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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
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Diane Di Prima's Memoir
by Andrei Codrescu
Author's Links
Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years
by Diane Di Prima
Viking Press, NY.

I■ve always been in the Avantgarde by about ten minutes, but Diane Di Prima was there for a full ten years. Time in the battlefield of Art is not like time in the regular world. Everything seems to happen at once when a ╦sceneË is happening, and you either go with the flow or get out of the way. Di Prima■s amazing memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, resurrects the tastes and textures of an extraordinary time in American art and letters, while describing, simultaneously, the journey of a brave and unsparingly insightful woman. New York in the late 1950s was the site of a creative irruption whose consequences we are still engaged in trying to understand. American painting, music, poetry, dance, and theatre were breaking all the rules and remaking themselves from the ground up. Di Prima■s friends and lovers included men and women who are famous now. I won■t recite a litany of names, but saying ╦womenË is a stretch. With the exception of Diane herself and two or three others, the list of the ╦famousË consists mostly of men. Diane wrote poetry, printed and published a magazine, stayed up all night in the cafes and apartments of the Village, had lovers of both sexes, and struggled with a bouquet of paradoxes, the greatest of which was how to be a woman on a scene that demanded nearly total sacrifice of one■s energy in the service of Art with capital A. Her answers to this question take many forms, but one of them was her fateful decision to have it all, thus embodying, in the small frame of a red-headed Italian girl from Brooklyn, most of the dilemmas of the coming decades. She had a child out of wedlock, without much interest in the father. She had an illegal abortion. She printed literature that came to the attention of the decency patrols that were then making Jean Genet■s, Henry Miller■s, and Allen Ginsberg■s work causes celebres by banning them. She helped found The Poets■ Theatre, which was raided and closed by the police. She smoked marijuana and hashish, and took LSD before it was made illegal. She herself wonders at the tremendous energy of the times and her own ability to live and create at a breakneck pace. Her life, in retrospect, was not particularly happy in that bland ideal way urged upon us now by the gurus of self-help quietude. Her life, like that of the other artists of the era, was immersed in an esprit-du-temps the likes of which is visited upon us only a couple of times in every century, between wars. A number of autobiographies by women of the ╦BeatË era have appeared recently, most notably those of Carolyn Cassady and Hettie Jones. Those books complement Di Prima■s in interesting ways, particularly Hettie Jones■, who was the wife of poet LeRoy Jones, aka Amiri Baraka, whose lover Diane was. But such tidbits of gossip, juicy as they are, are only sidelights in the universe of a life lived, not anticipated. I certainly hope that Di Prima writes the ╦California YearsË sequel to these ╦New York years,Ë which ended in 1965. In those years, she was in on the founding of the West Coast communal scene, radical politics, consciousness-expanding, feminism, gay politics, ecology, and zen buddhism. And, of course, she knew everybody and fed them, at one time one or another, one of her legendary health-conscious Italian-California meals.

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