di Prima, Diane 1934-
di PRIMA, Diane 1934-
PERSONAL: Born August 6, 1934, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Francis and Emma (Mallozzi) di Prima; married Alan S. Marlowe (an actor, model, and director), November 30, 1962 (divorced, 1969); married Grant Fisher (a poet), 1972 (divorced, 1975); children: Jeanne, Dominique, Alexander, Tara, Rudra. Education: Attended Swarthmore College, 1951-52; studied Zen Buddhism with Master Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi. Politics: "Anarchist." Religion: Buddhist.
ADDRESSES: Home—584 Castro St., San Francisco, CA 94114. Office—c/o Wingbow Press, 2940 West Seventh St., Berkeley, CA 94710.
CAREER: Poet, editor, and educator. Floating Bear (magazine), New York, NY, coeditor with LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka), 1961-63, editor, 1963-69; Signal Magazine, associate editor, 1963-65; Poets Press, New York, NY, publisher and editor, 1963-69; Eidolon Editions, Point Reyes, CA, editor and publisher, 1972-76; formerly affiliated with Wingbow Press, Berkeley, CA. Naropa Institute School of Poetics, instructor, 1974—; New College of California, San Francisco, CA, poetry instructor, 1980-87; instructor at California College of Arts and Crafts, 1990-93, San Francisco Art Institute, 1992, California Institute of Integral
Studies, 1993-95, and Napa State Hospital. Director and cofounder, New York Poets Theatre, 1961-65; cofounder and instructor, San Francisco Institute of Magical and Healing Arts, 1983-90; cofounder, American Theatre for Poets; founder, Poets Institute.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1973, 1979.
This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, Totem Press (New York, NY), 1958.
The Monster, Penny Poems (New Haven, CT), 1961.
The New Handbook of Heaven, Auerhahn (San Francisco, CA), 1963.
Unless You Clock In, Patchen Cards (Palo Alto, CA), 1963.
Combination Theatre Poem and Birthday Poem for Ten People, Brownstone Press (New York, NY), 1965.
Poems for Freddie, Poets Press (New York, NY) 1966, published as Freddie Poems, Eidolon Editions (Berkeley, CA), 1974.
Some Haiku, Love Press (Topanga, CA), 1967.
Earthsong: Poems 1957-1959, edited by Alan S. Marlowe, Poets Press (New York, NY) 1968.
Hotel Albert: Poems, Poets Press (New York, NY) 1968.
New Mexico Poem, June-July 1967, Roodenko (New York, NY), 1968.
The Star, the Child, the Light, privately printed, 1968.
L.A. Odyssey, Poets Press (New York, NY), 1969.
New As …, privately printed, 1969.
The Book of Hours, Brownstone Press (San Francisco, CA), 1970.
Kerhonkson Journal: 1966, Oyez (Berkeley, CA), 1971.
Prayer to the Mothers, privately printed, 1971.
So Fine, Yes Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1971.
XV Dedications: Poems, Unicorn Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1971.
Revolutionary Letters, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1971, revised edition published as Revolutionary Letters, Etc., Karus Reprint, 1973.
The Calculus of Letters, privately printed, 1972.
Loba: Part I, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1973.
North Country Medicine, privately printed, 1974.
Brass Furnace Going Out: Song after an Abortion, Pulpartforms Unlimited/Intrepid Press (Syracuse, NY), 1975.
Selected Poems, 1956-1975, North Atlantic Books (Plainfield, VT), 1975, enlarged edition, 1977.
Loba As Eve, Phoenix Book Shop (New York, NY), 1975.
Loba: Part II, Eidolon Editions (Point Reyes, CA), 1977.
Loba: Parts I-VIII, Wingbow Press (Berkeley, CA), 1978, expanded edition published as Loba, Penguin (New York, NY), 1998.
Wyoming Series, Eidolon Editions (Point Reyes, CA), 1988.
The Mysteries of Vision, Am Here Books (Santa Barbara, CA), 1988.
Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
Seminary Poems, Floating Island (Point Reyes, CA), 1991.
The Mask Is the Path of the Star, Thinker Review International (Louisville, KY), 1993.
Twenty-two Death Poems, Backwoods Broadsides (Ellsworth, ME), 1996.
Poetry has been collected in anthologies.
Murder Cake, first produced in New York, NY, by Living Theatre, 1960.
Paideuma, first produced in New York, NY, by Living Theatre, 1960.
The Discontentment of a Russian Prince, first produced in New York, NY, 1961.
