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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 4, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 23
Peter Orlovsky, partner of Allen Ginsburg, dies
Section One
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Peter Orlovsky, partner of Allen Ginsburg, dies

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Peter Orlovsky, lifelong partner of the late Beat icon Allen Ginsberg, died in Vermont on May 30.

Orlovsky was 76, and had been battling lung cancer for several months.

Orlovsky was born to poor Russian immigrants in the Lower East Side, and dropped out of high school in his senior year to support his family.

He was drafted in 1953 and sent to the front in Korea, but transferred back to the States on orders from Army psychiatrists to work as a medic in San Francisco.

Orlovsky met Ginsburg in San Francisco while working as a model for painter Robert La Vigne in 1954. He was 21, Ginsberg was 28. While their relationship was never monogamous, it lasted until Ginsberg died in 1997.

In 1956 Ginsberg published his poem Howl, which became the signature work of the Beat movement.

The next year, Howl became the subject of an obscenity trial when Ginsberg's friend, poet and City Lights bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was prosecuted for publishing it.

Prosecutors focused on one particular Gay-themed line of the poem, "who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy&"

After the trial - in which Howl was ruled to be of "redeeming social importance," and therefore not obscene - Ginsberg and Orlovsky moved to Paris.

There they stayed with William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and other writers in a cheap boarding house that would become known as the Beat Hotel.

Later Ginsberg, Orlovsky, and their Beat entourage traveled extensively in the Middle East, North Africa, India, and Europe.

In the early 1960s, Ginsberg and Orlovsky traveled in India, studied meditation, and became fascinated with Indian religions. Returning to the US, they formed a cultural bridge between the Beat Generation and the hippies of the '60s.

Encouraged by Ginsberg, Orlovsky began writing in 1957 in Paris. Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books published a collection of Orlovsky's poems in 1977.

In 1979 he was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Orlovsky taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. The school was founded by Ginsberg and poet Anne Waldman in 1974.

Waldman was a close friend of the couple, and was at Orlovsky's bedside when he died.

Describing the scene, she wrote:

"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 guru padma siddhi hum in crystal voice said 'don't be afraid.'"

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