Allen Ginsberg Gets Heckled by Beat Poet Gregory Corso at a 1973 Poetry Reading

Gre­go­ry Cor­so was kind of the Joey Bish­op of the Beats—a mem­ber of the inner cir­cle of Ker­ouac, Bur­roughs, and Gins­berg, but nev­er quite achiev­ing their degree of noto­ri­ety. Nev­er­the­less, he out­lived them all, and he was also arguably the biggest come­di­an in a group of invet­er­ate pranksters (see him crack up an inter­view­er in this clip). A street­wise Green­wich Vil­lage kid, Cor­so learned his craft on the streets of Lit­tle Italy, and briefly in a psych ward and a prison cell, as much as in Har­vard class­es and the San Fran­cis­co poet­ry scene, where he relo­cat­ed along with Allen Gins­berg in 1955, arriv­ing just one day too late for Ginsberg’s his­toric Six Gallery read­ing of “Howl.”

Per­haps in order to make up for his absence then, Cor­so decid­ed to make his pres­ence decid­ed­ly known near­ly twen­ty years lat­er in a Gins­berg read­ing at New York’s 92nd St. Y in Feb­ru­ary of 1973. Gins­berg is cap­ti­vat­ing as always, read­ing in that almost hyp­not­ic cadence, with ellip­ti­cal con­ver­sa­tion­al asides, that he and Ker­ouac both mas­tered. Lis­ten to the whole read­ing above. You won’t be dis­ap­point­ed. But for a laugh, skip ahead to 5:50.

Cor­so inter­rupts the solemn pro­ceed­ings with some wiseguy heck­ling, call­ing out Ginsberg’s “poesy bull­shit.” Gins­berg takes it in stride, impro­vis­ing and toss­ing back ban­ter. Ginsberg’s father Louis is also onstage, and he takes up a mut­ter­ing defense against Corso’s ver­bal siege as Gins­berg begins singing around 10:30.

Whether the whole thing was staged or a spon­ta­neous out­burst by Cor­so is anyone’s guess, but the two life­long friends could put on quite a show when they want­ed to, like this hap­pen­ing in 1981. Wher­ev­er Gins­berg and Cor­so lived and breathed poet­ry—as Michelle Dean writes at The Rum­pus—heck­ling was “an inte­gral part of poet­ry read­ing.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Very First Record­ing of Allen Gins­berg Read­ing His Epic Poem “Howl” (1956)

“Expan­sive Poet­ics” by Allen Gins­berg: A Free Course from 1981

Bob Dylan and Allen Gins­berg Vis­it the Grave of Jack Ker­ouac (1975)

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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