Like, first produced by New York Poets Theatre, 1964.
Poets Vaudeville (first produced in New York, NY, 1964), music by John Herbert McDowell, Feed Folly Press (New York, NY), 1964.
Monuments, first produced in New York, NY, by Caffe Cino, 1968.
Discovery of America, first produced in New York, NY, by Theatre for the New City, 1972.
Whale Honey, first produced in San Francisco, CA, by Intersection, 1975, produced in New York, NY, 1976.
Zip Code: Collected Plays, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1994.
(Editor) Various Fables from Various Places, Putnam (New York, NY), 1960.
Dinners and Nightmares (short stories), Corinth (New York, NY), 1961, revised edition, 1974.
(Translator, with others) Jean Genet, The Man Condemned to Death, Poets Press (New York, NY), 1963.
(Translator) Seven Love Poems from the Middle Latin, Poets Press (New York, NY), 1965.
The Calculus of Variation (autobiographical novel) Poets Press (New York, NY), 1966.
Spring and Autumn Annals (novel), Frontier Press (San Francisco, CA), 1966.
(Author of introduction) Arthur Edward White, editor, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of … Paracelsus, University Books (New Hyde Park, NY), 1967.
(Editor) War Poems, Poets Press (New York, NY) 1968.
(Author of introduction) Audre Lord, The First Cities, Poets Press (New York, NY) 1968.
Notes on the Summer Solstice: June 21, 1969, [San Francisco, CA], 1969.
Memoirs of a Beatnik (novel), Olympia Press (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Penguin (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor, with LeRoi Jones, and author of introduction) The Floating Bear: A Newsletter, Nos. 1-37, 1961-1969, Laurence McGilvery (La Jolla, CA), 1973.
(Coauthor) City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1988.
Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.
Recollections of My Life As a Woman: The New York Years: A Memoir, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to Love on a Trampoline, by Sybah Darrich, Olympia Press (Paris, France), 1968; and Of Sheep and Girls, Traveller's Companion (Paris, France), 1968. Columnist for Mama Bear's News and Notes, 1987-92, and Harbin Quarterly, 1992-93. Contributing editor, Kulchur (magazine), 1961-62.
Di Prima's work has been translated into over twenty languages.
SIDELIGHTS: Diane di Prima has been called the most important female poet to come out of the Beat generation of the mid-twentieth century. Writing verses since the 1950s, she has been a major influence not only through her poems but also as a teacher and magazine publisher. Her poetry, according to Gretchen H. Munroe in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "is the expression of a strong, sensitive, intelligent woman during more than two decades of social and artistic ferment. Unfettered by the conventions of academia or society, she speaks of life outside the mainstream of middle-class America: the life of bohemia, of the counterculture. Involvement with and concern for the people in her life is central in her work. As she moves from the early years of Greenwich Village pads, the Beat, jazz, drug culture of the 1950s into the revolutionary currents of the flower children and Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and early 1970s, through Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zen to the emerging social consciousness of women in the 1970s, [di Prima's] work charts the shifting streams of America's fringe culture."
While di Prima "has never stated her poetics formally," explained George F. Butterick in another Dictionary of Literary Biography essay, "she has a poem titled 'Poetics' toward the end of [Earthsong: Poems 1957-1959] that presumably can stand as a partial statement or reflection of her poetic thinking from that time, especially because it is written in the first person. The narrator speaks of herself as having 'deserted her post' as an appointed 'rearguard' whose responsibility it had been 'to preserve the language/lucidity'—a not unreasonable task for a poet (although 'rearguard' is a curious choice, since most of her generation would have seen themselves as fighting an 'avant-garde' action)." Di Prima's "position would seem to be the anarchist one," continued Butterick. "She would rather enact the language as poetry than preserve it, and ['Poetics'] concludes with the speaker as a 'hoodlum fish' plunged in a language more naturally elemental, moving about in it gracefully, totally immersed, breathing it in…. Di Prima never proposed that her work embody theories of literature. She is more committed to life-styles than to poetic styles."
Born to Italian-American parents in Brooklyn, di Prima inherited her taste for rebellion from her grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, a man of anarchist political sentiments. She began writing when she was seven and discovered poetry when she was thirteen; within a year she was writing every day. As she explained more fully in her autobiography, My Life As a Woman: The New York Years: A Memoir, di Prima began to see her life with her family as a sort of prison, and her independent spirit would not abide it. She wanted to "embrace this new thing, my Will. Fierce, silent love of Self, my angel." She became so committed to making her way as a poet that she left Swarthmore College in 1953 before finishing her degree and moved to a Lower East Side apartment to focus on her craft, or, as she put it, her "calling. The holiest life that was offered in our world: artist." During the next four years she wrote and studied her craft, becoming influenced by art forms such as jazz music, abstract art, and avant garde theatre and dance.
