Archive for September 24th, 2010

American Poets: Diane DiPrima

by lizard

Our next poet, Diane DiPrima, was born in Brooklyn in 1934. According to this brief bio, her maternal Grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was an anarchist and associate of Emma Goldman. As a poet, Diane ran with the Beats for a while, then started a short-lived Master-in-Poetics program with Robert Duncan at a school in San Francisco.

I ran across Diane’s collection, entitled Revolutionary Letters, at a temporary used book store, which amounted to the personal collection of a poet/linguist who taught at UM, Dennis Holt, selling what books he could before leaving town. For those who don’t remember the infamous Dennis Holt, here’s a little snippet from his wikipage:

As an educator, Holt has taught language-related courses at a number of institutions of higher learning in the U.S., including Southern Connecticut State University, Roger Williams University, Central Connecticut State University, Southeastern Massachusetts University (now the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth), Quinnipiac University, and the University of Montana. At the last of these he was suspended and ultimately fired for having spoken out against the Iraq War and President George W. Bush during a linguistics-class on March 21, 2003.

Not to get too off-track, but from what I have heard about that day in Dennis Holt’s class, it wasn’t his speaking out that was the problem; it was the drunken bender he had been on and the fact he ripped off his shirt, screamed a bit against the war, then speculated on why the CIA hadn’t taken him out yet.
Looking back, there is no better person to have obtained a copy of DiPrima’s book of poems from. First published in 1971 by City Lights Books, it’s a must have for any poetic leftist. Here’s an example:


Look to the cities, see how “urban renewal”
tears out the slums from the heart of town
forces expendable poor to the edges, to some
remote and indefensible piece of ground:
Hunters Point, Lower East Side, Columbia Point
Out of sight, out of mind, & when bread riots come
(conjured by cutting welfare, raising prices)
the man wont hesitate to raze those ghettos
& few will see, & fewer will object.

But reading through these letters one is confronted with what we now might term the cliché of the times. Another letter:


who is the we, who is
the they 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 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
to perfect bliss they envy, heavy deeds
make heavy hearts and to them
life is suffering. stand clear.

this may be an example of the craft of poetry losing to the political activism of the poet. as a record of the times, though, this collection of poems is a compelling window into the nexus of poetry and politics that existed 40 years ago. and again, sadly, many of the poems still bear an uncomfortable resonance with today.

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