Hungry for everything: Soho poet Steve Dalachinsky dies at 72

Steve Dalachinsky, with his volume of poetry “A Superintendent’s Eyes” (Unbearable Books / Autonomedia), which chronicles his stint as a Downtown Manhattan superintendent, distilling it into art. (Photo by Bonny Finberg)

BY BONNY FINBERG |

 

“I have trouble recalling any significant, edifying or exhilarating free-jazz or total-improvisation concert I’ve attended at which Mr. Dalachinsky has not been in the audience, rough-edged, congenial and ready with an opinion.”

— Steve Smith, “What’s an Avant-Garde Evening Without a Poet and Plush Toys?” (The New York Times, Sept. 5, 2013)

 

Steve Dalachinsky was a consummate kvetcher, often unsure of how the world perceived him.

A self-proclaimed “gormand,” he inevitably coveted whatever was on your plate rather than what was on his own.

On a walk together in Paris, he was sure I got the better pick from a box of tossed records on the street, even though, knowing his proclivities, I let him go through it fully before picking through the remains. Ironically, he was beloved internationally, a recipient of awards and critical acclaim.

He was a generous friend and published writers he felt were underappreciated, through Sisyphus Press, lovingly handmade chapbooks produced with his wife, poet and painter Yuko Otomo. He embraced young, aspiring poets and musicians, perhaps finding a spark that reminded him of his early encounters with older musicians and poets.

At 15, walking past the Five Spot on St. Mark’s Place, sounds spilled onto the street. Underage, he snuck inside and saw Cecil Taylor playing the piano. This began a decades-long friendship.

“The music went right inside me,” he said, “and my addiction to free jazz began.”

Steve Dalachinsky with fellow Downtown writer Ron Kolm in Prague in 2011. (Photo by Bonny Finberg)

Steve, who was 72, lived in Soho. He died early Monday morning, Sept. 15, from a stroke after reading his poetry with a jazz trumpeter in Long Island. He’d gone to a Sun Ra Arkestra concert with Yuko earlier in the day.

Still able to speak as he was wheeled into the emergency room, he joked, “Maybe I overdosed on Sun Ra.”

Yuko replied, smiling, “I told you so.”

A shared joke, followed by a little teasing, their last verbal exchange.

Aside from his wife of 40 years, he leaves behind his sister, Judy Orcinolo, and her son, Shaun.

Matt Shipp, longtime friend and collaborator, describes their relationship as a “perfect intersection,” sharing a love for the same musical and literary icons, describing their conversations “almost as natural as breathing.” Their conversations and Steve’s poems in response to Shipp’s playing were published in 2006 as “Logos And Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue,” by Michel Dorbon under his Paris-based RogueArt.

Steve’s collection “The Final Nite & Other Poems: The Complete Notes From a Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006,” from Ugly Duckling Press (2006), won the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award.

He is also the recipient of the French Minister of Culture Award, as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Steve received an Acker Award, given in recognition of significant contribution and achievement in the Lower East Side arts community.

Steve Dalachinsky in Prague in 2011. (Photo by Bonny Finberg)

Steven Donald Dalachinsky was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 29, 1946, to Sylvia and Louis Dalachinsky, a house painter. As a young teen he was sent to a psychiatric hospital for behavior that would now be diagnosed as ADHD. There he met another patient, who, hearing Steve wrote poetry, gave him copies of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind” and Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl.” From this point his focus took a sharp turn and he devoured the Beats, absorbing a broad range of influences beyond.

In addition to his widely published poetry and critical writing on jazz, Dalachinsky was an accomplished collagist. His images reflect his love of surrealism, executed with seamless precision, textural complexity and absurdist humor.

As Dorbon said, “He was hungry for everything — food, life — food for sure, all that he catches, all that he grabbed, he wanted to restitute to others. He could read his work with any musician.”

Steve Dalachinsky took in everything and released a flood of consciousness forged into poetry in all he produced. His poetry, collages and chronicling of the music he so loved were poetic reflections of his wild and relentless imagination. How fitting that he ultimately died from an overflowing brain that couldn’t be contained. He left us all bereft, yet so full with everything he made. His hunger was insatiable, yet we are the beneficiaries of what that hunger left behind.

For a January 2016 feature profile of Steve Dalachinsky in The Villager, click here.

