Diane di Prima does one long solo reading per year in San Francisco and for the last 7 years that’s been at DivaFest at the Exit Theater. The little theater was packed with wistful and wild-eyed poets and hardcore di Prima fans as Diane led off just talking about stuff and asking us all for any spare kleenexes before she started out reading. She talked a bit about being the poet laureate of San Francisco saying that she loves the poetry folks of this town and it honors them and it honors poetry. But the parts that are political or B.S. and that it doesn’t have very much money to support her going in to teach poetry writing to kids and so on, that part isn’t so great. It’s nice but the greatest honor she has ever received was knowing someone typed out her first book on carbon paper to pass it around Leavenworth prison.
Diane then said that she is thinking of what’s new, poems as news, poets as antennae and is reading a bunch of unpublished work and the new things that may go into Loba or the next Revolutionary Letters. “A lot of things that are news are very old. They’re new and old at the same time.” I really love poet talk and Diane can’t even help doing it and at the same time is just plain not full of shit. (Reminding me of my friend Greg who died… should be on his grave stone, “He wasn’t full of shit.”) I respect the ability some people have to just talk and then to read their writing in a way that isn’t bullshitty or different than their usual self. Just write it! And then when you’re talking, saying something! That’s so good.
I kept imagining wishfully that Diane would come to WisCon where she would be strangely happy among fantastic strong writer matriarchs in lavender quilted vests and iron grey hair and wild imaginations that range through all time and space!
Notes on the poems!
The first poem was “My Andalusia” which was written as an exploration of writing about things as you imagined them when you were younger. What you thought about Egypt or New York when you were 6. Diane’s Anadalusia was an alternate history coming up to the present and future where sufi and kabalah and christian and scientific communities flourished uninterrupted by war. “to make light brighter, distance more vast.” Maybe it was “vastness more vast.” “And About Obama” “and if you were living in the enemy’s house wife and kids there too guarded by assassins … for what *were* after all dreams …” I slipped in and out of knowing what she was talking about and then felt quite unsure that other people in the room knew either though they “Hmmmmmmmm!”ed as if they did. “At least the Bay Bridge snapped… somebody had to say something”. And then some old news – “a deer and her young hesitate” which I think then had some radioactive waste. It worked even past my reservations. LOTS of hmmmm-ing on that one which reaction made me wince. (Though, I love people who love poetry so should not criticize. )
“Don’t turn away” (with brief explanation of Kurosawa biography and earthquake story and his brother saying, “Don’t turn away – You want to make films, don’t look away – LOOK!” If you are working on something, don’t turn away. Hyena -vulture – guardians – the race of forbidden – where we keep the dead – warm mud – Look, tears magnify what you can see – Don’t look it up don’t study it’s all before your eyes. (Well and yes I suppose Earth is a mass grave, really. ) Diane read this long prose poem so well and powerfully, forceful, the words building up and poem tumbling over itself. Well done and never maudlin / self righteous / guilt ridden-yet-self-absolving which is the trap so many middle class poets fall into automatically.
“The daughter” – couldn’t wait till she died, pulling weeds, “didn’t I think it looked a whole lot better.” Oh my.
Poem for Sheppard, healer & beloved. Treebark rule (an herb tea he makes her) Touch the crown of their heads as they have not been touched since newborn / they are worth all care / they are gold of gold ” Now here I cried at the poem a bit not knowing Shep but knowing he is sick and that she is not perhaps in the pink of health either and knowing what it means to be in pain and cared for (vs. not cared for) and the other way round And that it is one of the best things. Mia Mingus said it very well in Access Intimacy
Access intimacy is also the intimacy I feel with many other disabled and sick people who have an automatic understanding of access needs out of our shared similar lived experience of the many different ways ableism manifests in our lives. Together, we share a kind of access intimacy that is ground-level, with no need for explanations. Instantly, we can hold the weight, emotion, logistics, isolation, trauma, fear, anxiety and pain of access. I don’t have to justify and we are able to start from a place of steel vulnerability.
Interdependence is worth fighting for and certainly good to write about. I liked the poem.
Then a long poem for a benefit for Haiti for which the organizers kept adding on new countries so it is called Haiti Chile Tibet. I cheered mightily at the bit at the end with the list of Just a Few Suggestions. 1) All hands on deck means just that. It’s a really small boat. 2. Anyone bringing help is welcome – OBVIOUSLY. Don’t ask where they’re from. (HHAHAAH so true – thinking bitterly of the red cross during katrina! lord!) 3) All borders disappear in catastrophe. They are stupid and irrelevant anyway. 4) There is no such thing as looting in a disaster. 5 on the police 6) on guests 7) Give up confusing your property with your life. This will save a lot of problems! I like a poem that describes the world with a little lyrical perspective and humility and then ends with practical wisdom!
“Homeland Security to T’ang Dynasty Princess” – short & sweet. take off your dew covered slippers, step away from the window. Funny then not then funny again, indeed
Lot’s wife doesn’t have a name Who was she how did he greet her when she came in from the field?
“Why money makes me feel bad.” I feel bad when I get some . Then feeling bad when not having any. Yup.
War haiku – July 2006. Lebanon. Even an hour of this / would be too long /White phosophorus. Great lords of the sea /it is Tyre they are burning. Don’t ask if I have bad dreams…
Millenium poem. Revolutionary letters # 83. In the wink of an eye. If Iliad Odyssey… harmony.. and Blake says Fuck all this! & Baudelaire & Rimbaud comes back from outer space he’d rather die a sleazebutt human! American cats et in on it (Melville) They don’t know from order! (laughter uncontrollable there!) Brightness fell from the air. magical will…
I like that poem and want to read it on the page! It was tremendous!
