Cover image for "A clown in a grave" : complexities and tensions in the works of Gregory Corso
"A clown in a grave" : complexities and tensions in the works of Gregory Corso
Skau, Michael, 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 233 pages : portrait ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1400 Lexile.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3505.O763 Z87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Using a number of critical approaches, Michael Skau examines Gregory Corso's complex imagination, his humor, and his poetic techniques in dealing with America, the Beat generation, and death.

Skau covers the complete works of Corso, one of the four major Beat Generation writers (with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs) who attempted to provide an alternative to what they saw as the academic forms of literature dominating American writing through the 1940s and 1950s. The Beat option focused on ordinary people, spurning the cultural pretensions of the intelligentsia and using common language as well as the rhythms of actual speech. Corso, abandoned as a child by his mother, subjected to a variety of foster homes, and imprisoned as an adolescent, became an authentic voice of America's neglected streetwise youth. He embodies much of the tension, confusion, and rebellion that emerged in America after World War II and eventually crested in the 1960s.

Corso emphasizes social issues, yet risks undermining this significance by using wit, wordplay, and humor. While conceding mortality, he is adamant in refusing to acknowledge death's power. Even as he rebels against conventional literature, he still is enchanted by classicism and romanticism, often borrowing their techniques and idioms. Skau examines these complexities and seeming contradictions throughout Corso's career, showing that Corso finds value in inconsistency and vacillation. For him, as illustrated in the poems "Hair" and "Marriage," contradiction and ambivalence suggest the foundations of freedom of imagination.

In spite of Corso's significance as an American poet, Skau's is the first extensive study of his work, including his fiction. Skau also provides the first complete bibliography of Corso's published work in more than thirty years.

Author Notes

Michael Skau is a professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He is the author of Constantly Risking Absurdity: The Writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Skau (Univ. of Nebraska, Omaha) provides the first full-length treatment of the work of the only one of the four major Beat writers (along with Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs) still living. Corso's work has been denied for much too long. Skau's approach is thematic: he deals with Corso's uses of imagination, death, and comedy; with his rebellious persona; and with his poetics. He opens each chapter with an informative overview and then presents thoughtful, detailed readings of the poems supported by primary documentation, readings that deliver important insights into Corso's uses of repetition and revision and his aesthetic approaches to his work. Particularly important is his extensive analysis of Corso's little-known (and long-out-of-print) novel The American Express (1961), a work that offers insights into some of the inner workings of Beat consciousness. The volume's extensive notes shed new light on Corso's allusions. Also included are a list of works cited; criticism, reviews, and commentary on Corso; and a comprehensive bibliography of the poet's works. This reviewer hopes to see more such critical attention paid to one of the US's most original poets, a poet who helped open the inner landscape during the second half of the 20th century. All poetry collections. L. Berk; Ulster County Community College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Abbreviationsp. xi
1. Introductionp. 1
2. The Uses of Imaginationp. 11
3. Elegiac Feelings Americanp. 33
4. Modes of Rebellion, Modes of Expression: The American Expressp. 49
5. The Deathmonger and the Clown in the Tombp. 75
6. "The Comedy Gone Mad": Corso's Surrealism and Humorp. 88
7. "The Poesy That Cannot Be Destroyed": Corso's Prosodyp. 100
8. Conclusionp. 128
Notesp. 137
Works Citedp. 163
Criticism, Reviews, and Commentary on Gregory Corsop. 173
Bibliography of Works by Gregory Corsop. 183
Indexp. 227