Allen Ginsberg’s longtime companion, Peter Orlovsky, died in Vermont on Saturday, May 30, 2010. Ginsberg’s muse, friend of Jack Kerouac (who portrayed him in several of his novels), eccentric poet organic farmer Buddhist, Orlovsky was one of the last of the Beat Generation’s ‘core’ members, those friends who knew and inspired each other in the 1950s and who were there for the explosion of Howl and On the Road – William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso and, peripherally (because each has declined to accept the mantle ‘member of the Beat Generation’ but who nonetheless were close friends and significant characters in the 1950s San Francisco Renaissance), Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
I met Peter Orlovsky just once. Oddly, I was with my parents and we were visiting Allen Ginsberg’s apartment on East 12th St in the Lower East Side (Allen was actually out of town). Peter lived in the adjoining apartment and he was coming out of his as we topped the stairs. I introduced myself and my parents and he was very polite and offered a sunny smile and a friendly handshake to Mom and Dad and myself. This encounter contrasts sharply with how Peter was at other moments during those mid ’80s years. In those difficult days he was troubled by alcohol and crack addiction and was at times wildly erratic, violent, and wholly unpredictable.
Peter’s struggles with his addictions and with bouts of mental illness weighed heavily on Allen who wavered between being tolerant, denying there was a problem, and enforcing tough love (like cutting him off financially, or calling the police when Orlovksy threatened violence). In the end, when Allen died and his estate sold at auction, the proceeds of the sale went to Orlovsky. I attended that auction and wrote a poem afterwards. In it, I described Peter as “…shambling cannonball-bellied wild-haired unkempt Peter Orlovsky,” and noted that…
“The last ‘fair warning’ announcement echoed from the auctioneer’s gavel, the last hammer blow struck, Orlovsky has stumbled away, pockets stuffed once again by Allen’s unfaltering generosity … “