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Howl for Peter Orlovsky: A Clash of Aesthetics

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A scheduling glitch created the following conundrum: Best Generation poet and Allen Ginsberg's longtime mate, Peter Orlovsky, who died in June, was remembered on Wednesday at St. Mark's Church. Meanwhile the New York premiere of "Howl," the new movie starring James Franco with Peter (Aaron Tveit) in a small role took place a few blocks across town at the IFC Center. Having filled the prestigious slot of opening night film at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the anticipation was high for this movie: part animation, part courtroom drama, part period piece about the creation of the iconic beat poem and the censorship trial for obscenity that followed its 1956 City Lights publication.

An event in beat style, the memorial featured performances by Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Gordon Ball, Bob Rosenthal, Hal Willner, Simon Pettet, Rosebud Pettet, Ed Sanders and anecdotes remembering Peter's generosity of spirit and obsession with cleanliness by Juanita Lieberman Plimpton who as a teen fell in love with this much older poet. Anne Waldman accompanied by her son Ambrose Bye brought down the house with readings of Orlovsky's poems. Peter Orlovsky penned the poetry volume, Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs, encouraged by Ginsberg to write. Bill Morgan, Ginsberg scholar, author of the recently released "The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation" (Free Press), and co-editor with David Stanford of "Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters" (Viking) also spoke. The correspondence reveals the sweet and sometimes belligerent Orlovsky on every page-he's called Petey-- in his role as muse and significant other.

Robert Frank and others, poets and beat luminaries looked on. Frank was co-director of the iconic "Pull My Daisy," that black and white gem epitomizing the aesthetics of spontaneity that so defined the beat movement. Jack Kerouac was narrator, exercising his bebop prosody while Ginsberg took on the movements of a cockroach and intoned Holy Holy Holy before a bewildered bishop and his family played by Milo O'Shea and the painter Alice Neel. Another painter, the horn playing Larry Rivers also starred in the beat classic along with David Amram, Gregory Corso and Orlovsky. Many at the memorial mentioned "the ghosts" that lingered in the church best known as a performance space for them all.

The new movie "Howl" to its credit and poetic beauty maintains much of the downtown fervor of the beat post war urgency to create its own American language. Enacting the time when the use of such words as "cocksucker" could get you censored, "Howl," the movie, illustrates how "Howl" was a landmark poem in its resistance to that violation of the First Amendment. The actual trial transcripts supply the dialogue, comic in today's world. Actor James Franco channels poet Allen Ginsberg in "Howl," perhaps because the role reflects this Yale literature student's own passion for poetry.

Many at the Peter Orlovsky memorial scrambled for cabs to attend the "Howl" premiere after-celebration at Kastel at the elegant steel and chrome Trump Soho newly built on Spring and Varick, sponsored by Maestro Dobel Tequila and Woolrich Woolen Mills. You have to wonder what Allen and Peter would have thought of the uptown feel. Some poets simply boycotted the party in protest of this sleek edifice: there goes the neighborhood. For his part, Peter might have appreciated the establishment's cleanliness.

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