21 Responses to Hungry for everything: Soho poet Steve Dalachinsky dies at 72

  1. Thank you, Bonny, for your beautiful piece. It is a gift to read eulogies written by Steve’s dear and closest friends.

    I will miss yelling at him “Read the damn poem” as he shuffled papers and kvetched about this and that.

    And we all know where I got the idea to yell “read the damn poem.”

    It’s been a tough summer filled with their empty spaces.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful piece, Bonny. His last words, extraordinary! It made me love him even more. And miss him. He was the conscience of our scene. Going out is going tobe sad knowing Stevie won’t be there.

  3. Yes Puma, it’s happening too fast and too soon. The last time I saw Steve was at the garden memorial for Steve Cannon —a week before he died.

  4. Bonny, what a beautiful remembrance. I’m crying all over again. And I agree, Puma. “Read the damn poem” brings on another flood of heartbreak. Here is my tribute to Dalachinsky:

    Haiku for Dalachinsky

    September 18, 2019

    Goddamn you, death—you

    never rest. You keep on, keep

    on breaking my heart.

  5. Thank you, Bonny. Great tribute wonderfully written.

  6. A fine tribute for out multi-talented friend, Bonnie. I am proud and grateful to be one of the authors that Steve and Yuko published under their Sisyphus imprint. Those who knew him, recognized that Steve was the real deal, a brilliant poet, critic, and collagist. His particular style of reading his poems left an indelible impression on audiences. His poetry revitalized the Beat tradition with its gritty realism balanced with Romantic soul searching.

    The world is diminished by his passing but enriched by his art and his continuing presence.And what a presence. He left our hearts bigger.

  7. Nice job, you captured the rare essence of Steve. He hearkened back to another time, when it was still possible to come to the Village, live a bohemian lifestyle. He will be missed.

  8. Brava!!!

    • While I did not know him he seems exactly the sort of fellow I would have loved, alive, searching, unique and quisical. A rare bird these days. The sort of artist an artist wants as a friend. Now I must read his poems and study his collages,my heart goes out to his wife and friends. Blessing from a Greek Island.

      L

  9. Thank you Bonny ! Beautifully written…He was such a LIVING artist…his collages were so extraordinary…like Charles Henri Ford a poet who also did collage…we needed another 20 years of Dalachinsky…thats the truth..his death creates such loss a fault line so deep. Like so many people i find his loss unabsorbable. He apprenticed for DECADES to take his place after Tuli Kupferberg, After Ira Cohen, After Marti Matz.

    xoxopenny

  10. Wonderful trubute. Thank you.

  11. Thanks for this sketch, Bonny. Ironically, I last saw Steve a week before his death at a memorial for Steve Cannon. As Puma said, it’s been a tough summer.

  12. What a beautiful tribute to an incredible creator of poetic jazz. Steve
    wrote a description of my book, DEAD BIRDS OR AVIAN BLUES, (Fly By Night Press) which captured the essence of the work. I will miss his energetic presence on the downtown poetry scene.

  13. Brava Dear Bonny! Such a huge loss but this beautiful piece somehow eases that a bit. X

  14. Very sad he is gone. A very nice piece, Bonny. Captures the man… You know, it’s the common things like rummaging at the fleamarket that are such intimate moments with friends. I think standing in line at film forum was for me. The last words were especially sweet. I’m glad he went out that way, if he had to go at all. I suppose we all overdose on whatever it is we love… I hope.

  15. Writing from the heart is the only way to do it and you’ve certainly done it. I never met Steve nor did I ever hear him read but his name was everywhere and I hoped someday I would get to meet him. Now I seem addicted to everything I can read about him. As we all have learned the hard way, love comes with loss. Thank you for a splendid piece of writing inspired by love but I send my sympathy for the heartbreaking loss of your dear friend.

  16. What a beautiful piece, and what lovely photographs you took of Steve, Bonny. Thank you so much.

  17. Thank you for your beautiful words about my dear uncle I am Judy Orcinolo’s daughter Sheri.He was my most loved relative.He was patient and loving he taught me to tie my shoelaces.He helped and loved me I will always remember him as a great mentor.Uncle you will be missed.Love Sheri

  18. Beautifully written, Bonny. I’m only sorry I had never met this authentic New York character. But through your words, I was able to.

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