Monday, November 9, 2020

RIP: Literary Lioness Diane di Prima

Di Prima reads from her first book,
"This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards" in 1959

The prolific Beat poet and teacher Diane di Prima was the mother 
of five children and became a Lioness of Letters at a time when poets mostly belonged to boys' clubs. She died on October 25 at the age
of 86.

In an often-repeated anecdote from her 2001 memoir Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, Di Prima recalls being at a "boozy, marijuana-filled party one night in New York" with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and when she announced she needed to leave at 11:30 p.m. to relieve her babysitter, Kerouac shouted, “DI PRIMA, UNLESS YOU FORGET ABOUT YOUR BABYSITTER, YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO BE A WRITER." 

She wrote of her decision to pursue a career in poetry, "The things I now leave behind... leaving the quiet unquestioned living and dying, the simple one-love-and-marriage, children, material pleasures, easy securities. I am leaving the houses I will never own. Dishwashers. Carpets. Dull respect of dull neighbors. None of this matters really. I have already seen it all for the prison it is."

The actress who played Don Draper's Greenwich Village girlfriend in TV's "Mad Men" read Di Prima's Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969) in preparation for the role. As quoted in Sisters of the Extreme, she wrote in Memoirs: "As far as we knew, there was only a small handful of us—perhaps forty or fifty in the City (NY)—who knew what we knew; who raced about in Levis and work shirts, smoked dope, dug the new jazz, and spoke a bastardization of the Black argot.....Our chief concern was to keep our integrity...and to keep our cool."

In her epic poem Loba she wrote, seemingly to the goddess Parvati

They call me drunkard, though I drink no liquor
I drink her nectar only; my mind reels
I sit day and night at the feet of Shiva's consort
High, not dulled with the wines of earth.  
The cosmic egg floats on the elixir of her Joy.
She delivers the low-born, I shall not leave her side. 
Virtue, ignorance, action, wisdom—these drugs delude
But when you drink Her wine, you are out of tune
And the Divine Bard loves you: she takes you on her lap.
 
and
 
Why do I regret
hours in pastel gardens where scented drugs
might have sharpened our senses?