Lunch Poems – Diane di Prima



she belongs at that generation of writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and Leroy Jones meri Baraka to whom she was married who were who were not just not just who were not only makers artists people trying to practice that thing but but were people who were agents of the transformation of the culture for all of us I think and so that's certainly part of the interest of her life and she's recorded that part of her life in in two books the first of which was first published in 1969 and it's been reissued recently it's called memoirs of a beatnik and it was I think it was I think the title must was pure marketing and from the time and it was published first by Olympia press in Paris which was the wicked press that published sexual books of literary value like Lolita by Nabokov and Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller and Pauline Rajas infamous story of oh and so on so and in fact I bought at thinking it was a very daring and sexual book and in fact it is a daring book in some ways but it's really an interesting history of the inside of that wild world scene from a woman's point of view in ways that are really interesting and and a sort of thing to say about Diane is the way in which all of the avant-garde movements of the 20th century have been boys clubs that when you think about them you think about Karen and Kerouac and and Ginsberg and William Burroughs some extent Gary Snyder and and Philip Whalen the San Francisco poets but with each of those movements the modernist movement pound Eliot Cohen there was also Gertrude Stein and Hilda Doolittle and Mary Ann Moore and in the 30s with the with the Objectivist poets there was George open and try reznikov and Lou Tsukasa there was also learning the dekor that important writer and with poets of the new york school there was when youth when people think of they think frank O'Hara John Ashbery Kenneth coach James Schuyler there was also Barbara ghast among among others and I think it's also been true of The Beat Generation that the story has been the story of the guys and not the story of the women and several women but chiefly Dianne to Prima and Joanne Kiger who read for his last semester have told that other side of the story and some of that telling besides being at what's in memoirs of beatnik is in her biography I think this is going to be the first volume recollections of my life is a woman it's really fun to read and so smart published a few years ago so that's the those are the books that tell some of the social story she was born of italian-american parents her father was a grandfather was an Italian anarchist who came to this country was involved with Emma Goldman and with the revolutionary tradition which meant unions birth control the eight-hour working day and other radical proposals you know those bumper stickers that say brought to you by the folks who invented the weekend the labor movement you know that came out of that world and she decided to be a poet at 14 and Greenwich Village she met Leroy Jones a young middle-class black poet who was on his way to becoming Amiri Baraka and force in the Black Arts Movement and for ten years in the 60s they added a literary magazine that I am in a graph magazine that I used to read in the basement of City Lights bookstore called floating bear so she was a terrific force in that way as a publisher and during that time she was writing mostly the political poems that have bout recently been recollected in the book called revolutionary letters these poems a lot of them are in the style of I would say the style of Allen Ginsberg of that kind of new 1950s raw open let's talk about directly free-verse I give you a sample revolutionary letter number 16 we are eating up the planet the New York Times takes a forest every Sunday Los Angeles draws its water from the Sacramento Valley the rivers of British Columbia are ours on lease for 90 years every large factory is an infringement of our god-given right to light and air to clean and flowing rivers stocked with fish the very possibility of life for our children's children we'll have to look carefully ie do we really want need electricity and at what 1965 do we really want need electricity and at what cost and natural resource human resource do we need cars when petroleum pumped from the earth poisons the land around for 100 years pumped from the car poisons the heart press cities or try this statistic the US has five percent of the world's people uses over fifty percent of the world's goods our garbage holds matter for survival for uncounted underdeveloped nations right know that this was when gas was 30 cents a gallon she was writing those poems she moved to San Francisco and made a kind of transformation from being a sort of revolutionary socialist anarchist poet through feminism and her studies of zen and tibetan buddhism into writing and this.n studies scholarly studies in the in the in the tradition visionary traditions in Western literature and Tibetan literature and out of that came the book that is her her really great poetic Testament which is low but it's a it's a visionary feminist account of that's quite another thing from the visionary letters and here folks among us is Diane debris you know everybody says oh I don't know what people said today here at the introduction I will hear it perhaps someday but people say beat poet and that was a very long time ago and was like a very short time although it seemed like forever because I started writing seriously when I was fourteen which was in 48 and I dropped out of school by 51 and got out of that whole thing and just wrote so I'm gonna read a couple of beat stuffs and a couple of later stuffs and then move on to more recent work my work tends to go in very long series that seem