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A Chance Encounter with Diane di Prima (RIP 1934-2020)

October 28, 2020



Left to themselves people

grow their hair.

Left to themselves they

take off their shoes.

Left to themselves they make love

sleep easily

share blankets, dope & children

they are not lazy or afraid

they plant seeds, they smile, they

speak to one another. The word

coming into its own: touch of love;

on the brain, the ear.

–Diane di Prima

She shared this poem in the film, The Last Waltz, which you can watch below:


Born in 1934, Diane di Prima died on Sunday October 25, 2020. A poet, prose writer, playwright, and teacher, di Prima author 44 books of poetry and prose translated into over twenty languages. Books include Pieces of a Song (City Lights, 1990), Loba: Books I and II (Penguin, 1998), Recollections of My Life as a Woman (Viking, 2001) and Revolutionary Letters (Last Gasp Press of San Francisco, 2007). . Among di Prima’s many accolades, she was poet laureate of San Francisco; listen to her speech on her inauguration in 2009.

I heard her read a couple  times, and attended a very small workshop with her at the Chance Conference in Nevada in November 1996 titled “Chance: 3 Days in the Desert.”

In addition to di Prima, Jean Baudrillard was a highlight, and a big draw to the over 500 artists, philosophers, poets, academics, and writers from North America and Europe converged near Las Vegas at Whiskey Pete’s where we experienced chance in every way possible.

I was there myself by chance: I had no money and no car that would get me from Art City in Ventura to Vegas, but a friend took a chance and rented me a car, so I went, sleeping in the car in the parking lot, and then, when it was over, took a chance on a new friend, a fellow academic that I met in that workshop, and went out into the desert for a joyride, seeing where chance would take us to watch the sunset. I don’t remember his name or what school he taught at — maybe Prescott AZ? — but we didn’t get lost or stuck. By chance we found our way back.

In Diane’s workshop, we did “Chance Operations” using chance and the I Ching as writing prompts, along with scissors and text. Here’s a description of one such chance operation from Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto on Feeble & Bitter Love” (as translated from the original French by Barbara Wright):

     Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

Somewhere I have the poems I wrote; I think they may be tucked into her book, not sure where it is.

I do know the location of the Baudrillard book I bought, The System of Objects. So I opened it by chance to this passage on page 47:

In honor of Diane di Prima, I should next cut words and phrases apart, add some words from the newspaper the day she died, blindly collect and reconfigure them into a poem. Instead, I find this one from that page selected by chance:

A Close Reading of Modern Furnishings
by Gwendolyn Alley 10/27/20

A Close Reading of Modern Furnishings:
the chairs, the sofas, the coffee table
converse among themselves with an ease
comparable to the dinner guests who
mingle and drift apart with the very
same freedom and convey the same message:
namely, that it is quite possible to
live without working, work without living.

Check out Diane’s work including Memoirs of a Beatnik.

And check out more of mine! I’ll be coming to YOU via ZOOM on Thursday Dec. 3 at 730pm reading new work and old favorites! Will do a reminder post as the day gets closer.

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 960 750 1600
future features include
November 5 Joshua Escobar
November 12 TBA
November 19 Mary Kay Rummel
December 3 Gwendolyn Alley (ME!)
December 10 Scott Struman
December 17 Kim Young
Ventura County Poetry Project
more poetry here… over 1000 videos

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