Wednesday, July 28, 2010


House Organ, Di Prima, Buffalo

About two weeks ago, the wonderful Number 71 Summer 2010 issue of House Organ arrived at my doorstep in Buffalo New York, where I've been living for about a year, doing a lot of interesting things, though not, as you can see, up to now, blogging. [I took a look at this tall thin stapled publication just now to see what the postmark date was, but it is not readable--anyway, how excellent!, alongside of it is a striking Richard Wright 61 cent stamp.]

Kenneth Warren, who has kept this exemplary mag going dependably--4 times a year through thick and thin!--for a very long time [now how many 'unofficial' literary magazines can say that!], has recently also moved to the Buffalo area, to rural Youngstown--having retired from his library duties in Lakewood, Ohio--so it's great to speak with him at events sometimes [we had known each other at SUNY/Buffalo in the 70s]--and we will have to have dinner sometime on Niagara Falls Blvd., as he has suggested.

There's much I'd like to speak of in Number 71, but to make sure I indeed post today, let me limit myself to Diane Di Prima's 4-line poem "Madhyamaka".

That alone is a wonderful thing about House Organ, that one can find in various issues, new work by Diane D. P., that legendary but rather neglected first generation member of the Beats. Readers can be excused for having the impression that she is no longer publishing; and in terms of releasing books, she does appear to have taken a vow of long mid-career abstention, akin to that of Robert Duncan.

It's important to note, however, which I myself didn't know or remember until doing some research today, that the 1998 edition of Di Prima's mythic/feminist epic Loba contains 16 sections, as compared to the 1978 Loba's 8 sections. [I definitely will have take a look at the 1998 expansion at the SUNY/Buffalo Special Collections: Poetry Room, scandalously the only library site in Buffalo where one can find any edition of Loba, and not a place from which any book can, like they say, circulate.]*

I must not forget to mention this: that Di Prima certainly has not been abstemious as regards offering her insights and perspectives on the Buffalo Poetics List in recent years. It has been a delight to read her comments there; one of the few delights the List has provided in these years.

OK, on to the Di Prima poem from the new House Organ:


so engrossed in the refutation
of the Imputed Self
I forget to turn on

the Giants game

The poem is enjoyable after the few second it takes to read it, but it's rich in implication. It's pared down writing, elegant in its vocabulary, and witty. It is very much at rest, but it provokes important questions.

Di Prima speaks of involving herself, as part of her practice of Madhyamaka, a Buddhist Mahayana tradition, in the intricacies of the argument against the Self, widely "imputed" to be the basis of any human's consciousness. She wants to cut this Self down to size, temporarily suspend it, show it to be an illusion, or whatever precisely she seeks to advocate and argue (I can't claim to know much of anything about Madhyamaka, or any, Buddhism).

I do know that when Di Prima invokes "the Giants game" droll and important matters are opened up. Perhaps, we think, it could simply be a matter of that there's a time for Religious Devotion, and a time for Entertainment. Or, more conceptually, and somewhat condescendingly, that there's a time for extinguishing the ego, and a time for enjoying the skills and antics of talented athletes who, in the nature of things, surely are mostly great egotists. Or can it be that one's meditational work on the Self, which shows one that one is "really only very small", as per the Hinduism of George Harrison's "Within You, and Without You", also provoke feelings sometimes of LARGENESS in one's newly organized consciousness, so that viewing "the Giants" will be quite appropriate after one's meditation?

I want to note finally that since the poem considers questions of the Self's largeness and smallness, the word "engrossed" quite wittily chimes in with this theme. (I imagine that Diane D. P. stumbled upon this very appropriate word choice via the Unconscious, as someone whose life is immersed in words is so often liable to do, and then later understood what she had done).

"Gross" is Middle English for large [derived from Old French gros and then Late Latin grossus, meaning thick.] There's an economic meaning for "engross", which I had never known about before, which refers to acquiring most or all of a commodity (monopolizing). To be "engrossed" by something is to be occupied exclusively, absorbed.

*So the latest poetry we have in book form from Di Prima is the 2001 Pieces of a Song: Selected Peoms [is there anything added beyond the 1990 version?]; the 1991 Seminary Poems [I just learned about this today}; and the 1998 additions to Loba. In prose there is the 2001 Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years.

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Catching up with blog reading today, but I'm not that far behind, and I find you've returned, and also moved: to Buffalo. Why? and what are you doing there?

And thanks for this posting.


Your August 10th blogpost-- "Without Words"--is delightful! I will be saying more about Buffalo and NYC, and perhaps some of my reasons for leaving New Yawk, as "Earth with City" progresses, but will now also send you a personal email.
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