In St. Marks Church on 10th Street, hundreds of people filed into the Poetry Project’s Memorial for the poet Peter Orlovsky who died this past May. His name becomes more recognizable when it precedes the fact the he was Allen Ginsberg‘s lover and life-long companion, immediately positioning Orlovsky as a shadow amongst the great Beat poet. He never howled as loudly as Ginsberg, but he was bursting with creative energy and feelings so dynamic that when Ginsberg encouraged him to write, it was only natural that he did so.
Throughout the evening, music, poetry, storytelling, and memories compounded in unraveling Orlovsky as a true poet. Some friends, like Patti Smith, recalled “always being in the same room with Peter, but never speaking a word to one another.” They bonded through the unspoken – from being surrounded by an intellectual circle of those who were accustomed to speaking.
Many a time while Ginsberg and his friends stood around the kitchen, talking politics and poetry, Orlovsky would be “doing the dishes” or “fixing the hors d’oeuvres.”
Some poets didn’t acknowledge his work; however, all of his time spent in observation helped him to become more in touch with feelings from his inner world, one that he trusted when he wrote; and what, according to some friends, made his poetry differ from Ginsberg’s and become so intrinsically his own. While Ginsberg thought and wrote with the intention of revealing more of a realism, Orlovsky wrote by following his feelings, trusting in deep emotions because “the pen knows its job.”
Other highlights of the evening included Phillip Glass playing the piano while Smith transcended the audience by reading the Ginsberg poem “On Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa, Vidyadhara.” Watching an accomplished classical composer fuel Smith’s voice while she used his music to accompany the reading was a full circle experience of the powerful relationship between music and poetry and what they can inspire.
Perhaps more than any guest speaker, editor, friend, or banjo player, what I found most inspiring at the memorial was seeing unfamiliar faces shaking hands with one another at intermission, sending each another a knowing glance or a nod of the head from across the room, laughing at minuscule details of Peter’s life, reaffirming that they had not forgotten him–that they had not failed to remember the accomplishments of their Beat Generation.
By the end of the night as the shadow Orlovsky carried through his life dissipated, his ghost remained, and his name was instilled into younger generations sitting in the side booths.
As one friend noted, “Birds don’t sing because they want to be Neil Young; they sing because they are birds.” Peter Orlovsky wrote poems, not because he wanted to be Ginsberg; he wrote because he was a poet.
Reviewed By: Rebecca Melnyk
Here’s a site to visit for more on Orlovsky: http://boppin.com/orlovsky.html