A Beat poet’s journal following the suicide of her closest friend encompasses many seasons and cycles of life and death.
For decades, di Prima (The Poetry Deal, 2014, etc.) has provided an important female perspective on a Beat generation whose best-known figures have been male. This volume, studded with beautiful moments but often scattershot, began as letters she wrote daily to dancer and Andy Warhol acolyte Freddie Herko, who leapt to his death from a window when he was 29, leaving many projects and plans unfulfilled. “I pray now that your third love came, in silver shoes, and veiled, that she glittered and danced for you, a boy-girl, a child with the secrets,” writes the author. “That you followed her out the window.” More likely, Herko’s death was caused by a combination of amphetamine-fueled desperation or insanity. “You cleaned yourself, you danced, you shed your flesh,” writes di Prima. “A leap that bought the new age and turned us loose.” With evocative detail and introspective insight, she writes of that loss and the feeling of being turned loose, occasionally unmoored, struggling to create art through years of living in barely habitable apartments. She also writes, often in a fractured manner, about how her marriage to the man who had been Herko’s partner was troubled from the start. She conceived a child with another man and ended that pregnancy with an abortion that continued to haunt her. She went to Timothy Leary’s wedding, copy edited Herbert Huncke, took LSD, wrote poems, and made plays. She saw the beatniks and their bongos give way to the hippies, “hairier than the old. They are wreathed in perpetual, goony, elaborate grins.” She fell deeply in love with other women, though most relationships seemed to be troubled, transitory, or both. “Peter took refuge downstairs, we spoke mythologies. We sniffed cocaine together, Peter buying. Peter set out for India. Returned in two months, tanned and older, moved in with me. We set out to get married, but we failed.”
A useful document for scholars of the Beat generation.