New Yorkers all
As some of you know, I have recently taken to the writing of Diane di Prima. You know this because I’ve called your attention to one or another of her poems that I love (Life Chant, Where Are You, Clearing the Desk, Keep the Beat) and her incendiary collection, Revolutionary Letters. This week I want to call attention to her memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman. Over 400 pages, it covers her early life to the later 1960s (she’s still alive, but I doubt that there’s a volume two coming). For my younger women friends who’ve grown up thinking “I can do whatever I want,” di Prima’s book will give you some historical perspective. For anyone in the various fields of art, Recollections will inspire you on your path (her sheer tenacity). For writers in their 20s or in their 70s, di Prima will remind you of what you need to hear.
Di Prima is calmly blunt, reminding me of Allen Ginsberg’s maxim, “Candor ends paranoia.” On male violence: “When I got older, what I heard from lovers, was that I was a controlling or castrating bitch. But—the assault was universal and ceaseless. You would have to be dead not to try to stop it for a minute.” Her Italian father: “If you were Italian, growing up in my house, your father handed you Machiavelli to read. To help you understand history, he told you. One of the only books he had besides Shakespeare and the encyclopedia. He read you Julius Caesar to show you how Mark Antony manipulated the crowd. What propaganda was. You never forgot.” On college: “I have no problem with leaving school. It is a hated and unfulfilling place, where I am studying nothing I care about. Where there are no powerful women teachers. No powerful teachers at all. No ideals, intensity of intellectual life. Nothing I’d hoped for. I am more than ready to leave, to get on with my life. Wherever it might take me.” What she never said to her mother: “Dear Mom … When are you going to tell me what was stolen from you? When will you name your oppressor?”
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