Allen Ginsberg letters to Gregory Corso

Biographical and Historical Notes

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was born in Newark, New Jersey, and educated at Columbia University.

Before achieving success as a writer, Ginsberg worked as a dishwasher, a welder and served in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Literary notice followed publication of Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems (1956) in the Pocket Poet Series of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books. This collection, which includes "Supermarket in California," "Sunflower Sutra," and "America," distinguished Ginsberg as a leading poet of the Beat movement.

After 1956, Ginsberg traveled extensively, became involved with civil rights campaigns and war resistance movements, and continued to write poetry. One of Ginsberg's most celebrated later poems is "Kaddish," a poem on the death of his mother collected in Kaddish and Other Poems, 1958-1960. Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997.

Sources

Perkins, George and Barbara Perkins and Phillip Leininger. Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Gregory Corso (1930-2001)

Born in New York City, American poet Gregory Corso (1930-2001) was a young associate of the Beat poets.

Corso spent his early years in and out of prison. During a sentence for robbery at Dannemora prison in upstate New York, he read and developed a passion for Percy Bysshe Shelley and Homer. When he was released from prison in 1950, he moved to Greenwich Village and eventually developed friendships with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.

In 1954, Corso moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and became a fixture of the literary underground. A group of Harvard students and intellectuals were so impressed with his poetry that they paid for the publication of his first collection, The Vestal Lady on Brattle.

Corso's first major book, Gasoline, contained poems written during his travels with Allen Ginsberg in Mexico and while he lived in Paris from 1957 to 1958. The volume, with its introduction by Allen Ginsberg, was published by City Lights in 1958. Corso's literary reputation was established in 1960 when he was included in the Grove Press Anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960.

Corso died in 2001 and his ashes were buried next to the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley in Rome.

Sources

American National Biography. 24 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Scope and Content Note

Allen Ginsberg wrote these postcards and letters to Gregory Corso between 1982 and 1985.

This correspondence offer glimpses of Ginsberg's life, travels, and work during these years; as well as reveal his continued connections to other individuals related to the Beat movement, including John Wieners, William Burroughs, and Gary Snyder. Additionally, the letters mention Ginsberg's longtime partner Peter Orlovsky, poets Michael McClure and Kaye McDonough, as well as bohemian artist and ethnomusicologist Harry Everett Smith.

In the first letter of this collection, dated June 5, 1982, Ginsberg wrote of his recent 56th birthday and preparations to travel to New York. He also explained that on his way to New York he planned a "stopover weekend" in Lawrence, Kansas, to visit William Burroughs.

Ginsberg also reported on trips to the Netherlands, China, England, and Charleville, France. In Charleville, France, Ginsberg stayed in Rimbaud's old apartment, which he reported as unchanged, and felt like he was "sleeping with the ghost of Rimbaud."

During Ginsberg's visit to the Netherlands in January of 1983, he recorded his poem, "September on Jessore Road," with the Mondrian String Quartet, using a score written by Steven Taylor. Of this "perfect" recording at the Milky Way (De Melkweg), Ginsberg wrote: "11 minutes poesy music, I waited 11 years to finish this ideal setting! Done!"

After Ginsberg and Corso had met in England for a visit in April of 1984, Ginsberg wrote to Corso: "Thanks for sublime evening poesy--Shelly'd a been proud." By November of 1984 Ginsberg was in China. On a postcard depicting the "No Politics" Garden in Suchow, China, Ginsberg wrote of writing poems at Han-Shan's temple in China, of spending a week in Beijing, and of viewing the 200 B.C. clay army of the first Han emperor in Xian, China.

In addition to reports from his travels, Ginsberg mentioned setting up his house in New York City and related domestic chores. He also wrote that Harper's would finally publish his collected works and he had begun work on the acknowledgments and related material.

Ginsberg wrote to arrange for Gregory Corso to teach at Naropa. He encouraged Corso to schedule an additional reading to make the visit financially beneficial. Ginsberg reported that the Naropa Institute was broke, but that the Institute would charge for Corso's workshop to raise money and that he would pay Corso whatever he could out of his own pocket.

These letters confirm Ginsberg's friendship with Gregory Corso and his respect for his fellow Beat poet's work.