Catharine F. Seigel

Catharine F. Seigel: From "Corso, Kinnell, and the Bomb"

Gregory Corso's "Bomb" in 1958 was one of the earliest poems to confront the existence of the nuclear bomb. Ironically Corso was at the time married to a DuPont; as he said, "Her family made the bomb, and I wrote the Bomb poem." Corso's choice of form ushers in the irony which is to dominate the poem. The "Bomb," published as a pull-out centerfold, is constructed in the shape of the infamous mushroom cloud. Corso's calling on the tradition of patterned or shaped poetry, last made popular by the 17th-century devotionalist-poet George Herbert--poems of angels' wings and altars is ironically appropriate. The "Bomb" is at the core of a volume called The Happy Birthday of Death which has as its cover the black and white photograph of the nuclear cloud billowing over Hiroshima.

The poem is an ironic epic hymn to the bomb...in which the speaker experiences all the standard psychological responses to the unimaginable, the horrific.... But the poet knows well that he is singing with his throat cut....

Corso's poem, especially when read aloud, accelerates to its all-inclusive, clamorous conclusion attempting to sound the reign of a nuclear, apocalyptic chaos, but then it moves back wisely to a quiet acknowledgement that this bombing will take place among you and me....

Although Hayden Carruth once dismissed "The Bomb" as "rant and shapeless anger" (356), I would suggest that the poem's onomatopoetic ranting and raging are its strengths. (96-98)