by Diane Di Prima
   This marvelous example of late Beat poetry was written in 1985 and included in the 1990 collection Pieces of a Song. By title, form, and spirit diane di prima’s “Rant” evokes allen ginsberg’s “howl.” Di Prima has contended this conclusion, insisting rather that charles olson is the contemporary inspiration for the piece. The poem also brings to mind the influence of Ezra Pound, whom di Prima made a pilgrimage to visit at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., in 1955. In January 1967, di Prima wrote a related poem, “Rant from a Cool Place,” which was included in the 1971 volume Revolutionary Letters and which offers a vernacular prequel of “cold prosaic fact” that is specified in its moment (“genocide in Southeast Asia now in progress Laos Vietnam / Thailand Cambodia O soft-spoken Sukarno”) in contrast to the more generally existential and spiritual discontents of the successor “Rant.” The two poems intimate the invention of a genre, the preslam rant, which in di Prima’s hand is a fervent, hectoring poem of protest and demand.
   The 1985 “Rant” is a jeremiad that is a defense of art, spirituality, and intellectual pursuit, a defense of interiority, as “intellectus means ‘light of the mind.’ ” The title of the poem in the context of its claims and calls for correction suggest the unbottled rage of the subaltern, here the poet-speaker/activist. The verses are specifically encompassing (“every man / every woman carries a firmament inside,” “A woman’s life / a man’s life is an allegory”), and the poem stipulates a wholeness of sentience—“there is nothing to integrate, you are a presence / you are an appendage of the work”—through which mind labors to produce art, to express imagination. Formulating an exemplary Beat movement and postmodern aesthetic, the poem dismisses boundaries that divide poetry making from daily life-processes: “there is no part of yourself you can separate out / saying, this is memory, this is sensation / this is work I care about, this is how / I make a living.” Rejecting tendencies to separate everyday from existential or artistic pursuits, articulating a poetics in which distinctions among self, labor, and aesthetics are erased, the speaker contends that manual labor, everyday forms of creative expression, have poetics and contain techniques for engendering consciousness: There is no way you can not have a poetics no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher you do it in the consciousness of making or not making yr world
   The poem rejects gender, class, and vocational limits about what merits the label “art” and who may be called an artist to include the caste of persons who have been by their work excluded. Everyday activities transferred from the historical/cultural record to the discourses of literary production are themselves poetic discoveries. All are implicated in the soul combat this poem defines and joins, for “There is no way out of the spiritual battle / the war is the war against the imagination / you can’t sign up as a conscientious objector.” Defending the “holy” and “precise” imagination, this “Rant” defends and honors the “inner sun,” the “central” fire of consciousness.
■ Johnson, Ronna C., and Maria Damon. “Recapturing the Skipped Beats.” Chronicle of Higher Education 46, no. 6 (October 1, 1999): B4, B6.
■ Kirschenbaum, Blossom S. “Diane di Prima: Extending La Famiglia.” MELUS 14, nos. 3–4 (Fall–Winter 1987).
■ Libby, Anthony. “Diane di Prima: ‘Nothing Is Lost; It Shines In Our Eyes.’ ” In Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation, edited by Ronna C. Johnson and Nancy M. Grace, 45–68. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
■ McNeil, Helen. “The Archaeology of Gender in the Beat Movement.” In The Beat Generation Writers, edited by A. Robert Lee, 178–199. East Haven, Conn.: Pluto Press, 1996.
■ Moffeit, Tony. “Pieces of a Song: Diane di Prima.” In Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers, edited by Nancy M. Grace and Ronna C. Johnson, 83–106. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
   Ronna C. Johnson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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