Finally, a Feminist Beat Story

Photo by Gloria Graham via Wikimedia Commons

Diane di Prima was among the famous Beat poets—but somehow, being the only woman, didn’t become famous until about a month ago.

No need to ask why you’ve never heard of her. Ever read the Beats?

I have—since the Beats feature in my autobiographical novel, 44 Horatio Street, soon to be published. Lucien Carr and his crusty cohorts lived in my family’s little brownstone in Greenwich Village; for this book, I investigated. And I found a lot of sexism, tied up with homophobia.

Carr killed a man at Colombia and got off with “gay panic.” Not a typo, sorry. He got out of prison after 18 months. I guess he was too panicked for prison.

William Burroughs, whose books help me to lose weight, killed his wife, Joan Vollmer in a game of William Tell. No apple, just a glass of whiskey he told her to put on her head so they could play. Then he shot her head off.

And then there is di Prima—a feminist long overdue for the recognition she is receiving as of late. Here’s a snippet of her CV. (More here.)

She wrote over 40 books. She founded or co-founded the Poets Press, the New York Poets Theatre, Eidolon Editions, the Poets Institute, the San Francisco Institute of Magical and Healing Arts. She was Poet Laureate of San Francisco. She won the National Poetry Association’s Lifetime Service Award.

And, Spoiler Alert: She didn’t kill anybody.

Is that why we don’t know more about her? Or could it be Ol’ Mister Misogyny? Even among the very wild and “revolutionary” Beats, it was rife.

That question is too complex to answer here. But this Women’s History Month, among my offerings of art and writing we should have seen sooner, I leave you with this.

“A lack of faith is simply a lack of courage
one who says “I wish I could believe that” means simply that he
a coward, is pleased
to be spectator, on this scene where there are no spectators
where all hands not actually working are working against
as they lie idle, folded in lap, or holding up newspapers
full of lies, or wrapped around steering wheel, on one more
pleasure trip”

— REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #23, by Diane di Prima

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