to go on forever one is revolutionary letters which began in the late 60s I'm still writing them one is lobo which began in 71 and each and more and more of it keeps happening there's there was blow but they came out in 78 twice as much loba came out in 98 and it's a whole bunch more that I brought unpublished parts that thought I'd read from today to there are these various I don't I don't tend to lump them all in the same but Robert Duncan would have passages one of his kinds of work in each book but I tend to have a book that's revolutionary letters a book that's lobha and so on but they keep getting they keep getting attitude and I don't understand that too well but the earlier work is the earlier work and I'll just read a little of it this is first these first pieces were written when I was between 19 and 23 and they were called more they're from a book called this kind of bird fly's backward there this little section was called more or less love poems and if you read about the 50s you know of that it was so busy being cool that we didn't know how to say the word love among other things so here's a love poem for you I would no longer pick my so pickable nose or bite my delicious nails for you I would fix my teeth and buy a mattress for you I would kill my favorite Roach that lives in the woodwork by the drawing table that was a love poem another love poem from this to that period you bet your life next bedtime I'll get even I'll call your name wrong and you'll think it happened accidental I was a very nice little eighteen year old woman to to be friends with I mean I'm not gonna go far and that because I want to get on but this one written around that time was for my first baby I wanted a child I was it was 56 1956 I didn't want a man I asked various of my lovers and they were horrified so I stopped asking and this was I was I guess I was five about maybe five or six months pregnant when I wrote this for my first daughter is now fifty actually and it's called song for baby Oh unborn sweetheart and when you break through you'll find a poet here not quite what one would choose I won't promise you'll never go hungry or that you won't be sad on this gutted breaking globe but I can show you baby enough to love to break your heart forever I still get letters from young women about that poem I bet many of those early ones acts really so moving on in the 60s I became more interested in what was going on but in my I'm met with in my head the stretching out of the line the following everything instead of cutting it down to the most sparse and I think at that point I stopped so much being whatever was beat was I'm not sure I'm not sure what it is there's a beat that is just the sense of pushing at the edges of consciousness all the time and I guess one never gets past that if one's a poet of certain kinds there's a beat that's more down-home down-home and dirty writing the language of the streets which is interesting interesting but it isn't my whole path or my Ginsberg would say only what's before your eyes only write about what you can see but that's not me either so that beat is what I don't know anyway here's a love poem from the early 60s from a book called the new handbook of heaven which I wrote for Leroy Jones who I had a child with amiri baraka the beach where I ship out from the tides give no indication washing dead flowers under the rocks at my back the house is flat and implacable painted green it peels the walls are damp the chill at the railroad station in the mornings always the dawn light and wind our collars turned up the suitcase is broken a gesture almost empty our selves the pitiful gray of no baths no sleep the gray we rub off the sheets in the greenhouses did we lock the door the sea is gold in the dawn light the rocks silhouetted against it how many years will you amble along the shore hands in your pockets whistling the same old tune living on soft-shell crabs the sea floor hard under your clean their feet just as I caught the train I think I saw you shuffling to the horizon to stamp it flat that was before the picnic basket fell open and my choice my monster lobster walked back home they were shorter ones to that from that time where mostly they weren't more like that I'll read a short one called the numbers racket when you take no for an answer will you look any different well you get pale behind your glasses will you go backwards with that funny step when you straighten your jacket I mean are you taking it now taking no for an answer did this thing just go off so somebody can put it on again the magician whoever it was he'll put it on in the first place and much stuff happened in the sixties and in the early palms of the sixties and the later poems at some point I began to write but became the revolutionary letters what happened was somebody had somebody in New York hired a flatbed truck Sam Abrams a poet and a generator that would run an amplifier and we went out some folk singers who were considered very radical and guerrilla theater people who did Street Theater and poets and we went all over New York this was those years of assassinations around 67 68 and so on not the first ones of the second wave of assassinations and we would just perform places and I realized the poems I had mostly were too intellectual for that kind of performing so I started to write things that were more something you could hear on one hearing on the street something more like guerrilla theater even though it was poetry and they became the revolutionary letters and I'm still writing them as I said I'm looking for their book right now that just came out with recent ones but while I'm looking for it I'm I think I went too okay here it is the early ones I mean all of them but the early ones were clearly just just a one-time punch and that was it