This Old Poem #66:
Diane Di Prima’s Rant
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/3/03

‘I think the poet is the last person who is still speaking the truth when no one else dares to. I think the poet is the first person to begin the shaping and visioning of the new forms and the new consciousness when no one else has begun to sense it; I think these are two of the most essential human functions’ -Diane Di Prima

  Thus another TOP essay starts- & for the 1st time, I believe, with an epigraph! Woo-hoo! You just know this TOP is gonna be a humdinger when it starts off with a quote this utterly insipid. That & the fact that the titular poem is almost emblemic for the Beatnik nonsense that was perpetrated last century &- well- hold on, boys & girls!
  OK, the central facts of DDP’s life: she was 1 of the 2 well-known Beatnik babes. Anne Waldman was the ‘sexy’ Beatnik babe & DDP was the ‘serious’ Beatnik babe. So serious, in fact, that she was dubbed a Poet Priestess, & other such nonsense terms by the boys in the gang, over a decade before the Flower Power crap of the late 1960s. Yet, 1 has to credit DDP for changing with the times- something few of the Beatniks did. She has her own website- you can even email her- Nonetheless, there is virtually nothing of worth that nearly 50 years of writing has produced. Her ‘status’ as a Beatnik babe will long outlast her status as a ‘poet’. But, before I delve too deeply in to the mystery of why DDP is a bad poet, let’s take a look at DDP’s life, culled from assorted sources:

  DDP was born in Brooklyn, New York, in August 6th,1934. DDP- feminist, poet, teacher- is the oldest child & only daughter of Francis & Emma Di Prima, & has 2 younger brothers, Frank (born November 6, 1937) & Richard (born September 19, 1941) who became a lawyer & owner of an educational electronics firm, respectively. Her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was an active Anarchist, & was associated with the infamous Carlo Tresca & Emma Goldman. At 7 DDP fancied herself a poet. By 14 she took a dramatic ‘vow’ to be a poet. Aside from the melodrama, the incident meant to show DDP’s commitment to the art. Could actual ‘commitment’ be far behind?

  By the 1950s her rep as the Beatnik Babe was solidified. She’d graduated from Hunter College High School, then went to Swarthmore College. She left college in 1953 to live in Manhattan with her lovers. While in Greenwich Village, DDP became part of the white Bohemian bourgeoisie, replete with sexual wickedries & drug abuse. She then wrote to Ezra Pound, visiting him daily for 2 weeks in 1955, at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, in Washington, D.C., where he was hospitalized. Still, little was known of her writing ability- she was just a hanger-on. She was more known as a Poetry Activist- founding 2 failed projects: the New York Poets Theatre, & the Poets Press, which published the work of many of her pals, cronies, & ‘associates’- aka Beatniks. After their failures she & LeRoi Jones (soon to be the self-parodic Imamu Amiri Baraka- yet another Poet Priest & the token Black Beatnik) started a newsletter called The Floating Bear. It actually lasted 8 years (1961-1969)- so could be considered semi-successful. In 1958 This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards, her 1st book of poetry, was published. In 1960,  Dinners and Nightmares, her 1st book of short stories appeared.

  In 1966 she hooked up with LSD guru Timothy Leary & indulged in the drugged out hedonism of the 1960s. This, supposedly, in the name of her art- the priestly vow thing, y’know! For the last few decades she’s lived in northern California- near San Francisco, did the typical Zen Buddhism schtick, learned Sanskrit (why?), & studied alchemy (a pseudoscience- as we now know). She’s also written 35 books of poetry & prose, a memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, & 4 plays, which have been produced off-Broadway. She also acts as a high-priced tutor to the literarily-challenged.

  Another sad & trite trope she has continued is writing a faux ‘epic’: Loba. More on that atrocity later! She has also fostered a # of arts scams: founding a program in Hermetic & Esoteric Traditions in Poetry, a Masters-in-Poetics program at the New College of California. She’s also been a professor- at California College of Arts & Crafts, & the San Francisco Art Institute, as well as founding the bizarre San Francisco Institute of Magical and Healing Arts (SIMHA), where she taught Western Spiritual Traditions for a decade, & teaching at the ridiculous NAROPA Institute (the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) in Boulder, Colorado.

