DH: In Corso's poem, Elegiac Feelings America, he writes of his deceased friend Jack Kerouac
"...O and when it's asked of you
What happened to America
has happened to him
the two were inseparable
like the wind to the sky
is the voice to the word..."
How do you think Corso linked Kerouac's fate with America, and the notions connected with it?
JP: Corso was writing that Kerouac was coming from the working class, with a "Joe six-pack mentality." Like many Blue Collars, he was essentially patriotic. He was buying into the life that America offered. The American dream of reinvention, limitless possibilities, hitting the road and starting all over again, died along with Kerouac. Kerouac died in his mother's house, a broken man. You can't marry your mother. What he believed America was, proved to be an illusion. Kerouac sought the geographical cure instead of the vertical one. Ginsberg told me if Kerouac learned to sit and meditate he would of still been alive. Kerouac bought into the material culture. He wore the badge of Eastern religion, but it didn't mean anything. In this poem Corso saw Kerouac tragically barking up the wrong tree.
DH: In 1954 , Corso lived in Cambridge, MA. At the Harvard Library he poured over all the great works of poetry. In fact, his first published poems appeared in the Harvard Advocate. He even wrote a play that was produced by Harvard students, " In This Hung Up Age" Did your paths cross at this time? Was Cambridge and Boston a nurturing place for the struggling artist, in the 50's?
JP: It was not. That's why I started Stone Soup, in reaction to this reality. I remember going into the Grolier Bookstore in Cambridge, and being treated like I literally stunk. The 50's were nurturing to the Yale Younger Poets, the academics, certainly not the struggling artist. I did not know that Corso was living in Cambridge at the time. This was a pre-HOWL, and not many folks heard of him and the others.
DH: Can you tell me about the Beat Manifesto Corso and Ginsberg wrote, The Literary Revolution in America?
JP: Its purpose was to shake the cage. America needed a blaze of raw energy . We were getting too complacent, fat and comfortable. When Eisenhower became president, we were saying, "This can't be our future." We were called around the camp fire, outside the castle, the government, and the academy. Eventually, one by one people joined us and that's how the 50's lead to the 60's. The manifesto's purpose was to drive a spike through complacency.
Personally, as a project rat it effected me. I quit my job and I jumped a bus to San Francisco. it was a great experience. It was liberating. I didn't care where the parachute let me down. It was the key to unlock my own cage.
DH: You told me the other day, that Corso outlived his expectations, and became a caricature. Can you explain this?
JP: I really meant the whole Beat movement. The Beat movement has become ritualized, rather than spontaneous. Nothing remains original.
DH: What was Corso's most notable contribution to the Beat movement?
JP: He brought us honesty, irony and satire. He was a great clown. The poet, Leo Connelon, called him the best of the bunch. I don't agree, but Corso was far less inhibited with a sense of form...you didn't know where he was coming from, or going to go. What he was saying was there is no rules with poetry. Just as long as you are using as much of your total self as possible.
Doug Holder, copyright: 2001, all rights reserved.