Peter Orlovsky (1933-2010)

Peter Orlovsky, San Francisco, 1955. Photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Thinking of Peter Orlovsky. It’s been two years to the day since he passed away. Vintage Peter.
Allen’s photo above catches the glee and mischievousness in him. Of the two videos that follow, the first, here is from his reading in January 1978 with Steven Hall for New York’s PAP (Public Access Poetry), a few months before the publication of his City Lights book, Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs. Following a few short poems from Steven, he begins (approximately two-and-a-half minutes in) with “Frist Poem” (sic), “New York City – Get Your Shit Together” (later, in the book, re-titled “America, Give A Shit!”) “Fantasy of My Mother Who’s Always on Welfare” (from “Poems from Subway to Work”), “Creedmoor State Mental Hospital Night Shift Look and Mop” and “Let the subway be our greek meeting place” (also from “Poems from Subway to Work”), following this with a brief (typically earnest) discourse on ecology (“what I’m interested in now..”) – Peter recommends two books, Tree Crops  by J.Russell Smith and The Maple Sugar Book by Janet Eagleson and Rosemary Hasner. For the second half of his presentation he’s joined by Arthur Russell on cello and Steven Hall on guitar for a rousing rendition of “Feeding Them Raspberries To Grow” and, switching to guitar, “You are My Dildo”. Two songs not penned by him, “Early in the Morning when the Sun Come up” and “If it wasn’t for Dicky” complete the program. Leadbelly‘s version of the latter song may be accessed here

The second video needs (perhaps) a little apology for sexism (and racism), those (that language, those mores), that cultural insensitivity, was, regrettably, very much of the time – Peter’s cavalier use of the term “blacks”, and a drunken Gregory (no chance of (no point in) restraining a drunken Gregory!). From the Q & A following the Salem State Kerouac Conference – Gregory Corso comes on first (answering a question about Mardou Fox (Alene Lee), but the pertinent part is, following that, just under three minutes in, when Peter goes on a rant and turns against the rest of the panel – “these people here..they’re not going to talk about that, they’re not going to dwell on that (Kerouac’s smoking and drinking as the drive for his writing), but it’s so obvious..”).

With that caveat and contextualization, here follows a transcription:

Audience Member (female) : What happened to Mardou Fox? We know Jack’s version in the book (The Subterraneans) Could you give us your version now?

GC: Yeah, Mardou Fox is Alene Lee. When I came out of prison, I met Ginsberg and Ginsberg introduced me to Kerouac and (John Clelland) Holmes, and (William) Burroughs, right?. Right, this beautiful black chick (was) wrestling with me, and they were all so serious, because they were writing about it -and I wasn’t, and I fucked her. Jack thought I was.. he put me as a sharp man..and thought (that) I did a bad turn, by balling his chick. What happened was, years later, all the girls I have, I offer to Jack, and they don’t want him, they want me – so it never worked out, see? – so it was all fucked-up all the way, but I offered her (how dare a man offer a woman to another man! – see, that’s where I put myself on the spot – and why shouldn’t I ball anybody who wants to ball me?) – he was too moralistic, that’s what the Catholicism does, it, Catholicism fucks you up, it always does.. [turns to Peter Orlovsky] – and, Pietro, I wanna tell you something…

PO: Jack really loved the blacks and he often wrote about them. He would have gone down South and lived with a black old grandmother, or a black old..

GC: Oh yeah, because there were no females here. It was that black chick, Mardou Fox..
he could drink and smoke, but when it came to really loving the blacks and going down,[turns to Allen]..who was the great radical who went down?

AG: Rene, among others

PO: Rennie Davis

GC: Rennie Davis? I found that he was running with a 14-year-old girl (that Rennie Davis was going with a 14-year-old girl, can you imagine?)

PO: Rennie Davis – and [turning to Allen again] the one, the one who just came back from Hanoi? – Hayden, Tom Hayden. They are examples of young men that went down to the South, trying to help poor black families, whereas Jack, it was just a.. everything he did was to smoke to he could drink and get some more wine, it was true, in San Francisco, when he was writing his Mexico City Blues, it was just writing it so that.. so that he could buy more wine and cigarettes! – and that’s the kind of prose story you are going to learn…

GC: I don’t think..

PO: You are going to learn as you read Kerouac year after year that he wrote so he could buy wine and hard liquor and cigarettes. And that’s what you’re going to learn. All this discussion of Kerouac is going to teach you that. And these people here [points to the Salem Jack Kerouac Conference panel] don’t want you to talk about that, because some of them like (John Clellon) Holmes and..I’ve forgotten your name..(Stanley Twardowicz) (but) you like to smoke and drink, but, they’re not going to talk about that, they’re not going to dwell on this, but it’s so obvious, that you people are.. you folks here… with that bottle of whisky there [pointing to (out-of-frame) audience-member(s)], you don’t have any of Kerouac’s writings, or the pages opened up to talk about Kerouac. You’ve picked up on the worst thing of Kerouac – cigarettes and alcohol! You don’t have any of the writings stretched out because you’re really not serious – and you won’t understand this until your life has already passed away! – and it’s not gonna do you no good then!)


  1. What on earth would someone think reading all this if they didn't know Peter Orlovsky and Gregory? I'm doing my best to bring them to life as they were, in my new memoir–adorable people of such incredible sweetness, generosity and creativity. The fact that the Jack Kerouac School existed in its early form is hard to imagine. But it did! And it was wonderful, as long as all these lads were alive. Do you remember Orlovsky? How he'd shout out God knows what. Anything. Wonderful sweethearted/joyous being that he was.

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