Poets at Peace
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
Over the past four days, the poetry world has lost three of its leading lights: Leslie Scalapino, Peter Orlovsky, and Andrei Voznesensky.
Leslie Scalapino died on Saturday. She was 65. An experimental writer associated with the West Coast Language poets, Ms. Scalapino was a longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay area where she ran the small press, O Books. She is the author of way (North Point Press, 1988), a long poem which won the Poetry Center Award, the Lawrence Lipton Prize, and the American Book Award.
Here is what John Ashbery said of her work:
Leslie Scalapino’s language is often of the disenfranchised kind that rubs elbows with us every day—from graffiti, computer terminals, and cereal boxes. Sometimes this language corresponds with life… Most often it seems to be standing in for life when it has to absent itself for a few minutes, which happens so often.
Her family sums up her life in this obituary.
Peter Orlovsky died on Monday. He was 76. Mr. Orlovsky was probably best known as Allen Ginsberg’s long-time lover and muse. Mr. Orlovsky was credited with sparking Ginsberg’s creative impulse. “Allen needed someone to write to — whenever he wrote poetry, he was sort of writing with someone else’s ear in mind,” said Ginsberg biographer Bill Morgan. “A lot of times, it was Jack Kerouac; and at other times, it was Peter Orlovsky.” They met in 1954, and two years later, Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems ignited the literary landscape.
With Ginsberg’s encouragement, Orlovsky became a poet in his own right. His poems had a playful, conversational style as in “Second Poem,” written in Paris in 1957, when he and Ginsberg were staying with Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs at the Beat Hotel: “Morning again, nothing has to be done/maybe buy a piano or make fudge.”
Andrei Voznesensky, whom Robert Lowell called, “one of the greatest [living] poets in any language,” died today. He was 77. Mr. Voznesensky came of age in the cultural thaw that followed Stalin’s death. In the 1960s, he attained “rock star” status, as he and fellow “Children of the 60’s” poets, Yevgeny Yevtushenko”, Bella Akhmadulina and Robert Rozhdestvensky filled stadiums for poetry readings.
English critic John Bayley described his feelings after hearing a Voznesensky recitiation of “I Am Goya”:
“Mr. Voznesensky’s recitation of this poem was electrifying, but it may be that the element of performance bulked necessarily larger than the poem’s emotional impact. Russian poetry has always inspired recitation and a rapt response from the reciter’s audience, but Mr. Voznesensky, and his contemporary Yevgeny Yevtushenko, are perhaps the first Russian poets to exploit this in the actual process of composition—to write poems specifically for performing, as pop songs are written for electronic transmission by singers and band”
Here is a brief snippet:
I am Goya
of the bare field, by the enemy’s beak gouged
till the craters of my eyes gape
I am grief
I am the tongue
of war, the embers of cities
on the snows of the year 1941
I am hunger
I am the gullet
of a woman hanged whose body like a bell
tolled over a blank square
I am Goya
All three of these individuals made lasting contributions to the world of poetry. We mourn their loss.