Mother and Maiden: The Expansive Treatment of Feminine Identity in Diane di Prima’s Loba

Often singled out as one of the key female figures of the Beat movement – with her Loba, an epic-length collection of over 200 poems, frequently viewed as the feminist counterpart to Ginsberg’s Howl – Diane di Prima is certainly very feminist in her writing. Loba presents itself as a sort of creation myth that focuses around the titular goddess, Loba. Each short poem speaks, in some way, to a different facet of the Loba so that, when taken together, one might get a sense for the far-reaching expanse of the feminist Loba-goddess. And by tapping in to many, many different religious stories and myths as a way to knit the identity of the Loba-goddess together, di Prima is able to speak to the far-reaching nature of the feminine identity in the same way.

The many different strands of myth and religion that are woven together to form Loba has attracted critical attention and the impressive breadth of mythic incorporation leaves a lot of room for scholarship on the subject. By plumbing the depths of di Prima’s work, specifically Loba, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of not only the Beat movement as a whole, but di Prima’s role as a female poet within that movement and how her poetry fits, or doesn’t fit, within that framework. Diane di Prima is, at times, crossing many cultural and artistic lines and the boundless female identity she creates, as portrayed by the Loba, in some ways works to mirror di Prima’s own boundless tendencies in terms of poetic schooling.

My goal for this project is, in part, to examine a small branch of di Prima’s extensive and complex use of myth and religious stories. Specifically, I am looking to contextualize Loba by reading it against the Celtic myths concerning Cailleach and their subsequent branches into the Corn-mother/Corn-maiden mythic tradition, as well as it’s echoes in the medieval bardic themes of the AVE/EVA trope. The duality of feminine identity present in these myths – namely the hag/beauty, mother/maiden, saint/sinner dualities – are all present in Loba but, rather than working in opposition, di Prima’s Loba hold space for all of these feminine forms to exist simultaneously as part of a single identity and, in doing so, speaks to the patriarchal holding on these traditional themes throughout history.

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