Friday, 11 June 2010

Remembering Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

Peter Orlovsky, poet and Beat movement legend Allen Ginsberg’s long-time lover, died on May 30th, according to his obituary in The Times yesterday.
Reading Ginsberg’s Howl in the early 1960s was the single most important event in my literary education. It showed me there was no part of human experience closed to the artist.
I saw Ginsberg read four times in London before his death in 1997. The first was at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965 – and the last 30 years later when Paul McCartney was the surprise guest.
The time I remember most clearly, however, was at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm in 1979.
Let’s suppose Ginsberg was reading an extract from the intense Kaddish – the long memorial poem to his mad mother Naomi. The audience sat silent, stunned by the raw emotion of his words. Perhaps it was the effort not to look foolish and weep, my throat dried, I couldn’t swallow and in fighting for breath I made a loud choking sound much to my embarrassment.
I had brought my copy of Kaddish with me. At the end of the evening as Ginsberg autographed it, like a gushing idiot, I apologised for my noise. The poet, who incidentally Norman Mailer had called “the bravest man in America” said he hadn’t heard it.
This I doubt because of an incident at an Institute of Contemporary Art reading I had witnessed some years earlier. Ginsberg had broken off mid-stanza to upbraid a member of the audience who was laughing in the wrong places.
Orlovsky – I don’t remember if he read – was sitting along side Ginsberg. I asked him to sign Kaddish too. This he did as you can see in the accompanying photograph below and is my most treasured literary possession.
I hadn’t noticed before that Ginsberg had dedicated the book to Orlovsky “in Paradise” along with the inscription “Taste my mouth in your ear.” It would be nice to think they are re-united.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with Ginsberg's readings. I've recently begun an obsessive reading of the Beats, especially Ginsberg and Burroughs. I never had the pleasure of hearing him read, although he did once read at the Bisbee,Arizona Poetry Festival in the late 70s or early 80s I think. I read Ginsberg's Indian Journals not long ago and it has spurred a renewed interest in returning to India, tentatively scheduled for December if things go right. Again, thanks for your post. Best wishes,
    John E. Norem

  2. John, Thank you for your kind words. There aren't many of my youthful enthusiasms that haven't waned with the years. But Ginsberg has been a constant passion over the decades. GC

  3. Well GC. You are quite a " Dharma Bum ", are you not? Jack Kerouac had more soul and talent than Burroughs and Ginsberg put together. And don't forget Ferlingetti. says Jaffa.

  4. "Soul and talent" are subjective judgements - what can't be disputed is that Ginsberg was a brave force for good his whole life. Kerouac died a sad alky.

  5. Ginsberg was more interested in homosexuality than poetry, says Jaffa.

  6. Neither true nor relevant. GC


What do you think? GC