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This Just In: College Hijinks Started Feud Between Ginsberg and Diana Trillings

By Harriet Staff


The Daily Beast reports that the Henry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, has discovered the origins of a long-standing feud between Allen Ginsberg and Diana Trilling. The source? A letter from Diana Trilling to Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg’s long-term partner, from the center’s newly acquired Peter Orlovsky Archive.

According to The Daily Beast:

Beginning in the years just after World War II and lasting for decades afterward, there was an odd, unlikely, quietly seething literary and personal feud between Allen Ginsberg and the least Beat of all the writers of that era, Diana Trilling. They ignored each other when they could, but they were uncomfortably linked through Diana’s husband, the eminent literary critic Lionel Trilling. The two men had a mentor-student relationship that was sometimes strained but endured despite their great differences in taste and personality. Ginsberg revered Lionel Trilling, and Trilling appreciated at least some of Ginsberg’s work and included one of Ginsberg’s poems in his anthology The Experience of Literature. Diana Trilling, on the other hand, could not abide Ginsberg. But why? The reason has only recently come to light with the discovery of a forgotten letter in the archive of Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg’s lover, companion, and muse for more than 40 years.

Orlovsky hadn’t written poetry, or even read much poetry, until he met Ginsberg. But he began writing soon after and continued writing poems, letters, and journals as he wandered around the globe. Indeed, the archive, now housed in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is filled with letters from Ginsberg and other lovers—women, not men—wondering where he is and asking why he hasn’t written.

While his relation with Ginsberg endured a lifetime, Orlovsky’s other romantic attachments were women. The archive contains letters from three women in particular who wrote him very lively, engaging letters, often full of spice, that typically end with a note to “give my love to Allen.” One calls him “Ourlovesky” and chides him for spending so much time with Playboy magazine.

There are also letters from major figures associated with Beat literature—Philip Whalen, Ed Sanders, Gary Snyder, Anne Waldman, Lucien Carr, Ted Berrigan, Herbert Huncke, and many others. And then there is the letter from Diana Trilling.

It’s dated December 14, 1978. Orlovsky had evidently invited her to a party celebrating the publication of his book Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songs where, as Orlovsky himself wrote on the invitations, fresh wild apple juice would be served. Perhaps only Peter Orlovsky, who was in general not a logical thinker, could have imagined Diana Trilling at a party for a book with that title or for any book written by a Beat. She hated the whole movement. In 1959 she had published an essay called “The Other Night at Columbia” in Partisan Review that described her horror and disgust at a reading given at Columbia by Ginsberg, Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso. The people in the crowd, she said, looked like they smelled bad. But at first she seems to respond to the invitation in a superior although still generous spirit. She declines with a deadpan “I’m afraid I’m not free that afternoon,” but continues with “I hope the book has a lovely life. Some day I shall drink a toast to you in fresh wild apple juice, as you suggest—it sounds like just my drink.”

For all the juicy parts, you’ll have to read on at Daily Beast!

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.