A zinging, furious output of epistles from the young Corso—most date from 1958 to 1965—to his friends and publishers, assembled by Morgan, archivist of Allen Ginsberg's papers.
The letters start just after publication of Corso's The Vestal Lady on Brattle and continue with abandon until dope and alcohol finally got the better of him in the mid-’60s. They reveal a Corso vital to the point of rioting, spiritedly all over the place, intoning to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I somehow do believe that only great poetry can be written on the spot, and when finished done,” after having noted to Ginsberg that “spontaneity in poetry is nothing more than notes, not poems.” They display a remarkable degree of self-infatuation—“Read Howl and liked it because it's almost like my Way Out,” he writes to Ginsberg—equal to his willingness to indulge in self-pity: “Things are very difficult for me,” he writes to Ferlinghetti, “life is becoming too real. When I see it that real, I feel not a poet.” Or, to Ginsberg, the pathetic, “you well know how I used to wow ’em, Allen.” That he became the sensual lyric poet at all is a wonder upon reading long letters to Kerouac and Isabella Gardner, in which he relates his less-than-ideal youth: the orphanages, reform schools, psychiatric wards, prison—and forget about formal education—all before he hit 20. His past gave him a sense of protective fellow-feeling, which flowed into the poetry, and a generous measure of mistrust, fear, and hunger for approval—a need for love without the pro quid quo—that formed his life. The letters from the ’70s and ’80s, but a trickle, promise new work, but fail to deliver.
Much food for thought here, all best taken with a grain (or two) of salt. Only Corso could willfully utter, “The poet and his poems are a whole,” knowing well that one could be sensitive, the other cruel, one responsible, the other destructive.