Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Peter Orlovsky 1933 - 2010

No, the madness didn't destroy him. He outlived them all: Cassady, Kerouac, Allen himself. Survived the drugs and the alcohol, the sex and the protests, to die unoutrageously of lung cancer at the age of 76.

No, he was not his animal. In the poems he is an altogether quieter, more domestic presence, a shadow you barely see. And yet he is there on the front page of Kaddish, an angel of grief, and there again twenty years later, lending his back and strong shoulders to Ginsberg Sr., being told not to grow old, and (as we now know) ignoring the advice. He is there in the elegies to O'Hara and Cassady, lending his sympathetic ear and voice to the general sorrow. Again and again, when death intercedes, he is there to comfort, console.

When they first met, half a century ago, Allen wrote:

"discovered a new young cat,
and my imagination of an eternal boy
walks on the streets of San Francisco,
handsome, and meets me in cafetarias
and loves me."

and here they are, 40 years later, two old men sitting in companionable silence around a dining table; two bowls, chipped and almost empty, laid side by side.

No, he wasn't the best mind of his generation. But what he was, and what he had, is hard not to envy. And if even some of the power of those poems draws strength from his presence, that is more than most of us can hope to contribute.


Ginsberg quote taken from 'Malest Cornifici Tuo Catullo' . Ginsberg and Orlovsky image taken from this piece by Gordon Ball in Jacket, July 2007.

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