The 1950s were an amazing time for di Prima, who had the chance to meet poet Ezra Pound in 1956 while Pound was held in a mental hospital as a consequence of his support of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini; was inspired that same year by Allen Ginsberg's Howl; actually met Ginsberg and other famous writers in New York; and generally enjoyed the atmosphere and Beat culture of the time. By the end of the decade she had prepared enough as a poet to get her first book, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, published through Totem Press, a small press started by Imamu Amiri Baraka. Di Prima's early poems, as Monroe stated, are concerned mostly with love—"her love for her daughter and for her lovers, androgynous love, sensual love, physical love." Of the poet's style, Monroe wrote that, like the jazz music of the time, "her poetry rejects traditional formal restraints, seeking new forms of expression in design, rhyme, and meter." But di Prima was not satisfied with just writing poetry; she wanted to help other counterculture writers such as herself, so she teamed up with Baraka to found Floating Bear magazine, which published works by such authors as William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Richard Wright, and Frank O'Hara. The avant-garde publication was mailed out to many people for free. Seeing the norms of "good taste" as a kind of cultural oppression, the works published in Floating Bear were considered by some to be offensive, and both di Prima and Baraka were charged by the FBI with distributing obscene material through the U.S. Post Office. Di Prima's attorney was able to win the sympathy of the court because the poet was pregnant, and she was soon released. Baraka, on the other hand, fought his case and won by pointing out how many works of literature, such as Irish novelist James Joyce's Ulysses, have been considered obscene by some critics prior to becoming esteemed as classics.
When Floating Bear shut down in 1963, di Prima moved on to found other small presses, including The Poets Press and Eidolon Editions. By the 1960s she became caught up in new interests, including Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, and these influences can be seen in collections such as The New Handbook of Heaven and Earthsong: Poems 1957-1959. She also took up art, working in collage and assemblage art forms. Like many of her contemporaries, di Prima also experimented with sex and drugs during the 1960s, and she was part of Timothy Leary's Millbrook, New York, community. While her lifestyle during this period could be considered extremely reckless, di Prima argues in her autobiography: "It was not that I held my life so cheap, but held experience, the savoring of life so dear."
The poet's passion for life can clearly be seen in her verses, especially those captured in her "Loba" books: Loba: Part I, Loba As Eve, Loba: Part II, Loba: Parts 1-VIII, and 1998's Loba. The central voice in these books is that of woman as female wolf, expressing love and savagery, civilization and anarchy, nature and art. The poems, which draw on folklore and mythology, mark a transition in which, according to Munroe, di Prima "no longer … accept[s] womanhood as passive and masochistic, for she insists that women are able to see into realms which surpass masculine sensibilities." As the poet explained in an interview in Whole Earth, Loba is "about the feralness of the core of women, of the feminine in everything. In everyone."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, First Series, 1980, pp. 202-205, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Post-War America, 1983.
Book, May, 2001, Denise Gess, review of Recollections of My Life As a Woman: The New York Years: A Memoir, p. 77.
Booklist, April, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Recollections of My Life As a Woman, p. 1444; March 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Recollections of My Life As a Woman, p. 1084.
Intersection, spring, 1980.
Library Journal, April 15, 1992, William Gargan, review of Zipcode: Collected Plays, p. 89; August, 1998, William Gargon, review of Loba, p. 94.
New York Times, May 6, 2001, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, review of Recollections of My Life As a Woman.
New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1976; May 6, 2001, "Barefoot in the Park: As Diane di Prima Recalls in Her Memoir, She Was Determined to Be a Poet, Whatever the Hardships," p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of Pieces of Song: Selected Poems, p. 96; May 7, 2001, review of Recollections of My Life As a Woman, p. 240.
Rocky Ledge, February-March, 1981.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 26, 1996, Stephen Schwartz, "A Poet's Take on Life and Learning: San Francisco's Diane di Prima Looks Back on Her Time with Some of the Literary Lights and the Visionary Souls of the Beat Generation," p. 3; April 22, 2001, James Sullivan, "Diane di Prima: Beat Poet and New York Single Mom," p. 5.
Washington Post, June 10, 2001, "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Whole Earth, fall, 1999, interview with Diane di Prima, p. 20.*