   Of course, DDP has been on the NEA gravy train for decades. In 1993, she received an award for Lifetime Achievement In Poetry from the National Poetry Association, as well as a Master Artist-in-Residence grant from the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 1994. 5 years later she was gifted with a phony (read honorary) Doctorate in Literature from St. Lawrence University. A year later DDP was a Master Poet-in-Residence at Columbia College, in Chicago. Then she was nominated to be Poet Laureate of California. Her fingers have been in the pies of more projects that can be named in a mere brief essay.

  On the personal front DDP married writer Alan Marlowe in 1962- & divorced him 7 years later. In 1972 she remarried 1 Grant Fisher- divorcing him in 3 years. She had 5 kids: Jeanne (10/28/57), Dominique (6/4/62), Alexander (8/12/63), Tara (12/23/67), & Rudra (9/17/71).
  So, we see a lifetime of, at best, mediocrity & overpraise. So, why is DDP considered a name poet? Is it the poetry? Let’s take a swift gander at some of her masterworks:

from The Window

you are my bread
and the hairline noise
of my bones
you are almost
the sea

from First Snow, Kerhonkson - for Alan

no friend will wander down
no one arriving brown from Mexico
from the sunfields of California, bearing pot
they are scattered now, dead or silent
or blasted to madness
by the howling brightness of our once common vision
and this gift of yours-
white silence filling the contours of my life.

from April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa

for pulling
no punches, back there in that scrubbed Bronx parlor
thank you
for honestly weeping in time to
innumerable heartbreaking
italian operas for
pulling my hair when I
pulled the leaves off the trees so I'd know how it feels,
we are
involved in it now, revolution….

from My Lover's Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun

These eyes are amber, they
have no pupils, they are filled
w/a blue light (fire).
They are the eyes of gods
the eyes of insects, straying
godmen of the galaxy, metallic

from Chronology


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

from Revolutionary Letter #14


are you prepared
to hide someone in your home indefinitely
say, two to six weeks, you going out
for food, etc., so he never
hits the street, to keep your friends away
coolly, so they ask no questions, to nurse
him, or her, as necessary, to know

from Revolutionary Letter #16

every large factory is an infringement
of our god-given right to light and air
to clean and flowing rivers stocked with fish
to the very possibility of life
for our children's children, we will have to
look carefully, i.e., do we really want/

  Notice a pattern to these excerpts? They are all prose- almost totally void of music, with no hint of knowledge about structure- much less following its content. Why is need its own line in the poem directly above? If DDP can tell you she’s 1 up on anyone else. Look at the silly revolutionism stuck in the middle of, & with no rationale in, April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa.
  Before we look at some whole poems let’s look at some of the favors from friends that this tripe has been accorded over the decades:

‘Diane Di Prima gives us a rare opportunity to view the Beat Generation and its subsequent journey to the East through a woman's eyes.’

-Bill Zavatsky, New York Times, 1976


[That’s really DEEP!]


‘Where there was a strong writer who could hold her own, like Diane di Prima, we would certainly work with her and recognize her. She was a genius.’

-Allen Ginsberg, Boulder Camera Magazine, 1989


[Is this an admission that he slept with her? Ugh!]


‘Ms. Di Prima runs without faltering into the realm of myth making. . . . With images that flash with clarity and brilliance of color in the mind’s eye, Loba paces back through time to femaleness as an element in the galaxy.’

-Berkeley Gazette, 1978


[Yet Loba is clearly a book about myth-making- & what was this reviewer smoking with all that elemental galaxy nonsense?]


‘Growing up in the fifties, you had to figure it out for yourself—which she did, and stayed open—as a woman, uninterested in any possibility of static investment or solution. Her search for human center is among the most moving I have witnessed.’

-Robert Creeley, 1973


[Run from artists who are called seekers, or the like.]


‘She has an ear thank heaven, a sense of the lyric that places her among the best.  How few poets can write a sentence! But Di Prima reels them off long sinuous sentences. . that move when they should move and stop when they should stop. . . she is eloquent. . and she delights in grammar, the living grammar that will keep her poems memorable long after her cacophonic siblings have coughed themselves into silence.’

-Hayden Carruth, Bookletter, 1976


[Of course, old HC never mentions those poets who cannot string a sentence together!]


