City Lights Celebrates Peter Orlovsky

a life in wordsWednesday night at City Lights we have the honor of welcoming a trio of Beat Generation poets & scholars back into our midst: Bill Morgan, Joanne Kyger, and Michael McClure.

The event is in celebration of the new book and first-ever collection of writings of Peter Orlovsky, well-known as Allen Ginsberg‘s lover for more than forty years and a talented and prolific writer in his own right. The book, Peter Orlovsky, A Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer is edited by Bill Morgan with a foreword by Ann Charters.

Drawn from previously unpublished journals, correspondence, photographs, and poems, Peter Ovlovsky, a Life in Words, begins just as Orlovsky is discharged from the Army, having declared that it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.

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 William Carlos Williams praised his poetry as “Pure American”.

Find below the poem “I Dream of St Francis” from Peter’s now out-of-print Pocket Poet installment as well as an excerpt from Gregory Corso’s introduction.

OrlovskyPeter was indeed published in his day–perhaps most famously in the inescapable poetry anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960This publication (1960) helped affirm Orlovsky’s place among the great American poets of his generation. It also predated Peter’s involvement with City Lights, which first published Peter in book-form in 1978 for the Pocket Poets Series.

The 37th Pocket Poet installment, Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs (now out of print), was a much-needed selected poems collection taken from nearly 20 years of Orlovsky’s work. It features poetry and songs with an introduction by Gregory Corso. In the intro, Corso echoes the praise given by Williams and adds this:

“Peter is an original; a refined spirit … regard: ‘neath his poetic capote nothing primitive holds claim–An agricultural romantic, the Shellean farmer astride his Pegasusian tractor re-poems the earth with trees of berry and roots of honey; whose dirtian hands scribe verses of soy, odes of harvest; whose hymns to redolent shovels of manure nourish the fields that so nourish us, both in body meal and the cosmetics of soul.”

Here follows a piece from Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs or, as Ginsberg referred to it at the time, Clean          Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs. Any odd spelling below is intentional, as was Orlovsky’s way.

I Dream of St. Francis

St Francias came to me alive last night & told me
some strange things – he said everybody is green & trees
are blue &  hills are wheelbarrows turned inside out – that
a tree is a cane & the eyes grow old because of tears spilt
because of the Tokay Sun – & that life is much more
than a charming bracelet – he said life is more like a
Chinese tea pot – a big one for lots of mouths – then
he came closer to me & almost through his eyes into mine
& he said All the Saints of old were all right but they were
not good enough because they dident feel enough faith & love
in man to carry out his own individual life –

St. Francias is at different times all over my body –
some times – like above me he is in my mind &  heart –
other times he is in my stocking & I walk on him &
how it hurts us both – other times he is in my left pocket
& I take him out to show to little children
who laugh when I talk or look or make faces – one time
he was under my arm, & I scratched him away – he
got in my hair too & my finger nails are all broken
because he cralled in there – & when I was sleeping last night
he ran all over my hand with his chizel & hammer,
carving lines –


1957 NYC

The event is tonight at City Lights Books in the main room – Bill Morgan, Joanne Kyger, and Michael McClure will discuss all things Orlovsky and the book, Peter Orlovsky, A Life in Words, which Morgan edited.

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