Beat News

Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer

Here at Beatdom we have always had a fondness for Peter Orlovsky, and were surprised and delighted to hear about this brand new – and overdue – publication, Peter Orlovsky: a a Life in Words.

Orlovsky is known as “Allen Ginsberg’s lover” or his husband, friend, life-partner, or whatever relationship is attributed to them by whatever scholar or journalist. But what we forget is that, while certainly no Ginsberg, he was a poet in his own right. He was a character but he was also a writer. He was not just a background to the Beat Generation, but part of it. And that this is the first major book about him is rather sad. But, better late than never.

And, also, what a cover. Two penises on one literary textbook cover. You have to admire that!

 

From the publishers (Paradigm):

 

“The Peter Orlovsky you will meet in this book has only a slight resemblance to the wacky kid immortalized in Kerouac’s sunny pages as ‘the greatest man in San Francisco’ or the silent companion in Ginsberg’s tender poetry. Here, for the first time, Bill Morgan has used Peter’s words to take us behind his handsome face. Orlovsky’s journals, letters, and poems offer us glimpses of his mind with and without Ginsberg.”
—from the Foreword by Ann Charters, editor of The Portable Beat Reader

Until now, the poet Peter Orlovsky, who was Allen Ginsberg’s lover for more than forty years, has been the neglected member of the Beat Generation. Because he lived in Ginsberg’s shadow, his achievements were seldom noted and his contributions to literature have not been fully recognized.

Now, this first collection of Orlovsky’s writings traces his fascinating life in his own words. It also tells, for the first time, the intimate story of his relationship with Ginsberg.

Drawn from previously unpublished journals, correspondence, photographs, and poems, Peter Ovlovsky, a Life in Words, begins just as Orlovsky is discharged from the Army, having declared that it was “an army without love.” The book follows the young man through years of self-doubt and details his first meeting with Ginsberg in San Francisco from his own perspective. During that same year, Peter, always acting as the caregiver in his relationships, adopted his teenage mentally impaired brother, and tried to help him make a life for himself.

In never-before-heard detail, Orlovsky describes his travels around the world with Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Corso—whose writings so often benefited from knowing the highly creative and inspiring Orlovsky.

Orlovsky’s story is a refreshing departure from the established history of the Beats as depicted by his more famous companions. The reader will discover why Jack Kerouac described him as the saintly figure of Simon Darlovsky in Desolation Angels and why the elder poet William Carlos Williams praised his poetry as “pure American.” His was a complicated life, this book shows, filled with contradictions. Best known as Ginsberg’s lover, Orlovsky was heterosexual and always longed to be with women. Always humble, he became a teacher at a Buddhist college and taught a class that he entitled “Poetry for Dumb Students.” His spirit was prescient of the flower children of the sixties, especially his inclinations toward devotion and love. In the end Orlovsky’s use of drugs took its toll on his body and mind and he slipped into his own hell of addiction and mental illness, silencing one of the most original and inspiring voices of his generation.

  • This is the “Orlovsky Reader” (which Ginsberg always wanted to publish) offering poetry, prose, and journal entries, created by the man who was the muse of the Beat generation.
  • Reveals the nature of the Ginsberg and Orlovsky sexual relationship, which hasn’t been fully revealed before; Peter was never gay and didn’t find men sexually attractive.
  • Exhibits Orlovsky’s distinct style of writing, which wasn’t derived from the other writers living around him.
  • Includes many previously unpublished poems.
David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

View Comments

Recent Posts

Review: The Beats, by Steven Belletto

In 2020, Cambridge University Press published The Beats: A Literary History, by Steven Belletto, author…

2 weeks ago

The Change: Allen Ginsberg, Reborn

This essay was originally published in Beatdom #21. On July 18th, 1963, Allen Ginsberg sat…

3 weeks ago

Beatdom #22 – The Jack Kerouac Centenary Edition

Every year, we pick a theme for the next installment of Beatdom. In the past,…

4 weeks ago

The Beats: A Teaching Companion

Clemson University and the Beat Studies Association have been working together on a series of…

1 month ago

Review: Ginsberg’s Karma

Ginsberg’s Karma is a short documentary about Allen Ginsberg’s trip through India between 1962 and…

2 months ago

Layover: An attempt to keep a journal |by Weldon Kees

In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…

2 months ago

This website uses cookies.