Diane di Prima and the Dream of the East Village Avant-Garde


“Freddie was running late. He was supposed to be in the East Village at the Poets Theatre, where his closest friend, the poet Diane di Prima, was hosting a night of dance performances. Recently, the friends had lost one of their number, to drugs or suicide, they weren’t sure which. Freddie was going to dance in their memory. As the audience waited, di Prima paced the lobby, worried that something similarly awful had happened to Freddie; she could tell amphetamines were starting to unravel him. But then he appeared, in black tights, a black leotard, toe shoes, and a mask painted on his face. ‘Kill all the lights,’ he told di Prima. It was the spring of 1964, and the dance, For Sergio, had begun. In silence except for his labored breathing and the sound of his shoes scraping the floor, Freddie Herko held a candle up to a mirror and walked en pointe down one aisle, across the front of the theater, up the other aisle, then out of the building, vanishing into the night. ‘It was a rite of mourning,’ di Prima wrote in her 2001 memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman. Soon after, Freddie Herko would die by leaping—in a perfect jeté, according to the sole witness—from a fifth-story Greenwich Village window. Di Prima’s friendship with him and his death at age 28 were defining experiences of her life, and he has been the focus of several of her books, including Freddie Poems (1974) and Recollections. (He also appeared, lightly fictionalized, as the character of Leslie in her 1969 Memoirs of a Beatnik.) A new book by di Prima, who died last year at the age of 86, offers another view of Herko and the downtown bohemian scene of early 1960s New York of which they were a part. Composed the year following his death but unpublished until now, Spring and Autumn Annals: A Celebration of the Seasons for Freddie takes the reader through di Prima’s own rite of mourning—for her friend, for the changing milieu of their scene, and for a city that, without Freddie, could no longer hold her. Di Prima is often labeled a Beat writer, and the formative years of her long career were indeed spent in the downtown haunts (bookstores, lofts, cafes) of Manhattan in the late 1950s. …”
The Nation
amazon: Spring and Autumn Annals: A Celebration of the Seasons for Freddie

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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