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Diane di Prima : Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions
Bloomsbury Academic

Diane di Prima : Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions

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Diane di Prima
Author(s): David Stephen Calonne

Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions reveals how central di Prima was in the discovery, articulation and dissemination of the major themes of the Beat and hippie countercultures from the fifties to the present.

Di Prima (1934--) was at the center of literary, artistic, and musical culture in New York City. She also was at the energetic fulcrum of the Beat movement and, with Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), edited The Floating Bear (1961-69), a central publication of the period to which William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, and Frank O'Hara contributed. Di Prima was also a pioneer in her challenges to conventional assumptions regarding love, sexuality, marriage, and the role of women.

David Stephen Calonne charts the life work of di Prima through close readings of her poetry, prose, and autobiographical writings, exploring her thorough immersion in world spiritual traditions and how these studies informed both the form and content of her oeuvre. Di Prima's engagement in what she would call “the hidden religions” can be divided into several phases: her years at Swarthmore College and in New York; her move to San Francisco and immersion in Zen; her researches into the I Ching, Paracelsus, John Dee, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, alchemy, Tarot, and Kabbalah of the mid-sixties; and her later interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions is the first monograph devoted to a writer of genius whose prolific work is notable for its stylistic variety, wit and humor, struggle for social justice, and philosophical depth.


"[Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions] is an in-depth study of an explicitly, intentionally untraceable poetics; it challenges its reader further by offering encyclopedic glosses of difficult, complex thought-systems ... what this book does is show an arc of personal and philosophic growth, recording the power--dense, layered, rich, suggestive--of the various fields of resonance in which Di Prima's work operated. Her work is revealed as 'visionary' and 'religious' in hidden and often mathematically riddled ways. Towards its conclusion, the study's point, like Di Prima's work, crystallizes, with clarity, cohesion, and subtlety ... Using complex hand gestures in a terse prose form, the book points to extremely complicated religions, modes of abandoning reason, histories of thought. Calonne's chapters, paragraphs--even sentences--are dense. But by the end of the book one realizes they had to be. Like the poetry his study is devoted to, Calonne is not interested in the simple telling of stories. Calonne provides a real sense of the complexity and depth of an understudied, often overlooked, immense poetic figure--in modes that often feel genuinely triumphant in their gender blindness ... The book is generous in pointing out routes of access to such gorgeously complex poetry, refusing to keep the signs of Di Prima's magic to itself." - The Modern Language Review

“One can’t help but be staggered by the amount and depth of research that went into Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions—Calonne’s study incorporates aspects of literary history, works by a wide range of authors, criticism specific to the Beats and associated circles, and texts by and about theologians, scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, philosophers, alchemists, and practitioners of occult mysteries. Beyond the considerable undertaking of explicating arcane and esoteric sources spanning more than ten centuries, his project of accounting for di Prima’s full canon is daunting in and of itself .... Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions is essential reading for scholars and students of di Prima and the Beats. It opens di Prima’s canon in new ways and reveals fascinating lines of exchange between writers that add depth and dimension to Beat studies.” - Journal of Beat Studies

"To claim that Diane Di Prima deserves more attention is a gross understatement. Poet,
activist, scholar, publisher, translator, and teacher, Di Prima was intimately involved in
some of the major literary and cultural movements of the second half of the 20th
century, from the Beat and avant-garde scene in 1950s New York to the later 1960s
California counterculture, and beyond. Fortunately, Calonne’s magisterial work Diane Di
Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions
, the first book-length study that critically
engages Di Prima and her writing, does an admirable job beginning to fill this void in
the scholarship ... Calonne’s intellectual biography manages to be both an important
sourcebook for scholars in the field as well as an engaging read for anyone interested in
the intellectual development of this singular thinker." - European Journal of American Studies

“What is made definitively clear by Calonne’s study is that there are many more publications by and about di Prima yet to come. Calonne has done a fine job delimiting areas of her work where arcane and occult source materials play a vital role.” - Rain Taxi Review of Books

“Di Prima not only deserves more recognition but wonderfully rewards it, and the greatest success of David Calonne's informed book is to match the breadth and depth of her thought and work, capturing her unique mix of the esoteric and the street-level, and attracting more readers to her uplifting visionary poetics and undimmed political radicalism.” —Veronique Lane, Senior Teaching Associate in French Studies, Lancaster University, UK

“Reading David Calonne's extraordinary study of Diane di Prima is to experience a true Renaissance mind in the body of a contemporary Italian-American woman. Taking readers from di Prima's often brutal childhood to her current status as revered poet activist, Calonne maps the contours of a woman who bridged Beat poetics with Hippy politics, embraced the hermetic traditions of artistic and environmental renewal, engaged with genuine integrity numerous social justice programs, galvanized the second-wave feminist movement, and persistently revelled in the multi-media realities of 20th- and 21st-century art communities. Calonne's book, a critical biography, testifies to the power of the imagination to create a life inseparable from art. It took far too long for a full-length study of di Prima to be written, so, many thanks to David Calonne for remedying that slight.” —Nancy M. Grace, Virginia Myers Professor English (emerita), The College of Wooster, USA, and author of Jack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination (2007) and co-editor of Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation (2002) and of The Transnational Beat Generation (2012)

“Calonne's book is a brilliant exploration of the core of di Prima's work, taking in her engagement with some of the most significant literary traditions of modernity, including Ezra Pound's new poetic languages and the visionary poetics of H.D., her reading of spirituality and eastern religions, and her role in the contemporary literary scene of America. This book is a long overdue academic appraisal of one of the most significant writers of her generation.” —Polina Mackay, Associate Professor of English Literature, University of Nicosia, Cyprus, and Vice President, European Beat Studies Network

“Calonne has written the first book-length critical study of Diane di Prima, one of America's greatest modern poets, and it is worthy of the large and enthusiastic readership she has inspired for over half a century. Seamlessly interweaving the legacies of the West and the East, di Prima observed, absorbed, and sometimes led the major cultural movements of the postwar U.S. from the Beat Generation to the feminist revolution. Contextualizing the poetry in her autobiographies, journals, lectures, and activism, Calonne explores the intellectual stringency, wit, and visionary pragmatism which distinguishes di Prima's art. Di Prima discovered early that 'the dark was luminous. That much I KNEW,' and now we know it too. A remarkable work of devoted scholarship.” —Ann Douglas, Parr Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, USA, and author of Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920's (1995)

ISBN:  9781501342905