people could hear them and what they would do whatever they wanted with it I'm anarchist my grandfather on my mother's side was an anarchist who wrote with Carlo Tresca for his newspaper and I tended to have that way with my politics I never joined anything either but I wrote lots and put it out there for to be used however and I'm looking for one that particularly works for this kind of thing but if I don't find it they'll give you another one quickly here's one that'll do it was an early one this was we're talking now I started those in New York with a flatbed truck but by 68 I was on the west coast working with the jiggers delivering free food and reading on the steps of City Hall at noon every day to persuade people to drop out of their jobs among other things I would read these with coyote Peter Coyote with play music and other people were doing things with masks whatever so this is around 69 can you own land can you own house own rights to other's labor stocks or factories or money loaned at interest what about the yields of same crops autos airplanes dropping bombs can you own real estate so others pay you rent to whom does the water belong to whom will the air belong as it gets rarer the American Indians say that a man can own no more than he can carry away on his horse so there were a lot of those they would go out to something called the liberation news service which would send them to two hundred revolutionary Matt news underground papers all over the country and people would print what they wanted and this went on every week or so and eventually I put out a book of them in 1970 with city lights and each time there was a new book I added the new ones so I'm gonna read one more that's of course the language of the day so a man is innocent and beautiful instead of humans but you know also there's little rhythm you have to worry about too so this is who is the we who is the bay in this thing did we or they kill the Indians not me my people brought here cheap labor to exploit a continent for them did we or they exploit it do you admit complicity say we have to get out of Vietnam we have to get out of Iraq we really should stop poisoning the water etc look closer look again secede declare your independence don't accept a share of the guilt they want to lay on us man is innocent and beautiful and born to perfect bliss they envy heavy deeds make heavy hearts and to them life is suffering stand clear so there were a lot of those and they were written for a long time they're still being written and rather than try to go back toward the end I'll read you some this edition just came out and last last fall last gas press and has 23 poems that weren't able to be there weren't you in the last edition each time we would add the new ones as I said I'll read a couple of these similar long and I'm going to read a couple of short newish ones February 14th 2001 so this was pre 9/11 but February 14th 2001 someone put out a flag for Valentine's Day as if the domain of the heart could belong to this heartbroken nation this one is cool leis Americana we are feral I was watching at that point it was nice it was October of 2001 I was on the road and I was watching a basic television which was all I had in my cheap room at the somewhere in New Jersey and I was watching these people escaping or trying to escape from Afghanistan just before with bombing started their faces that was all we saw leis American we are feral rare as mountain wolves our hearts are pure and stupid we go down pitted against our own and the one brief one there are nice longer ones but I want to go on called ancient history the women are lying down in front of the bulldozers sent to destroy the last of the olive groves so skipping back a little we got 10 or 15 minutes I'm gonna go just so then there were the 70s and then there were the 80s and I'm all through the 70s I began to write Loba which I didn't know what it was in 1971 loba means that she-wolf and I thought it was first I thought it was a one-page poem then I thought it was this H page 8 page poem luckily I was it was this guy I was married to who was a poet grant Fischer who said I don't think that poem is finished you might be on the lookout if it shows up again and 30-something years later books 1 & 2 add up to 300 some pages only because penguin wouldn't print the rest and there's a lot more and the she-wolf is like women and ant myths of various animals and myths from various other things but I wasn't interested ever in the myth for his own sake it was only it was something that had actually torn up my life or impinge on my life have been part of how I had to figure things out then I would work the myth into the poem or the or the myth would arrive love is something I can't make happen it just arrives when it arrives it first arrived when I was in the middle of teaching a class actually I was in Salinas with it a poet who spoke Spanish we were working with the kids in the school from the there was barbed wire around the school and cops all over campus there were the kids of the immigrant workers down there and all of a sudden I heard these lines in my head like I sort of let alias Kiki Cortez take over the class I just stepped back and started because if you don't when I hear lies in my head if I don't write him down I don't hear anything else until I write those lines down so what was happening was this I'll just read the very beginning if he did not come apart in her hands he fell like flint on her ribs there was no middle way The Rock's screamed in the flowing water stars dizzy with pain if he was not daisies in her soup he was another nickel in her hair she stumbled crazy over the stony path between slanderous trees even field mice knew she called the shots dimensions of the Obsidian cross he hung on singing in the Sun her