‘A true sage-poet.’ -Gary Snyder


[Seer, priestess, sage, seeker- RUN!]


‘I’m glad to have Loba. They are old incantations made new in our living flesh.’

-Muriel Rukeyser


[Yes, another cliché to describe a piece of tripe.]


‘Loba is an actual touchable visionary poem of sentience and myriad-minded mammal nature. Loba is about points and swirls of energy, about alchemy, and about the biology of imagination. It all happens in the real, ever-arising universes.’

-Michael McClure


[Old druggies, when old, often forget what metaphor really is. Question- would a reader of this have any clue what the poem is about?]


‘Recollections of My Life as a Woman was wonderful for me personally to he able to reminisce again about old friends, McClure, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti, among others. This is a must read for women, poets, and people looking for a way to define their life’s work. A romp of a read! I loved it.’

-Dennis Hopper

[It’s always telling when non-writers blurb for writers. What- no Larry King?]


  As you can see, this poet encompasses so many of the themes that have dripped through all of my TOP essays- she is trite, insistently political, utterly void of poetic craft- well, almost, feels art is truth- no matter the manifest idiocy of such an assertion. Thus why this TOP is so long. But, before we get to the titular poem let’s look at a few poems in toto. I’ll only comment briefly. I’ll trust you will recognize the many flaws- I’ll list a few after each poem & let you fill in the rest.

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...

  Poor form, name dropping, attempts at depth that arise out of nothingness, pointless enjambment….Next poem. This is a selection from Loba- her faux epic long poem utterly void of reason & larded with every Confessional/Beatnik/Feminist cliché imaginable:



O lost moon sisters
crescent in hair, sea underfoot do you wander
in blue veil, in green leaf, in tattered shawl do you wander
with goldleaf skin, with flaming hair do you wander
on Avenue A, on Bleecker Street do you wander
on Rampart Street, on Fillmore Street do you wander
with flower wreath, with jeweled breath do you wander


shining mother of pearl
behind you
moonstone eyes
in which the crescent moon


with gloves, with hat, in rags, in fur, in beads
under the waning moon, hair streaming in black rain
wailing with stray dogs, hissing in doorways
shadows you are, that fall on the crossroads, highways


jaywalking do you wander
spitting do you wander
mumbling and crying do you wander
aged and talking to yourselves
with roving eyes do you wander
hot for quick love do you sander
weeping your dead


naked you walk
swathed in long robes you walk
swaddled in death shroud you walk
backwards you walk




shrieking I hear you
singing I hear you
cursing I hear you
praying I hear you


you lie with the unicorn
you lie with the cobra
you lie in the dry grass
you lie with the yeti
you flick long cocks of satyrs with your tongue


you are armed
you drive chariots
you tower above me
you are small
you cower on hillsides
out of the winds


pregnant you wander
barefoot you wander
battered by drunk men you wander


you kill on steel tables
you birth in black beds
fetus you tore out stiffens in snow
it rises like new moon
you moan in your sleep


digging for yams you wander
looking for dope you wander
playing with birds you wander
chipping at stone you wander


I walk the long night seeking you
I climb the sea crest seeking you
I lie on the prairie, batter at stone gates
calling your names


you are coral
you are lapis and turquoise
your brain curls like shell
you dance on hills


hard-substance woman you whirl
you dance on subways
you sprawl in tenements
children lick at your tits


you are the hills, the shape and color of mesa
you are the tent, the lodge of skins, the hogan
the buffalo robes, the quilt, the knitted afghan
you are the cauldron and the evening star
you rise over the sea, you ride the dark


I move within you, light the evening fire
I dip my hand in you and eat your flesh
you are my mirror image and my sister
you disappear like smoke on misty hills
you lead me thru dream forest on horseback
large gypsy mother, I lean my head on your back


I am you
and I must become you
I have been you
and I must become you
I am always you
I must become you


ay-a ah
ay-a ah ah
maya ma maya ma
om star mother ma om
maya ma ah


  Pointless repetition, silly primal chanting, many many clichés of selfness & self importance. Next!:

