A di Prima Duo | Literature, March 2019

Readers interested in di Prima and her bohemian fraternity will appreciate this memoir; for libraries serious about American history and poetry

di Prima, Diane. Spring and Autumn Annals: A Celebration of the Seasons. City Lights. May 2019. 210p. photos. ISBN 9780872867871. pap. $16.95. LIT
Di Prima (Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years) revisits a period (1954–65) covered in her earlier autobiography. This memoir, however, takes the form of an elegy for her close friend Freddie Herko, a dancer and choreographer, who jumped to his death from the window of a Greenwich Village apartment in October 1964. Di Prima’s memories are grouped in chapters devoted to the four seasons, with vivid descriptions of holiday celebrations, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, the solstices, Christmas, and Good Friday. They recount her struggles to raise her children on New York’s Lower East Side, often in rooms without heat or light and highlight her artistic collaborations with members of the avant-garde community that took root there, including LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Allen Ginsberg, Alan Marlowe, and Herbert Huncke. Herko’s spirit is ever present both in di Prima’s waking consciousness and in her dreams. No doubt, the journal entries that served as a basis for this book helped di Prima assuage her grief over Herko’s tragic death. VERDICT Readers interested in di Prima and her bohemian fraternity will appreciate this memoir both for its elegant prose and re-creation of a vibrant art scene that now exists only in memory.—William Gargan, emeritus, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY

Revolutionary Lettersdi Prima, Diane. Revolutionary Letters: Expanded Edition. City Lights. (Pocket Poets). May 2019. 212p. ISBN 9780872867611. $15.95. POETRY
Originally issued in mimeograph form by the Communication Company in 1968, this work was published by City Lights in four editions between 1971 and 1979, with each edition including additional poems. An expanded edition was published in 2007 by Last Gasp, and here we have a 50th-anniversary run from City Lights enriched by 18 more pieces. The collection nicely captures both the essential di Prima and the spirit of leftist engagé writing of the last decades. The early poems read like an activist’s manual ("Everytime you pick the spot for a be-in/ a demonstration, a march, a rally, you are choosing the ground for a potential battle"), and more than halfway through the poet is still exhorting us "refuse to obey/ refuse to die." Maybe she gentles somewhat toward the end, (Well, we can’t build the new society w/in the shell of the old’), but it’s mostly through wisdom, not loss of faith: if you must choose your shot carefully, it’s because you must consider "where/ will it do/ the most/ damage?" Stylistically, the poems start at a march, nearly a run, and open up to be more fluid and conversational, but the collection is a coherent whole. VERDICT For libraries serious about American history and poetry.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

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