Reading thru diane di prima’s “dinners and nightmares”, part 4: conversations

Part 1 is a food diary, part 2 is a log, part 3 is a fable, and part 4 is a minimalist play. What are we even talking about when we talk about poems? Mostly, we are talking about talking, literally, as in poems, confessional or otherwise, that read as/are transcribed speech, or metaphorically, as in what does the poem ‘say,’ who is the speaker/narrator/I, and all of the other institutionalized methods of analysis that students of poetry are offered to enter the form. Because poems ‘speak’ to people, our situation/society/language, metaphorically, through metaphors, and literally, through language. It’s generally all pretty boring and one-dimensional and I still despise plays.

In the first two dialogues, Di Prima was comfortable occupying her I. Parts 3 and 4 are made up of conversations, and in both, Di Prima chooses to adopt an alias. In part 3 she was a small boy. In part 4 she is Lee, an androgynous name but revealed as a woman in a wonderfully trivial exchange with her roommate, Mark, about domestic frustration:

You know I said to Mark that I’m furious at you.

No he said are you bugged. He was drawing Brad who was asleep on the bed.

Yes I said I’m pretty god damned bugged. I sat down by the fire and stuck my feet out to warm them up.

Jesus I thought you think it’s so easy. There you sit innocence personified. I didn’t say anything else to him.

You know I thought I’ve got work to do too sometimes. In fact I probably have just as fucking much work to do as you do. A piece of wood fell out of the fire and I poked it back in with my toe.

I am sick I said to the woodpile of doing dishes. I am just as lazy as you. Maybe lazier. The toe of my shoe was scorched from the fire and I rubbed it where the suede was gone.

Just because I happen to be a chick I thought.

Mark finished one drawing and looked at it. Then he put it down and started another one.

It’s damned arrogant of you I thought to assume that only you have things to do. Especially tonight.

And what a god damned concession it was for me to bother to tell you that I was bugged at all I said to the back of his neck. I didn’t say it out loud.

I got up and went into the kitchen to do the dishes. And shit I thought I probably won’t bother again. But I’ll get bugged and not bother to tell you and after a while everything will be awful and I’ll never say anything because it’s so fucking uncool to talk about it. And that I thought that will be that and what a shame.

Hey hon Mark yelled at me from the living room. It says here Picasso produces fourteen hours a day.

This suite of conversations continues her discussions of food, mothering, and the home by clearly juxtaposing the idea of Women’s Work (housekeeping, cooking, prostitution, modeling) against Male Work, namely war and unfortunately art with mentions of Da Vinci, Bach, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Baudelaire, Van Gogh, Calder, Miles Davis, Picasso, Paderewski, and even Marlon Brando. What the three roommates, Mark the Artist, Brad the Dancer, and Lee the Poet, talk about when they talk is art, very hip, very New York, but art confined to the realm of the male canon. The only female artist that is mentioned is Lee, isolated in her bubble of poetry. Lee is a nude model for elderly artists, she sleeps with married men, spends free days looking at art, lives with two gay artists, and bemoans her imposed domestic responsibilities. Is it all some critique of her mid-century female role, one that she was not comfortable articulating herself, as Diane, the sole female artist in her universe? I’m not sure but what I do know is that the canon actually imploded on January 1st, 2000 at 12:00 a.m and what Y2K really stands for is YES 2 KUNTS as the new millennium abandoned history and our majority shareholder is…

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