No Problem Party Poem


first glass broken on patio no problem
forgotten sour cream for vegetable no problem
Lewis MacAdam's tough lower jaw no problem
cops arriving to watch bellydancer no problem
plastic bags of melted ice no problem
wine on antique tablecloth no problem
scratchy stereo no problem
neighbor's dog no problem
interviewer from Berkeley Barb no problem
absence of more beer no problem
too little dope no problem
leering Naropans no problem
cigarette butts on the altars no problem
Marilyn vomiting in planter box no problem
Phoebe renouncing love no problem
Lewis renouncing Phoebe no problem
hungry ghosts no problem
absence of children no problem
heat no problem
dark no problem
arnica scattered in nylon rug no problem
ashes in bowl of bleached bone and Juniper berries no problem
lost Satie tape no problem
loss of temper no problem
arrogance no problem
boxes of empty beer cans & wine bottles no problem
thousands of styrofoam cups no problem
Gregory Curso no problem
Allen Ginsberg no problem
Diane di Prima no problem
Anne Waldman's veins no problem
Dick Gallup's birthday no problem
Joanne Kyger's peyote & rum no problem wine no problem
coca-cola no problem
getting it on in the wet grass no problem
running out of toilet paper no problem
decimation of pennyroyal no problem
destruction of hair clasp no problem
paranoia no problem
claustrophobia no problem
growing up on Brooklyn streets no problem
growing up in Tibet no problem
growing up in Chicano Texas no problem
bellydancing certainly no problem
figuring it all out no problem
giving it all up no problem
giving it all away no problem
devouring everything in sight no problem


what else in Allen's refrigerator?
what else in Anne's cupboard?
what do you know that you
haven't told me yet?
No problem. No problem. No problem.


staying another day no problem
getting out of town no problem
telling the truth, almost no problem
easy to stay awake
easy to go to sleep
easy to sing the blues
easy to chant sutras
what's all the fuss about?


it decomposes - no problem
we pack it in boxes - no problem
we swallow it with water, lock it in the trunk,
make a quick getaway. NO PROBLEM.


  Repeton madness, faux anger, name dropping, scatology, anger without faux-ness. Ugh! This poem presages a lot of the 1990s Nuyorican BS. Here’s another whole poem:


Revolutionary Letter #46


And as you learn the magic, learn to believe it
Don't be 'surprised' when it works, you undercut
your power.


  Self-affirmation, another stand for revolution- from a hausfrau, no less!, & self-esteem building 101. But let’s briefly return to Loba- from where Ave was gleaned. The term means female wolf- the counterpart to lobo. Of course, this brings in all the Left Wing, American Indian nonsense- Loba as bone-gatherer & recreator whose sole purpose is to collect & preserve all of life, etc., et al…..It’s also claimed to be an autobiographical account of DDP’s ‘courageous struggle to make her voice heard in a generation that was mostly male’. Here’s an account of the aforementioned Ave poem:


  The opening poem, "Ave," is a salutation to the voiceless, suffering women di Prima celebrates, her "lost moon sisters." Di Prima evokes images of wandering women "wailing with stray dogs, hissing in doorways / shadows [they] are, that fall on the crossroads, highways." Di Prima evokes images that are rooted in archetypal symbolism, depicting these women on a "saint - prostitute" axis. She goes on to speak of women torn between the lifestyle they would choose -- "you are armed / you drive chariots / you tower above me" -- and the roles that society would have them assume -- "you are small / you cower on hillsides." Di Prima asserts her relationship with these women as a sisterhood, "my mirror image and my sister," ultimately declaring that "I am you / I must become you / I have been you / and I must become you / I am always you / I must become you." Her creation of the Loba as a champion of women speaks of her personal ability to not only endure but to also triumph as woman and poet.


  Compare that to my summation of the poem:


  Pointless repetition, silly primal chanting, many many clichés of selfness & self importance. Next!


  You know which 1 is spot-on, don’t you? Later on the poem is described thusly:


  Several of Di Prima's poems contain a pleasing juxtaposition of primitive, hunting images and a gritty, wayward sensibility: "She sleeps on sheepskins in yr dining room / shoots smack in her arm, murmurs soothingly / of the glorious vegetable soup / she will make tomorrow." These mundane details provide startlingly real material against which the mystic story of Loba unfolds, many times anchoring what would otherwise be floaty philosophical musings.


