Divine Diane • The Nob Hill Gazette
Two new works pay homage to the legacy of one of San Francisco’s greatest poets.
It was a difficult time for poetry.
Last year alone we lost Diane de Prima in October 2020, Laurent Ferlinghetti in February, then, in quick succession, Janice Mirikitani and Jack hirschman – all the poets laureates of San Francisco, each of whom wore crowns lightly.
Di Prima’s death last year at age 83 marked the end of an era. She was a literary icon whose career combined artistic and political activism with long-standing Buddhist practice.
She has avoided the label “Beat” – although perhaps not “bohemian” – although she knows the characters of this world intimately, including Allen Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and his close friend Michael mcclure. And her work, as well as that of other women poets like Joanne kyger, Lenore Kandel and Anne Waldman, on condition of counterbalancing the macho excesses of some of his peers.
It is therefore by chance that City Lights is reissuing an expanded edition of the 50th anniversary of its Revolutionary Letters, as well as the long-awaited thesis Spring and Autumn Annals, who serves as an elegy to her dancer-choreographer friend Freddie herko, who jumped out of his Greenwich Village apartment window in 1965, and a portrait of the vanished artistic effervescence and writers, artists and musicians of the circle of di Prima: poet-activist Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones, and with whom she had a daughter), poets Frank O’Hara and Robert duncan, and jazz musicians Archie Shepp and Cecil taylor.
Sheppard powell, di Prima’s husband, says she wrote until the end, even though she literally couldn’t walk for the last three and a half years of her life. “Sometimes the poems were dictated, and sometimes she would use a stylus to type them on her iPhone,” says Powell, artist and healer. He notes that a major impetus for di Prima’s move to the West Coast in 1968 was to meet with a Zen Buddhist teacher. Suzuki roshi. “She said if he had been an apple picker, she would have followed him and picked apples.”
But she never shied away from social involvement, writing broadcasts for the free-spirited Diggers, as well as the Wild Founders. Emmett Grogan and the outlaw poet Kirby doyle. “Feeding people was the kind of political action she understood perfectly,” says Powell. “They had a free bank, a shoebox full of money that she kept above her refrigerator. It would be filled with some of the musicians who were starting to earn an obscene amount of money. Anyone who wanted to could get something out of it and it was never empty. As for his contributions to the Diggers, Powell laughs, then adds, “Each edition of the Revolutionary Letters became longer because the world never started to behave on its own.
But di Prima’s loyalty has always been to her muse, which she sums up in the poem Rant: The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. She was a fierce, funny feminist who unabashedly celebrated sexuality – though her notorious Memoirs of a Beatnik, published in 1969, was admittedly semi-fictitious in response to the publisher Maurice Girodias‘frequent pleas to include “more sex.” Memories of my life as a woman: the New York years, published in 2001, presents a more measured account.
Philosopher on the hazards of fame and fortune, she is sometimes snubbed by literary festivals. “The reason was probably because she didn’t chat that much,” says Powell. “But if you were talking about Something, she was talking all night.
As di Prima said The poetry market, which she read aloud upon her induction in 2009 as the Poet Laureate at the San Francisco Public Library: