Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gregory Corso, Joseph Campbell,
& Robert Frost

Somehow, on February 26th the stars seem to align just so. Today is the birthday of Gregory Corso of Beat literature fame, subject of the recent documentary, Corso: The Last Beat. Well known for his grounding and homage to the classics, here's a poem from his early collection, Gasoline, that reflects that grounding:

Amnesia In Memphis

Who am I, flat beneath the shades of Isis,
This clay-skinned body, made study
By the physicians of Memphis?
Was it always my leaving the North
Snug on the back of the crocodile?
Do I remember this whorl of mummy cloth
As I stood fuming by the Nile?
O life abandoned! half-embalmed, I beat the soil!
For what I am; who I am, I cannot regain,
Nor sponge my life back with the charm of Ibis oil—
Still-omen of the dribbling Scarab!
Fate that leads me into the chamber of blue perfumes!
Is there no other worthy of prophecy
Than that Decker who decks my spinewith ostrick plumes?

No more will the scurvy Sphinx
With beggy prophets their prophecies relate—
The papyrus readers have seen the Falcon's head
Fall unto the Jackal's plate.
Gregory Corso

And one that captures a little more of the modern flavor, humor and honesty that he was known for:

I Am 25

With a love a madness for Shelley
Chatterton —Rimbaud
and the needy-yap of my youth
----------has gone from ear to ear:
Especially old poetmen who retract
who consult other old poetmen
who speak their youth in whispers,
saying:—I did those then
-----------but that was then
-----------that was then—
O I would quiet old men
say to them:—I am your friend
------------------what your once were, thru me
------------------you'll be again—
Then at night in the confidence of their homes
rip out their apology-tongues
----------------and steal their poems.
Gregory Corso

Here's a taste of the documentary, in the form of a trailer:


February 26th seems to have a feel, too, for mythology; it is also the birthday of Joseph Campbell. Campbell has changed our lives and how we perceive, the dream of every poet. He looked at myth with a poet's eye, much like his mentor, Carl Jung. His Power of Myth was the summation of his life work and a translation of that into "popular" parlance for the common man. If you have never seen it, it is transformative. Most libraries have it; check it out. Here's a little excerpt of his views and directness:


Last, but by no means least, is the the master poet, Robert Frost. Often pigeonholed as the folksy, backwoods farmer/poet of "Stopped by the Snowy Woods" and "The Road Not Taken" fame, there is a thick streak of darkness that runs through his work and life which is apparent to those who delve beyond the most famous poems. In fact, I'd argue a shadow of that darkness pervades even these two famous pieces. Frost will be the subject of future discussion of the 3 Poems By group I co-moderate at the library; I'm thinking of using the following as one of the three poems:

Acquainted With the Night
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Robert Frost

This is a powerful poem that bears up with many repeated readings. One of the first things that occurred to me was, damn, sounds like Baudelaire. In a good way. The combination of "dropped my eyes unwilling to explain" and "the time was neither wrong nor rights" goes right to the core of things.

Sort of like what might have happened after you chose one of those two roads.

also consenting
to my loneliness...
frost on the window
translated by David Lanoue



John Grochalski said...

i actually just finished re-reading Gasoline last week, after quite a number of years. On a trivial note, i enjoy docs on the beats a great deal, but wish light weight actors like Ethan Hawke would just stay away.

Irene said...

I've always loved Gregory Corso! I found this poem particularly appropriate to my most recent birthday:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm only vaguely familiar with Corso. This is very good stuff, though. And even I get the classical references.

Grant said...

The Frost poem is achingly beautiful...Many thanks for setting it before us

Greg Schwartz said...

i read "Gasoline" last year and didn't get it at all. gonna give Corso another try with "The Happy Birthday of Death."

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yeah, somehow the celebs always give it a canned feel ...

Irene, thanks for the note - that is a great, personal moving poem -

Charles, yes, he was steeped in the classics, more so than folks only casually interested him him generally know - glad you liked ...

Yes, that was the kicker for me, too, Grant ...

"Gasoline" isn't the easiest or even the most representative of his books - he is something of an acquired taste, so plunging back in with another volume is a good thing to do - stretching boundaries, if you will - hope you like it - Here's his selected poems for heavy preview on google books ...