eyes cloudy with nightmare she grinned bearing her Wolf's teeth so then you go back and you give another exercise and you're talking this thing keeps going on and it went on about eight little early parts that day and then the last of those that particular session was a repeat of the first it was if you do if you do not come apart like bread in her hands she falls like flint on your heart the flesh knows better than the spirit what the soul has eyes for as she sunk root in your watering place does she look with her Wolf's eyes out of your head and that was part of part one part one ended with a poem that was kind of she shiva like when shiva dances and the universe disperses I won't read all of it lobo dances she raises in flames the city it glows about her the loba mother wolf and mistress of many dances she treads in the severed heads that grow like mosses on the flood the city melts it flows past or treading white feet and ends something like the Lobo dances she treads the salty earth she does not raise breath cloud heaven wood her breath itself is carnage at that point I thought Lobo was done but turns out I was wrong it turned out I was this much wrong plus whatever's here and and whatever is in the outtakes and all the rest of it but it went through many stages and I don't have very much time so I'm gonna go here and there this is from the one of them they are next but still early parts it is still news to her that passion could steer her wrong though she went down a thousand times strung out across railroad tracks off bridges under cars or stiff glass bottles still in hand hair soft on greasy pillow still it is news she cannot follow love his burning footsteps in blue crystals snow and still come out alright another one from that section she strides in blue jeans to the corner bar she dances with the old women the men light up they order wine hair sawdust is flying under her feet her sneakers thudding soft her wispy hair falls sometimes into her face were it not for the ring of fur around her ankles just over her bobby socks you'd never know I'm sorry there's no one would ever guess her name and then it goes on and got enters into myth at some point and at some point in the entering into myth various myths come up that as I said were they really felt like they had to have shaken or owned me at some point and then I was also doing exercises in the schools with the kids I was on the road for the NEA from 71 to 78 all over the country they didn't know how to find poets in Wyoming so they would import them from the west coast or the east coast like cheese you know so I was imported into Wyoming into Montana I worked a lot on the Indian reservations in Arizona after a while they found out that there were people there writing poems but it took them about eight years and I learned a lot about the middle of the country media anyway this is a exercising thing it was a Kenneth Koch exercise that I turned into some lies about the low bow that she is eternal that she sings that she is star born that she gathers crystal that she can be confused with the Isis that she is the goal that she knows her name that she swims in the purple sky that her fingers are pale and strong that she is black that she is white that you always know who she is when she appears that she strides on battlements that she sifts like stones in the sea that you can hear her approach that her jeweled feet tread any particular measure that there is anything about her which can be said that she relishes tombstones falls down marble stairs that she is ground only that she is not ground that you can remember the first time you met that she is always with you that she can be seen without grace that there is anything to say of her which is not true and longer insurer I wish I had more hours but we will just jump along here this poem later in lobha kind of its call has two titles the lobha addresses the goddess or the poet as priestess addresses the lovely goddess it's kind of a grouchy poem grouchy yet grouchy at the goddess is it not in your service that I wear myself out running ragged among these hills driving children to forgotten movies in your service broom and pen the monstrous feasts we serve each other on the outer porch inside the house there is only rice and salt and we wear exhaustion like a painted robe I and my sisters resting the goods from the niggardly dyeing father's healing each other with water and bitter herbs that when we stand naked in the circle of lamps beside the small water in the inner grove we show no blemish but also no superfluous beauty it has burned off in watches of the night Oh Newt oh mantle of stars we catch at you lean ragged mournful triumphant shaggy as grass our skins ache of emergence dark of the Moon I'm gonna go toward the end and read a little bit not much and then maybe read one of a late of the unpublished ones this one this one is long there was a there's a series in one of the late parts the Lobo that penguin did has the kindness to have a table of contents which helps so you know when one poem ends and another begins because I don't title most of them but this particular section has a lot of three or four at least poems that are too and about or for the street women in my neighborhood I was living in the Western Addition in the late 80s and early 90s and it was a really tough time there and both there was love there was a lot of crack a lot of hookers a lot of gunshots a lot of all that and these were to some of those women especially the younger ones I'm going to read one of them it's called Medusa Gazebo blue babies birthing a thrown away course corsage orchids for Halloween the day of the dead she is fair brown flesh for sale for low bidders in plaid jackets haunting New Age patriotism of ghoul and shadow country don't go too near the