John Giorno, who blazed an inimitable, almost-impossible-to-believe path through the most venturesome regions of poetry, art, music, and activism in postwar New York, died on Friday 11 October. He was 82.
Giorno was one of those extremely rare figures who would have had an admired career, and earned a place in the canon, even if he had only pursued one of his myriad interests. He wrote gloriously explicit poetry in the 1960s that foregrounded his homosexuality, gave frenetic performances around the world, painted bewitching text paintings, organized efforts to care for colleagues battling HIV/AIDS, and was an early convert in the United States to Tibetan Buddhism and meditation.
The central project of Giorno’s life was dramatically expanding the boundaries of poetry, and—at least equally as important for him—revolutionizing the methods by which it could be presented and distributed. His immersion in the thriving New York avant-garde scene of the 1960s provided him inspiration. He once told the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, recalling his mindset at the time, “It occurred to me that poetry was 75 years behind painting and sculpture and dance and music.” And so he got to work catching it up.
One of the artistic works Giorno is most known for is his 1968 "Dial-a-Poem." This project made poetry accessible by allowing people to call a number (+1 641-793-8122 ) — which is still active now — and hear a live recording of a poem from poets like Frank O'Hara, David Henderson, John Ashberry, Laurie Anderson, and more.