Peter Orlovsky – Anniversary

Peter Orlovsky, portrait for official documents, 1963, India. Photo Courtesy of the Peter Orlovsky Archive, University of Texas

May 30 is the anniversary of Peter Orlovsky’s passing   See our last year’s posting in celebration of him – here

See our transcription of his 1975 Naropa class – (Poets Who Have Influenced Me”) 

And now it’s our pleasure to announce from Paradigm Publishers a new book, a posthumous gathering –

Peter Orlovsky – A Life In Words – Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer – edited and introduced – expertly compiled – by Beat scholar, Bill Morgan. (with a lucid introduction by Ann Charters)

“Peter Orlovsky was the secret heart of the Beats. He wrote and roamed among them. This book contains unknown fragments of their world, the words of their orphaned angel.”
(Patti Smith)

“Peter Orlovsky was one of a kind and his poetry was one of a kind. It’s in-your-face poetry, at once comic and tragic.”
(Lawrence Ferlinghetti) 

From the jacket copy:  Until now, the poet Peter Orlovsky, who was Allen Ginsberg’s lover for more than forty years has been the neglected member of the Beat Generation. Because he lived in Ginsberg’s shadow, his achievemens were seldom noted and his contributions to literature have not been fully recognized. Now, this first collection of Orlovsky’d writings traces his fascinating life in his own words. It also tells for the first time, the intimate story of his relationship with Ginsberg. Drawn from recently-discovered journals, correspondence, photographs, and poems, Peter Orlovsky – A Life in Words begins just as Orlovsky is discharged from the army, having declared that it was “an army without love”. The book follows the young man through years of self-doubt and details his first meeting with Ginsberg in San Francisco from his own perspective.During that same year, Peter, always acting as the care-giver in his relationships, adopted his teenage mentally-impaired brother and tried to help him make a life for himself. In never-before-heard detail, Orlovsky describes his travels around the world with Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Corso whose writings so often benefited from knowing the highly creative and inspiring Orlovsky. Orlovsky’s story is a refreshing departure from the established history of the Beats as depicted by his more famous companions. The reader will discover why Jack Kerouac described Orlovsky as the saintly figure of Simon Darlovsky in Desolation Angels. and why the elder poet William Carlos Williams praised his poetry as “pure American”. His was a complicated life, this book shows, filled with contradictions. Best known as Ginsberg’s lover, Orlovsky was heterosexual and always longed to be with women. Always humble, he became a teacher at a Buddhist college and taught a class that he entitled “Poetry For Dumb Students”. His spirit was prescient of the flower children of the ‘sixties, especially his inclinations towards devotion and love. In the end, Orlovsky’s use of drugs took its toll on his body and mind, and he slipped into his own hell of addiction and mental illness, silencing one of the most original and inspiring voices of his generation.”

Here’s a few very brief selections from the book, just to whet your appetite –  a few of the variously included (previously unpublished) poems.

Here’s (July, 1955), “Coney Island, USA”, his earliest extant poem:

“Young flesh bouncing under tight smooth suits/children own the red sand of the beach/Old mammas stand by, watchful eye safety/of children./Children deserve to own their share of the/beach, they live with the water as if it were/alive/Then the wave came, they all jumped, they/make noise with the voices of the waves.”

And, from two years later, Fall of ’57 (some quirky little notations):

“Many chairs are alone in the/world”

“Nothing like a hot dish of/warm lips”

“At night the jeweler dreams/about putting diamonds in the window”

“A butterfly lay burnt and crushed against a Texas/licence plate while the Pontiac was heading in to Mexico”

“Please come in,/come in/I said to the door”.

And from a little later:

“Reading a story,/before I finish/must pet the cat at my feet”

“In a cave/there was a slave/with a golden tooth pick”

“Two apples/Kissing on a tree/The sun – moving closer”

Next, a prose-poem, from 1957:

“One red footprint in the snow – what is that doing here? – why do I write it down? – Well, it came from a painting of Chagall I saw in Amsterdam – I said to Gregory (Corso) and Allen, one red footprint in the snow – “Wow – what a great magical thing yoou said Peter – whoever heard of a red footprint in the white snow”
So now what am I going to do with it – how can I make a poem out of it – why do you bother me with this. I don’t write poems anyway I write what’s in my head – I need a haircut – What’s a red footprint in the snow got to do with that? Why do you bother me – go away – leave me alone – well, to make you feel better the poem will be
One red footprint in the snow.”

and from April 1961 – “My Own Writing”:

“My own writing is like me, or/someone, making room on/a page to move around in/as to dance before a mirror or sing/before a mirror or talk to/onself -/to keep on and be tickled/by each little improvisation /or cry of fleeting memory -/Swell to be sadly crying for a while – /as is my want. Bend my head -/the price for being a lone wolf -/ on the touch – up my ass with/ear – to hear what swells/within each rib-/I’m an artist, I can slice my heart/up and put it into my brain skull pot/and press the jet light of my eye -/for gassier reasons/than some two thousand year/old God did back then – he he -/- me me – ”

Here’s, rueful, regretful, his very last poem:

“Feet dance for money/Feet dance for life/Feet dance for blues/Dear Peter kiss these feet goodbye./ Like a fool, Uncle Pete shot too much coke/and now no money left -/Not to mention no brains left/and now can eat shit for the rest of my short life./ Can’t even stop smoking/ain’t it a joke/No lungs left/Oxygen bottle – How stupid can one get?/ Is this a royal Doha/on an ant hill?/Or dullness from shooting coke/Go to hell coke, eat shit coke/ Cigarette smoking has led to everything else bad/and now can’t even stand up straight/Back aches and tooth aches/Too much coffee and no sleep, who wants sleep anyway?/ Just like an Elephant, sleeping standing up -/That’s the trick -/Only want one trick in life,to sleep standing up!!!/That’s what an American monk does/ Don’t ever take coke -/pure poison -/a downer, a drag -/pure waste of time.”

And this, in response to (March 1982) enquiries by a student:

“Dear Kathy Strekfus,
Thank you for your letter and reading my poems. I’ll try and answer your questions as they come in your letter.
1. Shock to reader etc? – Yes and No – (I) don’t want to hurt anybody. Gentleness is best for now – it goes a long way, as my guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche has said many times.
2. Spelling wrong? [the editor choses to correct Orlovsky’s “erratic” spelling in this edition] – Because I used to be too lazy to bother with dictionary – Sorry about that – also at moment of writing wouldn’t want to waste time fingering the dictionary – more interested in writing down what’s going through my mind – or head – will make sure future poems are spelt correct as my guru says it shows respect for the English language, etc
3. No, “Morris” just happened to be a young kid. [Editorial note – the reference here is to Peter’s poem in Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs“Go on Morris, piss up your room/you’ve gypsied your mind haillo far better than the moon..”]
4. Could louse up my senses – but that’s why I got a Buddhist Tibetan guru and meditate samatha and read the Dharma to make sure I don’t go to either extremes of joy or down – read Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa, published by Shambhala, 1969 – you can get it in your nearby book stores – and his Myth of Freedom and Cutting Thru  Spiritual Materialism. Basically samatha meditation gives me balance. I used to go through – you name it – all kinds of unnecessary depression and woe – not now – thanks to common sense of Buddha’s teachings.
5. I’m not going to make myself vulnerable to danger unless I can handle it and transform it into sanity.”

An added bonus – here’s rare video footage of Peter

Peter Orlovsky reading the opening section of  “Write It Down Allen Said” from Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs (1978)


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