Diane di Prima (1984) at Caffè Trieste, taken by Allen Ginsberg. Photo courteously provided by Richard Modiano.

Diane di Prima: Poet and Shaman

Born and raised in Brooklyn NYC Diane di Prima came from a second generation Italian-American family with a background in labor militancy. Diane had a long career as a poet, writer, publisher, teacher, Occultist, Pagan, Zen practioner and finally as a Tibetan Buddhist. Her 36 books include Memoirs of a Beatnik, Loba, Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, Recollections of My Life As A Woman and most recently, The Poetry Deal.

Di Prima was one of the few woman-writers in the tiny Beat movement. She unhesitatingly embraced the Beat descriptor and wrote Memoirs of a Beatnik capturing the American avant garde artist’s way of life in vivid and imaginative prose.

Her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozi was a major influence on her life, and the time she spent with him and his anarchist comrades, including the legendary Carlo Tresca, editor and publisher of Il Martello, always stayed with her; during the 1960s she was an activist in anti-war movement and the women’s rights movement, and she carried the splendid dream her grandfather sought to realize, the creation of a truly free society, without classes, exploitation, cops, jails or other violence and misery, with her for her entire life. Indeed, the anarchist impetus to Do It Yourself was realized by Diane in the creation of the Poets Theater, the Poets Press and the legendary journal Floating Bear.

After Diane and her partner Shepard Powell became students of Lama Tharchin I saw them from time to time at the Last Chance Gompa on Fell St. in the Haight (actually the attic in the house of one of Rinpoche’s senior students the Poet Marc Olmsted). I always wore my IWW pin and she noticed it immediately, always eager to chance on someone who was both an activist and spiritual seeker. As for her poetry, for me her masterpieces are Revolutionary Letters and Loba (I believe that she did significant revision on this poem sequence even though a lot of her other work was of the “first thought, best thought” school.) An extraordinary woman!

Richard Modiano is a native of Los Angeles. He attended the University of Hawaii and New York University. While a resident of New York City he became active in the literary community connected to the Poetry Project where he came to know Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Ann Waldman, William S. Burroughs and Ted Berrigan. From 2010 to 2019, he served as Executive Director of Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. In that time he produced and curated hundreds of literary events. His devotion to poetry and literature relaunched Beyond Baroque for a new generation of writers and artists. Richard is a rank and file member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and the publisher of the Moon & Sun Review. In 2019, he was elected as Vice President of the California State Poetry Society.