Poet Peter Orlovsky dead at 76

Posted on June 1st, 2010 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , .

Peter Orlovsky Peter Orlovsky, longtime partner of Allen Ginsberg and a renowned poet and counterculture figure in his own right, died May 30 in Vermont of lung cancer. He was 76.

The Los Angeles Times recalls that Orlovsky met Ginsberg in San Francisco in 1954, just before Ginsberg wrote his seminal poem, "Howl," which was the subject of a 1957 obscenity trial that became a landmark free-expression case. Ginsberg and Orlovsky later moved to Paris, where they stayed with Gregory Corso, William Burroughs and others in a boarding house that would become known as the Beat Hotel. In the early 1960s, Orlovsky and Ginsberg traveled in India together, where they both became devotees of meditation and eastern mysticism.

Orlovsky taught at Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Ginsberg and Anne Waldman in 1974. Waldman was at Orlovsky's bedside when he died. Orlovsky's poetry was collected by City Lights Books in 1977.

Orlovsky and Ginsberg alike were early and eager advocates of cannabis. Last year, the Village Voice ran a reprint of a December 1964 article on a marijuana legalization rally the couple led in New York's Tompkins Square Park.

Photo by Uhuru1701.



Ginsberg and Orlovsky held first smoke-in in 1964

Bill Weinberg's picture The above-cited text from the Village Voice is no longer online, but we retrieved it via the Wayback Machine and reproduce it here. Fair Use rights asserted...

December 31, 1964, Vol. X, No. 11

Pickets for Pot Push Legalization

By Mary Perot Nichols

In a light drizzle on a gloomy last Sunday, a dedicated picket line marched in front of the City Department of Welfare's headquarters on the east side of Tompkins Square Park.

The group, which counted among it poet Allen Ginsberg and friend Peter Orlovsky, his shoulder-length blond hair streaming from under an Orange scotch beret, chanted, "Om Hari Namo Shiva, Om Hari Namo Shiva," over and over again as they moved in an ovular pattern on the sidewalk. Ginsberg and Orlovsky gaily played Oriental finger cymbals as they walked. The Indian chant, according to Ginsberg, means "Oh bringer of delight, name of Shiva." Shiva, he explained, is the god of Yoga, asceticism, meditation and marijuana.

The group, in anarchist fashion, picked no leader. Ginsberg, who was only a participant not a spokesman, explained: "This is the first seed demonstration in New York, the first attempt to manifest publicly in favor of a change in the law" regarding marijuana. The change the demonstrators sought was the legalization of marijuana. The signs read things like "Smoke pot -- it's cheaper and healthier than liquor," and "Repeal marijuana prohibition."

As the picket line formed about 1.30 in the afternoon, the police gathered in the ratio of one policement to every two pickets. The police gradually thinned down to a force of two as the group exhibited a passive and peaceful manner. Most of the marchers were pale, thin young men in their 20s, dressed in the casual Lower East Side mode. There were several girls marching, with their boy friends' arms around them.

They distributed salmon-colored mimeographed leaflets that read in part: "Like liquor prohibition, pot prohibition violates personal liberty, promotes racketeering, and invites mass evasion of the law. But while alcohol is demonstrably productive of a hangover, cirrhosis of the liver, violence, and Dylan Thomas type scenes, marijuana on the other hand is in ALL respects gentle, benevolent and absolutely nonaddictive. We defy anyone to produce one shred of evidence that marijuana is in any way addictive!"

"On Shivaratri (Shiva's birthday)," said Ginsberg, who last year spent some months in India, "all the respectable families drink bhang (a mixture of marijuana, almond paste, and milk) prepared by all the respectable grandmothers in India." "Pot," he explained, "is sold in government stores, and is a big industry there."

A be-buttoned young man who identified himself by his pseudonym "Randy Wicker" presented a photostatic copy of an article that appeared in the August 31 San Francisco Chronicle  which showed a front-page picture of a smiling group of boys and girls holding signs. One particularly healthy-looking young girl had a sign reading, "Marijuana is Wholesome."

On Wicker's chest were buttons expressing such sentiments as "Let's Legalize Pot." "Buttons," said Wicker, "are my hobby." He reached into a flight bag and brought out his current crop of five, one by one. Aside from the one calling for pot, they read: "I'm for Sexual Freedom" (the last time Wicker's name appeared in the Voice, he was doing publicity for the Mattachine Society, an association of homosexuals) and "Legalize Narcotics for Addicts." Two more that he passed to this reporter unselfconciously under the nose of a grumpy, observing policeman demanded "Civilians Must Control Their Police" and "Replace J. Edgar Hoover."

From the flight bag came more material: the February 1965 issue of a girlie magazine called Jaguar, a John Crosby column from the Herald Tribune, a girlie pulp called Quick, and the avant-garde Lower East Side publication Birth. Each touted pot. Birth, however, contained some confusing excerpts from the India Hemp Drugs Commission Report dated 1893-94:

"Question 45a: Does the habitual moderate use of any of these drugs (varieties of hemp) produce any noxious effects -- physical, mental, or moral?

"Answer (by Surgeon-Major R. Cobb, Civil Surgeon and Superintendent, Lunatic Asylum, Dacca) (v 4, 289): 'No.'

"Answer (by Asst.-Surgeon Bosonto Kumar Sen. in Civil Medical Charge, Bogra (v 4, p 314): 'Yes, the use of ganja and bhang produces noxious effects. They weaken the constitution and produce loss of appetite. They generally produce dysentary, asthma, and bronchitis. They impair the moral sense, induce laziness or habits of immorality of debauchery. A ganja-smoker never talks on any important moral, social, or religious subject, nor does he mix with good people. He has got a circle of his own where he indulges in loathsome conversation. Ganja produces insanity (mania) both temporary and permanent.'

"Answer (by Asst.-Surgeon Prenath Bose, Teacher of Materia Medica and Practical Pharmacy, Dacca) (v 4, p 318): 'Evidence on these points is conflicting'."

Comment by Bill Weinberg on Jul 4th, 2021 at 10:31 pm

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