Twenty-four hours after the first and heartfelt condolences began to spread through social networks – some poets who knew her, the legendary publisher City Light Books, a San Francisco poetry magazine … – the death of Diane di Prima still did not occupy any headline neither in the US general media nor in international literary supplements. Di Prima, 86, passed away on the night of October 25, 2020 in a San Francisco hospital, after a long illness that she suffered with the same discretion and silence that the world now dedicates to her loss. She —or her soul— who fought to make the literature of other women visible, to bring the names of the great poets of her generation to popular scenes, to critics and to academia; and for granting “women’s” poetry the place it deserves in our canon («I am a woman and my poems / are women’s / easy to say / the female is ductile / and caress after caress / prepares for calm / masochistic ) disappeared from this life with ironic and sad ignorance.
She – or her soul – who for decades and more than forty books of poems behind her back had written about the revolution, about love, about friendship and about faith, was fading realizing that even today the claims of literary feminism for which he fought so much, they are more than necessary. For even for her – or for her soul – the one who might become the best writer of the Beat generation, even death would mean an inordinate privilege.
Diane di Prima was born in Brooklyn in 1934, and although her name would begin to become known with her involvement in the beat movement in the late 1950s, from a very young age, just fifteen years old, she had dedicated herself to writing and sharing poems. with whom she was one of her best friends from adolescence, the also poet and activist afro-queer Audre Lorde. Together they spent half their lives correcting each other, publishing each other and crossing the references and topics of conversation that would define their poetics. While Lorde would be remembered as “the lesbian voice of black feminism”, Di Prima would be placed on the relegated podium of “the author of She-wolf, he Howl female”.
Precisely She-wolf —A very ambitious literary project with which Diane di Prima spent decades correcting, adding and expanding texts to achieve a kind of novel in verse about the representation of femininity in both literature and religion — is on the back cover of her latest edition in Penguin Books a revealing quote from Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The mythical beat, his colleague and renowned editor, pointed out: «in the 20th century, women have freed themselves from the pedestal on which they had been placed, mainly by men, She-wolf She grants him the throne again, although this time it is one made by herself.
As if it were a rewriting of the mythical anti-patriarchal slogan of her friend Audre Lorde: “the master’s house cannot be disassembled with the master’s tools”, the text of She-wolf it meant during the 70s and until almost the 90s a kick to everything that editorial marketing had turned the beat generation into: a group of sickly boys, of violent men; a taste for the chaotic narration of sex, drugs, banners hippies; music on the radios of the narrated characters instead of musicality in the narration of the texts themselves; Mexico, Japan; and that slight fooling around with Buddhism and environmentalism, which would only later be critically developed by voices like Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger or Diane di Prima herself. And then oblivion.
Because as Joyce Johnson claimed in Secondary characters, the beat belonged to them, the new belonged to them, the revolution bore their name, leaving the claims of so many authors in the background, in a footnote in the life of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg or Gregory Corsican. Perhaps with some guilt, Corso himself would say the following in a 1994 conference: “There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families locked them up in asylums, they would undergo treatment for electroshock. In the 50s if you were a man you could be a rebel, but if you were a woman your family locked you up. There were cases, I knew them. Someday someone will write about them. So it was. As early as 1983, in Secondary characters, Johnson narrated the life and the work of some of the “companions” of those rebellious boys. He told how their inner circles despised them, and not only their families, but also the celebrated poets, the most politicized, those who, no matter how much they said they tried, never knew how to ally themselves with them.
A little later, in 2015, the Mallorcan poet and translator Annalisa Marí would recover Corso’s famous phrase to compile for the first time in Spanish all the poets of the beat generation, including some of the best-known poems by Diane di Prima among them . Thanks to your Beat Attitude: Anthology of Poets of the Beat Generation, published almost simultaneously in France and in Spain, a new generation of readers concerned about the recovery of some of these teachers, would access this list of names for the first time: Elise Cowen, Denise Levertov, Ruth Weiss, Lenore Kandel … «There were women “, Writes Marí,” his work is more extensive and coherent than it seems.
Consistency is essential when looking at the heritage that Diane di Prima leaves us. Sister, almost literally, of two of the most vindictive writers of her time, the aforementioned Audre Lordre and the essayist and poet Adrienne Rich – who dedicates deep reflections to her in her essays on motherhood, as Di Prima wrote about abortion, about menstruation, on raising her five children—; daughter, almost literally, of the imagist Hilda Doolittle – from her he learned the cult of classical Greece, the fervent Eros, and not in vain for many years he corresponded with his colleague and lover Ezra Pound-; and mother, almost literally, of a new wave of American writers who today practice another voracious activism with their verses: Trisha Low, Danez Smith or Dorothea Lasky, for example.
Diane di Prima remains an overwhelming force. An anchor with the past and with the present. The writer who pointed out to us the importance of remembering our goddesses, of remembering our mothers and of writing with dirty hands and teeth, full of earth. Diane di Prima wrote against the macho writer, back in the days when she was young and participated in orgies with the rebellious boys – she tells it in the funny Memoirs of a Beatnik-, made visible gestations and bloods as no one had done to date in American literature, and recovered the rhythm of the astral signs, pioneering a visceral writing that is still practiced today.
A little over twenty-four hours have passed since social networks began to fill with memories, with small manifestations of love towards his also loving figure. The large headers still do not type their name. The very few headlines continue to speak of her as the friend of… —and then a list of the men whose claim, whose supposed “hook”, helps to silence her. At first, the absence of news regarding her loss could be seen as hope: she is still alive, she is still alive, she is a hoax, she is still alive … Now, with her death confirmed, the erasure and oblivion can only be seen as a misfortune . Diane di Prima was and will continue to be the best mind and the best howl of the generation in which she was pigeonholed. His poetry must be urgently read and celebrated. Or recovering his verses: “what rhythm to add to the silence / what applause?”