Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Poetry Beat

One of my favorite writers is Diane di Prima. You might not have heard much about her. She was a Beat Poet--still is, I guess, does a person stop being part of a movement when the movement has moved on to other things?Anyway, you wouldn't have heard much about her because all of the other famous and "important" Beat Poets were dudes, and she was writing at a time when there wasn't really any societal or artistic freedom for women.

I'm considering Diane di Prima today because last night, my poetry teacher took me to an event hosted by her feminist poetry collective at the Dixie Club in SoHo. (There's no part of that sentence I don't like.) They showed a 26-minute indie short film called "The Poetry Beat," about the life and work of di Prima, which included interviews with women who knew her back-when, women who were influenced by her work, and di Prima herself, now living in San Francisco with her poems, watercolors, and little yellow dog. There were poetry performances by di Prima at all stages of her life, from when she was a well-titted young woman with golden-red hair, until today, still well-titted at 77 but a bit grayer in the hair.

My favorite anecdote was from a woman who hosted di Prima at a commune in Maine one year. The commune had 8 children under the age of 2, so when di Prima got a bit of royalty money from one of her books, she celebrated by buying the commune women a crate of Pampers diapers (until then, they'd been using and endlessly washing cloth diapers). The women loved it, but the men complained about how much waste disposables created. "It was an easy way for them to be down on Diane without calling her a pushy woman," said the commune manager.

I like that story because it illustrates the problem I have with the Beat movement. On the one hand, I like the writing that came out of it, but on the other hand, some of its more celebrated figures were raging misogynists. Jack Kerouac can go hell as far as I'm concerned. His book On the Road made me cross-eyed with rage. It's supposed to be about these guys who are all hip and free and not tied down by societal bonds, but they're constantly getting women pregnant and then abandoning their families to hitchhike across the country. Freedom bought for the price of a woman's suffering. Disgusting, I say!

Diane di Prima really gets it, though. I wish I had time to find some of her poetry to put up here, but my break is almost over and I guess I should get back to working for the Man so I can earn my cheese and waffle money.

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