Category Archives: poetry review

a review of “the happy birthday of death” by gregory corso. Beat poetry and the anarchy of language.

It was strange, I still don’t know exactly what to think of The Happy Birthday of Death (1960),  except that I enjoyed it greatly. At first Corso’s poems seemed like pure chaos. I picked up this book at a second hand store, it was the first time I had even heard of Gregory Corso (1930-2001). The words he used, and how he used them, barely held in relation to the others. Sometimes they appeared as if chosen at random. Perhaps they were. An anarchy of words! These odd combinations resulted in creations such as “pie glue” and “penguin dust.” In every poem there was a meaning that defied reason, even by the standards of poetry, but something was there that held it together. An amorphous purpose that can only be communicated in the funky style that Corso writes in.

His experimental style is so different from everything out there, that even the more open minded readers are in for a poetic curve ball. Corso celebrates the liberation of language and ideas. Most importantly, he has fun with poetry. Poetry is not some sacred tradition that’s has grown stale as an ancient vase in a museum. Corso has commented on the subject,

“How I love to probe life…. That’s what poetry is to me, a wondrous prober….It is not a meter or a measure of a line, a breath; not ‘law’ music; but the assembly of great eye sounds placed into an inspired measured idea.”

Breaking rules is what he does best. Corso’s beat poetry style bounces around the page shattering the glass castle of tradition. He has the soul of a jester philosopher. Poems such as “Marriage” are just a stone’s throw away from stand up comedy, while “Bomb” and “Police,” deal with the horror of war and societal repression. In the back of my head a nagging thought continually arose, “are you even allowed to do that?” The Happy Birthday of Death is a short read that packs a punch and is small enough to squeeze into your pocket. Put on your “fried shoes,” walk to your local bookstore, and tell the clerk, “Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust!”

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