Google the “Beat Generation” and names like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs populate the results.
Other writers, however, made their mark with literature that explored the post-Greatest Generation era with themes at once sensuous and spiritual, hedonistic yet non-materialistic. For one, poet Diane di Prima stretched social conventions with her stream-of-consciousness poetics tinged with Beat influences and feminism.
The so-called “Queen of the Beats” earns the attention of Dr. William Nesbitt, an associate professor of English at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. — the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences — in the May edition of “Beatdom 17.” The literary journal focuses on poetry, fiction and essays about all things Beat Generation. Politics is this edition’s theme.
Nesbitt’s essay, “Echoes of the Revolution: Diane di Prima and the Beat Generation,” one of a baker’s dozen in the journal, examines the evolution of di Prima’s revolutionary focus.
“To oversimplify, in her early work she thinks of revolution as armed resistance,” he says, “and in her later work revolution becomes an inward, personal act in some respects.”
Nesbitt — for whom Beat literature is a major focus area — originally penned the essay last year for a conference examining revolution for the University of Florida.
Works by di Prima “may reflect a struggle with the political and social upheavals that occurred in the 1960’s and 1970’s,” according to The Beat Page, however, her writing often focused on her personal life and relationships.”
di Prima spoke of that demanding duality as a militant, feminist and writer who fully embraced her womanhood in a 2002 interview in Jacket Magazine.
“I wanted everything — very earnestly and totally — I wanted to have every experience I could have, I wanted everything that was possible to a person in a female body, and that meant that I wanted to be mother.… So my feeling was, ‘Well’—as I had many times had the feeling—‘Well, nobody’s done it quite this way before but f— it, that’s what I’m doing, I’m going to risk it.’”
It’s that intersection of the outward and inward from which Nesbitt unearths revolutionary conclusions.
“There are lots of ways to engage in revolutionary acts,” says Nesbitt, chair of the interdisciplinary studies department at Beacon. “Overturning the government on a mass scale is one blunt and obvious example. Small acts or even thoughts of random and unknown compassion may be equally or more powerful. However, they can also be harder to notice.”
What isn’t hard to notice, Nesbitt notes, is the literary influence of di Prima — who authored more than 40 published books.
“She helped contribute to not just women’s literature, but the idea of women’s literature that can be rebellious,” he says. “Also, she helped contribute to the validity of literature about women and women’s experiences as opposed to a woman writing about herself only in relationship to men.”
Beatdom 17 is available now on Amazon.com for Kindle or in paperback.