July 8, 1933 - May 30, 2010
Death of Peter Orlovsky
"The Shellean farmer astride hid Pegasusian tractor" as Gregory Corso
once knighted him passed on today, May 30 2010 to the elysian fields,
a bardo of becoming. First glance hour earlier Peter was resting with
"trach" in throat in orange sheets at the kind Vt Respite Center in
Williston, Vermont ( but no extra tubes/ heroic measures for this
advanced cancer on his lung!), a copy of the Songs of Saraha by his
pillow, photo of beloved Allen Ginsberg companion of many years on the
wall, other Buddhist images, iPod of music he loved including chants
by Buddhist nuns, cards from friends and out the window a bird feeder
with finch and red-winged blackbirds landing/taking off. Chuck and
Judith Lief, faithful guardians and friends at his side. He had been
moved less than 48 hours earlier from intensive care at a hospital in
Boston, finally to hospice. His body we were touching we noticed
suddenly turned cold like death was in the room. We got the nurse.
Judy and I stepped out when suddenly Chuck called us back. Peter had
opened his eyes. Chuck said "It might be the last time". By his side
now, looking into his eyes told out love, I thanked him for his
presence in our lives, his poetry his care and love for Allen, his
work at Naropa. Ah, I thought a flash of recognition shivering
through! slight movement of mouth, light coming in on his handsome
face through the window now, and Judy singing om a hum vajra guua
padma siddhi hum in crystal voice said "don't be afraid". Joined in.
Last breathes, one coming late, staggered: his heart/breath stopt.
Poet Christina Lovin in room with nurse gave gentle witness who
checked the clock 11:39 I think or so a.m. Earlier we'd played
recording of Peter singing his Raspberry Song with great heart-soaring
yodel and "how sweet you are". "Make my grave shape of heart so like a
flower be free aired and handsome felt" ( "The Snail"). Tibetan Book
of the Dead readings, in full final repose arranged with blue shirt,
hands folded, consciousness a joyful gardener sprite? no fear, no fear
working its way out...
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Peter Orlovsky, Poet and Ginsberg Muse, Dies at 76
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: June 2, 2010
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Peter Orlovsky, who inspired Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, with
whom he had a romantic partnership for decades, and who wrote
emotionally naked, loopy and occasionally luminescent poetry of his
own, died in Williston, Vt., on Sunday. He was 76, and lived in St.
Enlarge This Image
Cynthia Macadams/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images
Peter Orlovsky, left, and Allen Ginsberg, in the late 1970s, were
partners for more than 40 years, until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.
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The cause was lung cancer, said Charles Lief, Mr. Orlovsky’s guardian.
Mr. Orlovsky had diabetes and had struggled with drug and alcohol
addiction for much of his life, Mr. Lief said.
Mr. Orlovsky was just 21, recently discharged from the Army and
working as an artist’s model when he met Ginsberg in the San Francisco
studio of the painter Robert LaVigne in December 1954.
The famous story of their meeting, the Ginsberg biographer Bill Morgan
said in an interview, was that Ginsberg saw Mr. LaVigne’s portrait of
Mr. Orlovsky and had already fallen in love with the subject when Mr.
Orlovsky walked in.
They moved to a North Beach apartment shortly thereafter, and within
two years Ginsberg had published “Howl and Other Poems”, the jazzed-up
song of a vibrant, raucous, alienated American spirit that established
his place in the poetry canon. That work’s open celebration of
eroticism and homosexuality caused Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who
published it, to be tried on obscenity charges. (He was acquitted.)
Ginsberg and Mr. Orlovsky wrote and spoke openly about their
relationship, which they deemed a marriage. Because of Ginsberg’s
prominence, the two men were social pioneers, the first gay “married”
couple that many people had ever heard of. They traveled to Paris and
North Africa together and spent two years in India, where they
absorbed the Eastern philosophy that showed up in Ginsberg’s poems and
influenced Mr. Orlovsky, who became a Buddhist, for the rest of his
Ginsberg and Mr. Orlovsky also lived together on the Lower East Side
of Manhattan and, for a time, on a farm in Cherry Valley in upstate
Like Ginsberg, Mr. Orlovsky became a central figure in the Beat
movement, teaching at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics,
founded by Ginsberg and others in 1974, at the Naropa Institute (now
Naropa University) in Boulder, Colo., and figuring in Kerouac’s books.
Kerouac called Mr. Orlovsky George in “The Dharma Bums” and Simon
Darlovsky in “Desolation Angels.”
The relationship was not without its problems: both men had other
partners, and Mr. Orlovsky was interested in women as well as men. But
their bond remained until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.
It was Ginsberg who encouraged Mr. Orlovsky to write poetry, and
though he published only a few slim volumes, his voice was singular,
and his early work was admired by the likes of William Carlos Williams
and Gregory Corso. It had an outsider-ish originality (the spelling
and phrasing were eccentric), a blunt, innocent earthiness, especially
about bodily functions, and a Whitmanesque exuberance that
communicated glee in the process of making poetry itself.
“A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified,” he began
his first poem, which he titled “Frist Poem,” in 1957. It continued:
Songs burst from my breast, all my crying stops, mistory fills the
I look for my shues under my bed.
A fat colored woman becomes my mother.
I have no false teeth yet. Suddenly ten children sit on my lap.
I grow a beard in one day.
I drink a hole bottle of wine with my eyes shut.
I draw on paper and I feel I am two again. I want everybody to talk to
Peter Anton Orlovsky was born on the Lower East Side on July 8, 1933.
His father, Oleg, was an immigrant from Russia who tried starting
several businesses, including hand-painting and selling neckties.
The family was poor, and both parents descended into alcoholism and
eventually separated. Peter’s eldest brother, Julius, who had to be
institutionalized, was a schizophrenic who was intermittently
catatonic. A 1969 film by Robert Frank, “Me and My Brother,” told
Julius’s story at a time when he was living with his brother and
Ginsberg in Manhattan.
Mr. Orlovsky attended high school in Queens, but he dropped out to
help support his family and worked as an orderly at the Creedmoor
state mental hospital (now Creedmoor Psychiatric Center).
He was drafted in 1953 during the Korean War but, the story goes, was
ordered not to be sent to the Korean front after he told an officer,
“An army with guns is an army against love.” Instead he was sent to
San Francisco, where he worked as a medic.
Mr. Orlovsky’s books of poems include “Dear Allen, ship will land Jan
23, 58” (1971), “Lepers Cry” (1972) and “Straight Hearts’ Delight:
Love Poems and Selected Letters” (with Allen Ginsberg) (1980). In
addition to “Me and My Brother,” he appeared in “Couch,” a 1964 film
by Andy Warhol and other films by Mr. Frank, including “Pull My
Mr. Orlovsky had a sister, Marie, and three brothers, Lafcadio, Julius
and Nick. Mr. Lief, his guardian, said that he could be certain only
that Mr. Orlovsky is survived by Lafcadio.