest stuff (the Gasoline collection for example) had much more "oomph" & youthful vitality than his later works (for a good overview, check out Mindfield). His one novel American Express, written & published in France in 1961, is scattershot & unfocused (it only just got a domestic publication this year), but does have its moments. Mostly, as Accidental makes clear, Corso was too busy living off patrons (sponsers) and getting loaded/stoned, when he wasn't stealing the personal property of friends & colleagues, to focus on producing literary output on a consistant (or at least artistically valid) basis. His appearences in the documentaries "What Happened to Kerouac?" (1986) and "The Source" (1999) indicate that as he got older, Corso seemed to have gotten more angry & unpleasant, to the point of being personally abusive (verbally & otherwise) to said friends & colleagues. Had his personal demons not consumed him to the point that he depended more on chemical stimuli and less on expressing his stands on things via his poetry, Corso's works may have been as highly regarded during his life as say, Carl Sandburg, who, right up to his death in 1967, still had an audience eager to listen to what he wrote about next. (And no, I don't think Corso & Sandburg were in the same class, talent-wise. Corso at least didn't phone it in on his later poems the way Sandburg did with his. Corso's later work was uneven, but that anger of his I mentioned still gave his best poems an edge lacking in the works of some of his peers.)
So why devote an evening here at the library to Corso? I could go on & on about what his poems "say" or why he has a place in American letters (aside from hanging out with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs & the other Beats - hence his inclusion here), but I can't quite get that across, especially with a large audience, all that well. I really want people not only to know of Corso, his life, and his work, but also what fired his jets. Why would a guy, who spent half his life in & out of prison, with little if any formal schooling, be able to cite the works of Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Balzac, Poe & others & use those influences to create artistic works of his own?
More importantly, if Corso could seek out these literary influences, then maybe people such as students or even our patrons, upon hearing about Corso's work & what helped form them, could seek out these works and the works of others that stimulate them, and get something rewarding out of it.
Which is why I wanted to start up the Beat program. Not just to discuss the social aspects of the Beats but also the literary aspects as well, and share them with the public.
Down the line, if we continue this program, I hope to move beyond the Beats and focus more on the writers that were influenced by them, such as Charles Bukowski. I'm also looking up info on Hunter S, Thompson (who, like the lives of Corso, Bukowski and others, personifies the meaning of the expression "judge the art, not the artist" - hey, I know none of these guys were altar boys) and hope to set something up about him.
MEANWHILE Mr. Morgan will be talking about Mr. Corso's life & works here in the Meeting Room on November 10 at 2 pm. Maybe I'll ask him for more details about the series of tours he conducts in New York & San Francisco where he shows groups the places & hangouts Corso, Kerouac & the other Beats hang out.