June 3 1966 To the unnamed Buddhist Nun who burned herself to death (she called the NY Times and then called the reporter who told her that buddhist nuns don’t have names.) (not) O monk is it hot in there? (koan about it being a stupid question)
Diane noted that part of her wants to apologize for being so dark. She has this bit of Loba *(unpublished) about the painter who painted Mary out of elephant dung (Chris Ofili) (Turmoil!) And thinking all the other things people might not realize are also sacred. Litany – Our lady of the elephants. Our lady of the armadillos. Our lady of subways… Lady of largest heart. (Yes- Inanna reference!!!!! Right on)
Freaking awesome poem called Fire sale – everything must go. I long to publish this one.
Well, we can’t build the new society from the shell of the old” “I love those old Wobbly songs” Let’s stop looking over our shoulders! Let’s stop copying Scandinavian socialism, it’s too sad! You all talk too much!” Oh, man, I love it.
We then had some questions and conversation. Conversation hard though in Authority/Audience format (alas) I asked what Diane is reading and she said lots of Ursula Le Guin (YEAH…. instantly I go back to my WisCon imaginings and pictured them both at the Mad Scientist Otaku Tea Party Cafe laughing over tea with robots and mad scientists serving little cakes) And all of Shakespeare in little Arden editions because you can hold one at a time and they don’t hurt your hands to hold them up. someone asked about plays and Diane said she has some plays one called Whale Hunting about the death of Shelley just before he drowns with Mary Byron and Shelley. Oh man! I’d like to see that play. And another one which I did’t hear about because I was imagining the Shelley one. A very dear woman stood up in the back and said her name is Grace HArwood and she has been witness to Diane’s aweseomness since 1970 and is so happy she is poet laureate and it’s about fucking time! (cheers and applause) Another question , what do you think is possible? Are you writing more memoir? (Yes but slowly and don’t tell anyone, she does not want her agent to know so there is no pressure) It has a lot about the shape of life and the demands of old age and is around 200 pages now. Diane asked us what we are writing and doing and where we published and after what was perhaps not a long enough pause I said I am making tiny books and held up my Burn This Press stuff. (Then wished I hadn’t and that i had explained my whole earth catalogue poem and my difficulties with it ) Another guy talked about a small press cooperative he is in up near Yosemite with 35 authors, Poetic Matric Press and he named a poet who does something interesting with Damascus I think (then I was remembering the excellent Damashq story from the Lesbian Steampunk book.) Someone up in the back asked about Denise Levertov and whether they knew each other. Diane said they were at readings together and she was very proper and without meaning to or knowing it she often upset Denise just by having some 4 letter words in a poem. also “she could have gone further”. I got excited and wondered what she meant there b/c I am fond of Levertov but get very frustrated by her and want to give her a shove and go “okay… now go further”. She wraps it up too fast and doesn’t get out of a certain comfort zone (though that is arrogant of me to say) What poetry would she recommend for kids? What poetry would be NOT for kids? (maybe Kaddish… i dunno…. lol) They’re just people! Just give them poetry! They come with all the equipment. (I agree) She said when she was little people read her shakespeare quite young and she read all the robert louis stevenson and poe things that kids usually read.
Best question from audience especially since asked by very young dude, or best response I guess, Do you ever get embarrassed by things you wrote when you were younger, you wrote it 40 years ago? “No. That’s who I was. I love those who-I-wases. (swoooon) I worked on it till I was pleased with it. It still stands. (reads a poem). I liked that person. She thought she was a lot tougher than she was, but she got along somehow. Take your own side. That’s the hardest job of a writer. ”
“Things are different because, I’m not sure about the because. There were very few of us writing. in 61… the newsletter me and Leroi Jones put out had 114 names across the country, poets, painters, dancers, choreographers. Lots of indie bookstores and they all wanted 5 copies. Libraries doing special collections of American Lit. Now it’s harder. Why? I don’t understand the use of cyberspace as a publishing medium. I don’t get the shape of it and how the poem is with it. You have a book, that’s the poem in space. You have a reading, that’s the poem in time. I don’t understand what shape I am working with when I’m in there and in what shape things are cut. ”
Afterwards I gave some books away and Diane was so mobbed it was hard to talk with her but I will write her a letter. I did hang about to say thank you and to give her a tiny blank book (made from scraps of Burn This Press books). A guy came up and told me about Exit Press and someone else told me about the Brown U. bookstore and who to write to to send books for their small press section. Someone else invited me to the Lunada readings at Galeria de la Raza, which sound great… All the Divafest plays and shows look fantastic – it is a celebration of women writers. There is a pirate play and one about Eleanor of Acquitaine and it’s going on all this month – take a look. Also Diane runs weekend workshops periodically – I went to one in around 2002 and heartily recommend it – “hanging out and writing” was exactly what we did.
I unfolded my bike and rode the 5 blocks back to my car which was down 6th across Market – legs shaking and my right foot unable to really do its thing correctly and my hip aching fit to bust – But feeling very free and scared in the good way & as if I were cloaked in secrets.Taking my overcaffeinated self and sinus infection back to bed now for utter collapse as the sudafed wears off.