About a year ago, I took an English course called Women Writers and the Metropolis. At the time that I registered for it, I was more or less concerned about finding a class that fit into my schedule and counted towards my major, but over the scope of the class I became more and more intrigued in the actual contents of the course and I found myself actually looking forward to going to that class. The reading selections were refreshing and enjoyable and didn’t put me to sleep. Since March is Women’s History Month, I’ve decided to use this space for both nostalgic and honorary purposes.
One of the assigned readings was a chapter from Diane di Prima’s book, Dinners and Nightmares. I have to be honest, I was biased towards Diane di Prima and automatically decided that I would not be any fan of hers. This was because I read How I Became Hettie Jones two years prior and di Prima’s name was dropped as the husband stealing home wrecker who lent a helping hand in the demolition of poor Hettie Jones’s marriage. Di Prima was already an established villain in my mind. But I digress. So we read the second to last chapter, “What I Ate Where” and after that I for some odd reason or another, I felt not only intrigued but also slightly inspired.
As a woman of the Beat Generation, Diane di Prima’s writing style undoubtedly reflects the movement that she was a part of. She rejects basic rules of writing such as capitalizing the first word in a sentence, grammar and sentence structure is whatever she wants it to be and pretty much she writes how the average person thinks— scattered all over the place. But for reasons that I can only try to explain, I loved every bit of it.
In “What I Ate Where” di Prima recounts some of the meals she shared with her fellow Beatniks on a typical day in the life as well as on special occasions. Di Prima recalls meals that make absolutely no sense at all. Her Thanksgiving of 1955 menu consisted of “clams on the half shell, roast duck, filet mignon, salad-mushrooms-asparagus, hot rolls, Chablis-vin rosé, and Italian pastry.” Now I love combining different foods together for just for thrills but this menu was just too much for me.
The only thing worse than Thanksgiving was di Prima’s account of “the food on east Fifth Street” that she shared on a daily basis with fellow Beatniks. The comfort food that was consumed on a daily basis was a poor mans meal. Potatoes in tomato soup. That’s what they ate. What did they call this dish? They called it menstrual pudding.
Now normally I would draw inspiration from stories to recreate a dish but on this one I’ll definitely pass. Nevertheless, di Prima’s accounts in “What I Ate Where” delighted me because they seemed to come from a genuine and honest place and I was grateful that she shared these memories with us. I honestly believe that di Prima ate these crazy meals but more so, her accounts helped me to get a better understanding of the Beat Generation. I am intrigued by their rejection of cultural norms, their innovative mindset, and the literature produced all in the making. If I were a New Yorker living in the fifties, I more than likely would’ve been a Beatnik.