Diane di Prima: death of a beatnik

As if the world was not bad enough, we learn of the disappearance of a great female figure and feather of the Beat generation: Diane di Prima, who died Sunday in San Francisco. “I can’t promise you / that you will never be hungry / or that you will never be sad / on this globe / destroyed / burnt / but I can teach you / my darling / to love enough / to break your heart / forever. “ (Song for Baby-O, Unborn in Pieces of a Song, 1990.) It’s done.

Born in Brooklyn in 1934, the girl from a good family writes when she was 7 years old. In the 1950s, at the dawn of her adult life, Diane di Prima leaves the university and leaves to settle in Greenwich Village, future epicenter of the counter-culture, where she will happily benefit from a multiplication of excess on the basis of sex, drugs and alcohol. She meets among others the poets Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, Audre Lorde, Allen Ginsberg and the founder of Black Arts Movements, Amiri Baraka. With the latter she co-founded The Floating Bear, poetry magazine that earned him the year of its launch, in 1961, an arrest by the FBI for “obscenity”.

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His first collection of poetry This Kind of Bird Flies Backward (1959), which she reads with a smile on top of a planted piano at the Gaslight café, allows her to establish her fame as a marginal and rebellious woman. Author of more than forty books, the American poet wishes to be of all the experiences, like traveling the United States with her Volkswagen combi in the 60s, by starting to flirt with agnosticism, Buddhism and magic. But also the experience of being a mother (she will have five children in total) and wife (of Alan Marlowe with whom she co-founded the publishing house The Poet Press). She moved to San Francisco in 1968 where she frequented the Diggers activists. From his poems which unfold gracefully like streams of consciousness flows a poetic and political ink that preaches resistance to monogamy (Memoirs of a beatnik, 1969), describes tarot dreams, distills the fluidity of bodies or what hers goes through as a woman (one of her poems, I have my periods).

At the end of her life, Diane di Prima finds herself greatly weakened by Parkinson’s and Sjögren’s syndromes. She will have written, transmitted, even taught and hoped that the world would become more tolerant. At Washington Post in 2017, however, she ends this note between regret and hope: “I thought we would be much more civilized by now. […] But I’m glad the lines between men and women are blurring more and more […] We don’t know who we are or where we are going. Like when I don’t know where a poem takes me before it writes on its own. ”


Jeremy Piette

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