edge I want to tell her I whisper it to her thousand tiny braids knotted at her neck she bends her head looks at her cold tortillas decides to eat no more there's a section that is adaptations of poems famous by Ram Prasad to him mr. Kali that I had worked on years before and finished for a section of loba I'm making a section now that's it's going to be long ish monologues by each of the early very early Japanese women writers we seem to tend to think of them each is alike but their vocabulary they're seeing is each different the work is so small each poem I'm making I'm making somehow I hope some longer monologues I'm hoping to go visit some places in Japan before I do that but my body doesn't like to move so I will see mean well I'm gonna read one of the Kali ones so she this is a Mr Colley but it's also him astute Hara who Ramprasad actually I found these because Ramakrishna was very popular in the 60s and he was very much a devotee of Rama Prasad who's him still sung in India I understand I'm going to read the last one from Prasad is complaining is bhakti religion you're you're the deity is everything you know your lover your child your mother your father your everything and you can also yell with him and complain them and all them that I'll read the last two the six systems of philosophy do not grasp her she drinks devotion she abides in bliss at dawn she waits you in your most secret chamber yogini lost in the ecstasy of love she draws the lover as the lodestone iron and the last one has complained in this batch anyway the day will pass this day will pass only our story will remain and generations of men will know your unkindness Terra I have come to the world market I have shopped I wait at the landing the Sun is setting mother take me into the boat the business met the boat man fills his ship with the rich I am left behind he asks for his fare but I have no money Oh stony-hearted woman pay my way the boat has left the Sun is going down I begin to swim in the ocean chanting your name well I believe we are out of time we have if we stretched it we have five minutes we want that five minutes or should we start okay I'm gonna I hate this part of life we have to make choices okay I'm gonna read one poem from the new Lobos stuff and this is book part of book three there's more to book two then fit in there because they said 285 pages I got away with 335 but there's more there's more book 2 in my computer and this is the beginning of book 3 and this poem is called Babylon 2 Rd Rd is Robert Duncan and it starts with a quote from him fathers in the light and heat of one's Sun and I want to say that we used to argue he could not conceive of light without warmth and for me I could conceive of both what a cold white and etc anyway and there's some grail references in here but you'll get him or not Babylon 2 rd fathered in the light and heat of one son and it's necessary coldness fat of the earth water and earth afire in that light wrapping my visible form as in a shawl knit out of darkness by a mad ant and so rapt wielding the candelabra the night in the old story holds in his left hand after he dreams he stole it from a chapel himself on the bier so wrapped in cold light as in a rich shawl wielding the candlestick crossed over from the dream I even I self upon self am she old father see I am the woman who stands in the Black Sun there's a a ton of more Lobo and then there's a book that I wrote it all in one night called time bomb a couple of weeks after Katrina which I won't get to I don't think and then there's another book I'm typing up Cole the black notebook I take these little spiral notebooks with me when I go to hear jazz or other music and they fill up with poems because I can write in the dark thanks to my mother who turned the light out every night I'll just read a couple of these there are millions of them break camp or leave it as it is for whoever comes this way this Phillip Phillip Whelan's memorial film will have the best painkillers fried chicken and wine there's tryptophane in chicken which is the last of in the crystal he held it never stops reflecting doesn't get tired he turned it caught the light replaced it in a bowl of rice his hands trembled slightly okay I think we'll stop there thank you oh I can announce if I may I every year I do a solo reading to open diva Fest which is this 10-day festival at this tiny little funky little experimental theater in San Francisco called exit theatre and it's in the on a it's in the afternoon I think it's at why April 12th this year and it's a two-hour thing in the afternoon and I just read and answer questions for two hours so and this every year it's been a themed one year was Lobo one year was revolution one year was alchemy poem or my alchemy poems which have never been gathered and this year I'm going to do more or less love poems love poems to plants to cats to people to aliens to our gain JAL's whatever so you can find exit theatre I'm sure on the Google if you want it but I just wanted you to know thanks thank you so much for being here please make sure to sign our mailing list and check out the books for sale

7 thoughts on “Lunch Poems – Diane di Prima

  1. What a delight to be able to see and hear this wonderful poet read her works in this intimate setting.  Thanks for sharing.

  2. 41:00
    The crystal
    He held it
    Never stops reflecting
    Doesn’t get tired
    He turned it
    Caught the light
    Replaced it in a bowl of rice
    His hands trembled slightly

  3. "in the 50ties we were so busy being cool that we didn't know how to say the word love.." haha you are FANTASTIC Ms. Di Prima…be well! :)))

  4. "really fun to read…" English professor–
    someone needs to alert him to his own refried crap quotient.

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