Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Happy Birthday of Death, poems by Gregory Corso, (New Directions, copyright 1960)

At the start of the book, the poet shows how the title poem got its name, from a list of “Saleable Titles.”  He could have chosen, among others, Fried Shoes, or Cars are love, or Earth is not even a star, but instead went with The Happy Birthday of Death.

The lightheartedness continues into the table of Contents.  The title of the first poem is Notes After Blacking Out.  The second is How Happy I Used To Be (“…no---I’m in it/for the excitement.”)  Further on down:  Discord; The Frightening Difference; Death; Paranoia in Crete; Mortal Infliction; to list but a few.  Plus his most famous work, Bomb.

Actually, I’ve cited Gregory Corso and this book in a previous post, but that was then and now is a good time for some more examples of the delight on the pages therein, lines like “To die by cobra is not to die by bad pork” and “The punches of winter knocked out a herd of deer,/Winter left the wood like a plate of chicken bones.” and “I knew you’d come, wild architect!”

And then there’s this short poem:

by Gregory Corso

Immortal goat
Ring your good bell;
With God’s ear loaned
I eavesdrop near—
Ring! bright crier
The Vast to hear.


But it is the following poem that knocked me out this reading.  (And, I know they need no introduction, but a link might help:  Ted Williams was a famous baseball player from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and Randall Jarrell was a famous poet from the same period.)

by Gregory Corso

I dreamed Ted Williams
leaning at night
against the Eiffel Tower, weeping.

He was in uniform
and his bat lay at his feet
--- knotted and twiggy.

‘Randall Jarrell says you’re a poet!’ I cried.
‘So do I! I say you’re a poet!’

He picked up his bat with blown hands;
stood there astraddle as he would in the batter’s box,
and laughed! flinging his schoolboy wrath
toward some invisible pitcher’s mound
--- waiting the pitch all the way from heaven.

It came; hundreds came! all afire!
He swung and swung and swung and connected not one
sinker curve hook or right-down-the-middle.
A hundred strikes!
The umpire dressed in strange attire
thundered his judgment : YOU’RE OUT!
And the phantom crowd’s horrific boo
dispersed the gargoyles from Notre Dame.

And I screamed in my dream:
God! throw thy merciful pitch!
Herald the crack of bats!
Hooray the sharp liner to left!
Yea the double, the triple!

Hosannah the home run!