Peter Orlovsky, poet, musician, farmer, teacher, and companion of poet
Allen Ginsberg, was born July 8, 1933, on the Lower East Side of New York City
to Oleg and Katherine Orlovsky. He was one of five children who grew up in the
Northport section of Long Island, New York.
As a teenager, Orlovsky's parents separated after a series of failed
business ventures and bouts with alcoholism. At that time, Orlovsky moved to
Queens with his mother and siblings. Orlovsky dropped out of school in his
senior year and began supporting himself at age 17 due to family economic
problems. After many odd jobs, he began working as an orderly at Creedmore
State Mental Hospital in New York giving him an opportunity to complete the
requirements for a high school diploma.
In 1953, Orlovsky was drafted into the military as the Korean War began.
Due to his erratic behavior and conspicuous anti-military sentiments at boot
camp, army psychiatrists ordered his transfer. He spent the rest of his
military service as a medic in a San Francisco hospital.
Following his discharge from the army, Orlovsky moved in with San
Franscisco painter Robert LaVigne as both model and companion. In 1954,
Orlovsky was introduced to LaVigne's friend, Allen Ginsberg. Soon after this
first meeting, Orlovsky and Ginsberg became lovers and moved in together,
defining their relationship as a marriage. Despite periods of separation, this
arrangement remained intact until Ginsberg's death in April 1997.
Prior to meeting Ginsberg, Orlovsky had made no deliberate attempts at
becoming a poet. With Ginsberg's encouragement, Orlovsky began writing in 1957
while the pair was living in Paris. His early compositional process began at
the typewriter as spontaneous outbursts of ideas. From that point on, he often
carried small notebooks to document his experiences, dreams, and
Orlovsky's relationship with Ginsberg exposed him to individuals
involved with the literary and artistic renaissance emerging in San Francisco
during the 1950s. Accompanied by such Beat luminaries as Jack Kerouac, William
S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso, Orlovsky traveled extensively for several
years, both with and without Ginsberg, throughout the Middle East, Northern
Africa, India, and Europe. The fragile mental condition of his brothers, Julius
and Lafcadio, often abbreviated these trips, forcing his return to New York.
Orlovsky and Ginsberg eventually settled into an apartment on New York's Lower
During the 1970s, Orlovsky spent much of his time on a farm in Cherry
Valley, New York, writing, playing music, growing his own food, and communing
with nature. In 1974, Orlovsky joined the faculty of the Jack Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, to teach a
course entitled “Poetry for Dumb Students.” Although Orlovsky never
regarded writing as a career, he received a $10,000 grant from the National
Endowment for the Arts in 1979 to continue his creative endeavors.
Orlovsky has supported many social and political causes by participating
in anti-nuclear demonstrations, LEMAR, a pro-marijuana organization, and the
League for Sexual Freedom. Orlovsky and Ginsberg's frank and open discussion of
their homosexual marriage has been credited with increasing gay consciousness
To date, Orlovsky's work has been published in
Dear Allen: Ship will land Jan 23, 58
Lepers Cry (1972),
Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs:
Poems 1957-1977 (1978), and
Straight Hearts' Delight: Love Poems and Selected
Letters (1980), a collaboration with Ginsberg. His work has also
New American Poetry: 1945-1960 (1960),
The Beatitude Anthology (1965), as well as
the literary magazines
Outsider. Orlovsky has appeared in two
films, Andy Warhol's
Couch (1965) and photographer Robert Frank's
Me and My Brother (1969), a film documenting
Julius Orlovsky's mental illness.