I am not a rich person. I never will be a rich person. Most of the time, I am ok with that.
However, there are two situations guaranteed to make me irrationally not ok with that. The first is when I see some incredibly moving charity fundraiser I wish I could throw a million pounds at. The second, because I am a selfish idiot, is when I see a crowdfunding drive that has rewards I desperately want and decide I deserve.
I remember seeing Rick Schober and Tough Poets Press launch their Kickstarter to publish The Whole Shot: Collected Gregory Corso Interviews last summer. I really wanted that book. I was so happy that someone out there had both the enthusiasm and the skill to put it together. Corso had always intrigued me, even if I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to survive two minutes in a room with him. He wasn’t like Ginsberg. Ginsberg I was convinced I could lure into a friendly chat and a cuddle. Corso? I had no idea.
Unfortunately, when the project was announced, I was totally broke. I’d blown all my money on rent and a new mattress, which has since deteriorated in a way that is far from satisfactory. Anyway, the point is, I couldn’t contribute to the Kickstarter and I couldn’t afford to get a copy of the book. Fortunately, once the book was funded and released, I only heard about it every now and then so I wasn’t constantly bombarded with reminders that I hadn’t managed to get a copy.
Until this year, when the whole ugly issue reared its head once again. Tough Poets Press announced their intention to publish Sarpedon – Gregory Corso’s unpublished first play. This time I was in. I had to be. One of the rewards even included a copy of The Whole Shot. It was meant to be. I didn’t have any more money than last year, but I did have more credit cards. Problem solved!(ish).
Rick was incredibly reasonable in the funds he was looking for with the Sarpedon Kickstarter, so he’s actually already reached his target. However, the page is open until May 25th, so if you want to get your hands on a copy of Sarpedon you can still do so.
Has Corso been an important figure for you in your life?
I guess so. He was the first poet I ever came across whose stuff I actually enjoyed reading. When I was an English major in college, most of the poetry I had to study was pretty old and dry. “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan …” Ugh. But Corso was doing things with language that were new and fun, a little surrealistic even. “Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust—“ Nobody else was writing anything like that. But I suppose what really makes him important to me is that, indirectly, he got me into publishing which is something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. So long, in fact, that I don’t even remember why I wanted to do it in the first place. Not being a writer myself, I never had anything I could publish before. When I saw that collections of interviews with Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs had already been done, I thought “Why not Corso?” I was pretty sure there would be an audience for it and since nobody else was likely to do it, I started work on compiling The Whole Shot: Collected Interviews with Gregory Corso.
How did you first come across Sarpedon and end up in a position where you could think about putting it out?
One of the books I consulted a lot when putting together the interview collection was An Accidental Autobiography: The Selected Letters of Gregory Corso. Sarpedon and a few other plays he had written were mentioned a couple of times in the book. Once I tracked down the unpublished manuscript and read it, I knew there would be other Beat literature fans who would be interested in reading it, too. And since I had already published a much longer book, I knew it would be relatively easy to get this little play into print, once I had permission from his estate.
You’ve successfully used Kickstarter in the past and returned to it for the publication of Sarpedon. Did you initially have any skepticism about the idea of crowdfunding?
Initially, yes. I’m kind of a loner. I don’t like crowds. At first I tried to raise funds on my own to publish The Whole Shot, going so far as to design a spoof website called Rickstarter, but it was slow going. I finally realized that being on Kickstarter would give my project some semblance of legitimacy. There’s quite a bit of work involved into putting together a decent fundraising campaign on their platform. I think that potential backers realize that you must be serious about what you’re doing if you’ve gone to all that trouble.
Are there any other projects you’re hoping to put out with Tough Poets Press in the future?
Definitely. Another one of Corso’s early plays, In This Hung-Up Age, was reprinted in the 1964 New Directions annual. That volume also had an excerpt from an early draft of a novel called Others, Including Morstive Sternbump by Marvin Cohen. I had never heard of the book, or Cohen for that matter, but it turned out to be one of the best things I had read in a long time. What impressed me most was the style it was written in. Unlike anything I had seen before. The closest comparisons I could make would be to Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or maybe David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (neither of which I’ve been able to get through), only a lot funnier. The language and sentence structure were a little puzzling at first. Every now and then, I would read a sentence and think “huh?” but then I would re-read it a little more carefully and think “aha!” It was brilliant what this guy was doing with words. I knew that I had to get a copy of the full novel, if it existed.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, Others, Including Morstive Sternbump was eventually published in 1976 and forgotten almost immediately afterwards. I ordered a copy from an online used bookseller and the book I got had actually been inscribed to somebody by Cohen, who had also included his phone number. I Googled the number and, as it turned out, it still belonged to Marvin Cohen, forty years later. Just for kicks, I called and left him a message to tell him how much I was enjoying his novel. He returned my call the next day and we got to talking about his books and how they were almost all out of print, and about how I was looking for something to publish, so I sent him a copy of The Whole Shot and he and his wife, a retired paperback editor with a major publisher, were impressed enough to let me, a.k.a Tough Poets Press, put out a 40th-anniversary edition of his forgotten, long out-of-print novel. I even designed a website for him – marvincohen.net – to help generate a little pre-publication buzz for the book and hopefully help resurrect his career. This guy doesn’t even have a page on Wikipedia even though he’s had nine books published, two by by New Directions, and his work’s appeared in over 80 publications like The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Nation, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue. Go figure.
Finally, what was the last thing (book, artist, song, place, etc.) that you totally fell in love with?
I’m going to take this opportunity to score some major brownie points here and say “my wife.”
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