Photo of Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg by Richard Avedon.
I was saddened today, to hear of Beat poet Peter Orlovsky’s death. The longtime companion of Allen Ginsberg passed away on Sunday at the age of 77 from lung cancer. Wired’s Steve Silberman wrote a sweet, beautiful elegy for Peter that was published at Shambhala Sun titled Impossible Happiness, here’s an excerpt:
The night I met Allen Ginsberg in 1976, his lifelong companion Peter Orlovsky raised a handkerchief to Allen’s nose a fraction of a second before he sneezed. We were in a basement club in Greenwich Village commemorating the death of Neal Cassady, one of Allen’s great loves, and the muse of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. The poet had a bad cold, and it was his second reading of the night.
Anticipating Allen’s need for a handkerchief was just one way Peter manifested what photographer Elsa Dorfman called his “unearthly sensitivity and caring” in an email to a friend after Peter died last Sunday. Kids, animals, and growing things adored Peter. Just before writing “Howl,” Allen pledged his love to him, recognizing in him a character out of a Russian novel: the saintly shepherd, a holy innocent. In Foster’s cafeteria in San Francisco in 1955, the two men grasped hands and vowed never to go to heaven unless the other could get in — a true marriage of souls. “At that instant we looked into each other’s eyes,” Allen wrote, “and there was a kind of celestial cold fire that crept over us and blazed up and illuminated the entire cafeteria and made it an eternal place.”
At Allen’s urging, Peter also became a poet. In 1978, City Lights published a collection of his work with the memorable title Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs. (The vegetables were those Peter grew with tireless enthusiasm on the couple’s organic farm in Cherry Valley, New York, bought as a respite from the grit and druggy temptations of their neighborhood on the Lower East Side.) While no one would have compared Peter’s creative output to Allen’s, his poems – sometimes only a single line – could be remarkably pure and surprising, even luminous.
Impossible Happiness: An Elegy for Peter Orlovsky by Steve Silberman (Shambhala Sun)
Anne Waldman on Peter Orlovsky’s death (Patti Smith.net)