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Poet Gregory Corso remembered as brilliant Beat force
(CNN) -- Beat poet Gregory Corso is being remembered as brilliant yet untamed master of words.
"I would say that he was very gifted, also undisciplined, which is part of the beauty of Beat writing," said Maria Damon, an English professor at the University of Minnesota who once studied under Corso. "He was very well-read but not from formal schooling. He put things together in a highly romanticized way."
Corso died Wednesday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 70. He passed away at the Minneapolis home of his daughter, Sheri Langerman, who announced the death on Thursday.
Corso was part of the New York literary troupe that included fellow Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He was the author of more than 20 collected works, including the poetry collections "Gasoline" and "Minefield."
A hard youth
Born on March 26, 1930, Corso grew up on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood which would evolve in the 1950s into a haven for the Beat Generation.
His early childhood was marred by his parents' divorce and stays in an orphanage and foster homes.
He touched on his troubled youth in the biographical notes of "The New American Poetry."
"Born by young Italian parents, father 17 mother 16, born in New York City Greenwich Village 190 Bleecker, mother year after me left not-too-bright father and went back to Italy, thus I entered life of orphanage and four foster parents and at 11 father remarried and took me back but all was wrong because two years later I ran away and caught sent away again and sent away to boys home for two years and let out and went back home and ran away again and sent to Bellevue for observation ..."
At age 17, Corso went to prison for three years on a theft charge. After his release in 1950, he worked as a laborer in New York City, a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles, and a sailor on a boat to Africa and South America.
Meet the Beats
Corso met Ginsberg in a Greenwich Village bar, and though he had no desire to be a poet, he was soon spouting words to the huddled masses in street corner cafes.
His poems -- described as "simple, colloquial, funny and unpretentious" on the Literary Kicks Web site -- were first published in 1955. Perhaps his best-known work is "Bomb," a poem on atomic weapons that is structured in the shape of a mushroom cloud.
"Electrons Protons Neutrons," he wrote, "gathering Hersperean hair/ walking the dolorous gulf of Arcady/ joining marble helmsmen/ entering the final ampitheater/ with a hymnody feeling of all Troys ..."
Michael Skau, author of a 1999 book on Corso, said Corso was a media favorite when the Beat movement exploded in the 1950s because he was "the prototype of a bad boy."
"He was very disruptive whether it was a social setting or a literary setting, very antagonistic even toward his closest friends," Skau said. "Ginsberg tolerated behavior from Corso that made Ginsberg look like a saint."
Corso faded from the spotlight in later years. After Ginsberg died in 1997 -- also at the age of 70 -- Corso attended a tribute to his friend, took the stage and uttered a one-word poem to him.
"Toodle-oo," he said.
Corso remained active up until his death, recording a CD with Marianne Faithfull at his daughter's home, Langerman said.
He was married three times. Survivors include five children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, Langerman said.
Funeral arrangements were not final, but a service was planned in Greenwich Village, with burial in Rome, Langerman said.
Kerouac editor reveals 'Subterranean' Jack
LitKicks: Gregory Corso
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