Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Poet: Diane Di Prima

Ode to Keats, 2, The Dream

Hedged about as we are with prayers
and with taboos
Yet the heart of the magic circle is covered with gray linoleum
Over my head fly demons of the past
Jimmy, they pass
With a whooshing sound
The only ghost who stands on the ground
(who stands his ground)
Is Freddie-
I rise a few inches above the circle, and turn somersaults
I want to go shopping, but all I see is my reflection
I look tired and sad. I wear red. I am looking for love.
On the sidewalk are lying the sick and the hungry:
I hear "Spencer's Faerie Queen cost them all their lives."
And Spencer? I ask, "What did this life buy?"
Through the door is the way out, Alan stands in the doorway
In an attitude of leaving, his head is turned
As if to say goodbye, but he's standing still.

Hedged about with primroses
with promises
The magic words we said when we were praying
Have formed a mist about us...

Diane Di Prima is always associated with the Beat generation of poets, though sometimes not in a good way. She was one of the few women to actually be associated with the movement who also associated with the poets, socially, and then wrote about it (Memoirs of a Beatnik). She is sometimes dismissed as a groupie, but to do so dismisses a fine poet.

Here is some biography:
[Di Prima] was born in New York City on August 6, 1934 and after attending Swarthmore College, settled in Greenwich Village. It was at this location where she lived the "bohemian lifestyle" that typified the Beat movement.

She published her first book of poetry, a collection called This Kind of Bird Flies Backward was published in 1958. In the early 1960's, she collaborated with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and started a monthly periodical that featured the work of themselves and many other notable Beats, including Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

She also was the founder of two publishing houses which focused on the writing of innovative and avant-garde poets: The Poets Press and Eidolon Editions. She also began a career as a lecturer at the Naropa Institute in Colorado in 1974.

Di Prima's career may reflect a struggle with the political and social upheavals that occurred in the 1960's and 1970's however, her writing often focused on her personal life and relationships. Much of her later writing reflected an interest in alchemy, female archetypes and of course, Eastern philosophies.

Some of her works include: Poems for Freddie (1966), Earthsong Poems 1957 - 1959 (1968) The Book of Hours (1970), Loba, Parts 1 - 8 (1978), and Pieces of a Song (1990). She also authored a collection of short fictional stories, Dinners and Nightmares (1961) and an autobiographical book, Memoirs of a Beatnik released in 1969.
Di Prima's poems are often composed in a flat diction representative of the way people talk. Some work lacks punctuation and relies on the reader to infer pauses from the phrases used or the breaks in lines.

Her better poems, however, rely less on stylistic traits and more on the precision of language and the meaning she wishes to convey.

She has taught at Naropa on and off for years, as part of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics -- where all young poets enamored of the Beats hope to one day obtain an MFA. The requisite exposure to Eastern religions, especially Zen, has certainly influenced her work. Over the years she has moved toward a more introspective verse that contains less of the angry politics so often part of the early Beat movement.

Di Prima is still political, however, but more focused now on compassion and a woman's place in the world.

Here are a couple of other poems, all of which can be found at The Beat Page.

The Window

you are my bread
and the hair
line noise
of my bones
you are almost
the sea

you are not stone
or molten sound
I think
you have no hands

this kind of bird flies backwards
and this love
breaks on a window pane
where no light talks

this is not the time
for crossing tongues
(the sand here
never shifts)

I think
turned you with his toe
and you will
and shine
unspent and underground


I loved you in October
when you hid behind your hair
and rode your shadow
in the corners of the house

and in November you invaded
filling the air
above my bed with dreams
cries for some kind of help
on my inner ear

in December I held your hands
one afternoon; the light failed
it came back on
in a dawn on the Scottish coast
you singing us ashore

now it is January, you are fading
into your double
jewels on his cape, your shadow on the snow,
you slide away on wind, the crystal air
carries your new songs in snatches thru the windows
of our sad, high, pretty rooms

This poem is posted at PoemHunter:
The Belltower

the weighing is done
in autumn

and the sifting
what is to be threshed
is threshed in autumn
what is to be gathered is taken

the wind does not die in autumn
the moon
shifts endlessly thru flying clouds
in autumn the sea is high

& a golden light plays everywhere
making it harder
to go one's way
all leavetaking is in autumn
where there is leavetaking
it is always autumn
& the sun is a crystal ball
on a golden stand
& the wind
cannot make the spruce scream
loud enough

Diane Di Prima on the Web:

The Beat Page -- Diane Di Prima
Diane Di Prima Links
Poetry in Revolt: Many poems and some links
Jacket 18: An interview and some sonnets

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