Janine Pommy Vega: Beat poet and close associate of Corso, Ginsberg and Orlovsky

Janine Pommy Vega outlived many of the people with whom she was linked by association – a Who's Who of Beat writers including Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke and Peter Orlovsky.

In Ginsberg's "Dream Record, March 23, 1961" she is the "whitefaced blond in black jacket". More importantly, she outgrew her early inspirations, going on to find her own voice as a poet and to champion poetry as something that could turn lives around.

Her first book of poetry, Poems to Fernando, was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's famed City Lights Books in San Francisco in 1968. It became the 22nd volume in the Pocket Poets Series, and only the series' third volume by a female poet – the first two having been Marie Ponsot's True Minds (1956) and Denise Levertov's Here and Now (1957). Her most recent, The Green Piano: Poems, published by Black Sparrow Press, appeared in 2005. In between were The Bard Owl (1980), Drunk on a Glacier, Talking to Flies (1988), Mad Dogs of Trieste: New and Selected Poems (2000) and others.

Like untold numbers of people of a bohemian or merely weekend beatnik bent, her Beat baptism occurred through Jack Kerouac's eye-opening On the Road (1957). With it, she hit the bohemian mother-lode: "All the characters seemed to move with an intensity that was missing in my life."

Born in 1942 to Joseph and Irene Telkowski Pommy into a working-class New Jersey family, she grew up in Jersey City, six or so miles from New York. While still at high school she and her friend Barbara read a Time Magazine article which said where the Beats hung out. "It mentioned the Cedar Tavern in New York City," said Vega. "Barbara agreed to go with me and check it out. Outside the bar on University Place, we were nervous. We were both sixteen; would we get in? We tried to look as nonchalant as possible as we cut through the crowd of people and sat at the back."

They found themselves opposite "a dark-haired man, drinking wine at a table full of crumbs," who, no doubt saturnine as ever, introduced himself as Gregory Corso. With his usual easy familiarity, the poet name-dropped "Jack", "Allen" and "Peter" – names that the teenagers recognised. He invited the girls to meet his friends at an apartment on the Lower East Side. There she met Orlovsky, who read her his "First Poem" before he headed off to meet Ginsberg. Priorities first, he arranged a date the following Sunday.

When she and Barbara duly arrived, Corso whisked Barbara away. Eventually Ginsberg and Orlovsky emerged. After introductions, Ginsberg left, leaving Orlovsky and Pommy to become lovers. Shortly after, Orlovsky and Ginsberg set off for the West Coast. On their return, the bisexual Orlovsky enjoyed a parallel sexual relationship with her – "We juggled who slept with whom," she wrote. "With their single bed and double bed, somebody usually slept alone, and it wasn't Peter."

The course of her life was set. In December 1962 she met the Peruvian painter Fernando Vega, whom she duly married in Israel. For a while they lived in Paris where she "bottled" – collected money for street musicians – or worked as a model at the École des Beaux-Arts. She only returned to the US after her husband died after a heroin overdose in Ibiza, making her way to the West Coast.

Wanderlust drove her on. Between 1971 and 1975 she lived in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia, often teaching English, but also at one point living reclusively among the Aymara people on the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca where she completed Journal of a Hermit (1974) and Morning Passage (1976). Her patchy Tracking the Serpent: Journeys into Four Continents (1997) – in fact three – ostensibly premised on visiting matriarchal power sites in the Amazon, Europe and Nepal, emerged more as a memoir of sexual adventuring than adding to an understanding of female energy; the Shakti principles of Indian cosmology, so to speak. More lastingly, she was active in promoting poetry in New York State correctional facilities, through Bard College's Bard Prison Initiative. Her voice can be heard on Women of the Beat Generation (1996) and Across the Table (2007), the latter recorded in Woodstock, NY and at concerts in Italy and Bosnia.

She is survived by Andy Clausen, whom she had lived with since 1999, and her brother, Bill Pommy.

Janine Pommy Vega, poet and writer: born Jersey City, New Jersey 5 February 1942; married 1962 Fernando Vega (died 1965); died Willow, New York State 23 December 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?