A Higher Plane
John had a magnetic sort of warmth and serenity about him—to the point where I couldn’t imagine how he’d been capable an emotion like impatience—and as we sat in a pair of cozy, musty armchairs, he recounted the events of his life. The artist, best known for disintegrating traditional definitions of poetry over the course of his expansive career, was born in Brooklyn in 1936, and had a brief stint on Wall Street before embarking on his creative career. Apart from some extended sojourns to India later in life, he’s always been a character in and of the city, and speaks matter-of-factly about the reasons he never left: “All my lovers were from New York.” Among those lovers was Andy Warhol, who featured Giorno in his 1963 film “Sleep,” and was only one of many celebrities in the arts with whom John socialized; for years, William S. Burroughs lived downstairs in his Bowery residence, a renovated YMCA facility housing a warren of various bedrooms and multi-purpose studio spaces. Giorno’s greatest contributions to art were in the form of poetry, from his Dial-A-Poem system of on-demand verse via telephone to his multicolor prints of koan-like phrases. But his effect on me was the result of the profound energy of ego-less wisdom and contentment he broadcast, an energy closely linked to his decades-long immersion in Buddhist studies and practices. My colleagues and I left that day feeling somehow spiritually uplifted, all simply from being in John’s presence, from listening to his stories. With his passing this week, it’s impossible not to temper the inevitable grief with a dose of the divine acceptance he expressed when I asked him, in the autumn of his life and career, how he regarded the prospect of death: “That’s the next big thing I have to do.”
Read our interview with John Giorno from Issue 09 here.