  This is actually saying the writing is snooze-inducing! Enough- on to the poem we’ve come to rehab! & it needs it:




You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology
a cosmogony
laid out, before all eyes


there is no part of yourself you can separate out
saying, this is memory, this is sensation
this is the work I care about, this is how I***
make a living


it is whole, it is a whole, it always was whole
you do not "make" it so
there is nothing to integrate, you are a presence
you are an appendage of the work, the work stems from***
hangs from the heaven you create


every man / every woman carries a firmament inside
& the stars in it are not the stars in the sky


w/out imagination there is no memory
w/out imagination there is no sensation
w/out imagination there is no will, desire


history is a living weapon in yr hand
& you have imagined it, it is thus that you
"find out for yourself"
history is the dream of what can be, it is
the relation between things in a continuum


of imagination
what you find out for yourself is what you select
out of an infinite sea of possibility
no one can inhabit yr world


yet it is not lonely,
the ground of imagination is fearlessness
discourse is video tape of a movie of a shadow play
but the puppets are in yr hand
your counters in a multidimensional chess
which is divination
& strategy


the war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it.


the ultimate famine is the starvation
of the imagination


it is death to be sure, but the undead
seek to inhabit someone else's world


the ultimate claustrophobia is the syllogism
the ultimate claustrophobia is "it all adds up"
nothing adds up & nothing stands in for***
anything else






There is no way out of a spiritual battle
There is no way you can avoid taking sides
There is no way you can not have a poetics
no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher


you do it in the consciousness of making
or not making yr world
you have a poetics: you step into the world
like a suit of readymade clothes


or you etch in light
your firmament spills into the shape of your room
the shape of the poem, of yr body, of yr loves


A woman's life / a man's life is an allegory


Dig it


There is no way out of the spiritual battle
the war is the war against the imagination
you can't sign up as a conscientious objector


the war of the worlds hangs here, right now, in the balance
it is a war for this world, to keep it
a vale of soul-making


the taste in all our mouths is the taste of power
and it is bitter as death


bring yr self home to yrself, enter the garden
the guy at the gate w/ the flaming sword is yrself


the war is the war for the human imagination
and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you


The imagination is not only holy, it is precise
it is not only fierce, it is practical
men die everyday for the lack of it,
it is vast & elegant


intellectus means "light of the mind"
it is not discourse it is not even language
the inner sun


the polis is constellated around the sun
the fire is central

  So, we see more needless repetition, your elided to yr without reason, poor line breaks, use of Latinisms to show off her smarts, etc. & so on, clichés aplenty, a dearth of music of any sort- this is really just a prose screed broken wantonly in to lines. Even worse is the capitalized section of this ‘Rant’- the idea & line are good & interesting- used once, in a sly way, at the end of a well-structured poem. But, beating you to death with the idea robs its power, &- as nothing comes of the idea- the reader is left hanging. Also DDP’s line ‘men die everyday for the lack of it’ is an unacknowledged crib & knock off of William Carlos Williams’ better line, ‘yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.’ from Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, mainly because WCW’s line sticks out as a philosophic gem in a non-philosophic poem.
  So, to improve the poem let’s 1st change 1 letter in the title- R to C, ‘Rant’ to ‘Cant’- which is a jargon, or the repetition of banalities- from which the poem- much trimmed- could play off of:



there is no part of yourself you can separate out

it is whole, it is a whole, it always was a presence
& you have imagined it, out of an infinite fearlessness

the war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it. the ultimate claustrophobia

is the syllogism in the consciousness of making

you etch in light your firmament
the shape of the poem, an allegory

you can't sign up as a conscientious objector


intellectus means "light of the mind"
it is not discourse it is not even language
constellated around the sun that is central


  12 lines & the poem- while not really good- is worlds better than what preceded it. It is now an internal monologue of struggle with the self- not a new topic but the phrasing is what is key. This rewrite is wholly shrunken, save for a that I added to the last line. This version is passably interesting. But, DDP has only 5-10 poems in her career that are as good as this rewrite. She is a testament to the power of cronyism & the grant-giving gravy train. Ain’t art wonderful?

Final Score: (1-100):

Diane Di Prima’s Rant: 20
TOP’s Cant: 67

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