Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At the center of “April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa” is family pride. Di Prima loves and admires her grandfather, pays tribute to him, and takes inspiration from him. She recalls his personal attention and love for her and is thankful for all the things she learned from him. In addition, a strong sense of national pride is developed as memories of the grandfather call attention to the glorious tradition of Italy, including immortal artists and philosophers such as Dante and Bruno as well as dedicated contemporary Italian reformers such as Tresca, Sacco, and Vanzetti. Finally, the revolutionary cause is honored as a timeless, worldwide effort, with noble figures such as Beardsley, Wilde, Trotsky, Shelley, Kropotkin, Eisenstein, and Cocteau taking part. Today, di Prima and her revolutionary associates carry on a great tradition.

A further significance in di Prima’s poem is her clarification of the spirit of anarchism. For some, anarchy suggests disorder and violence. While some anarchists are guilty of violent crimes, the anarchists that di Prima honors represent an emphasis on general human well-being and love. Thus, di Prima’s poem contradicts an erroneous generalization about the proponents of anarchy and the meaning of their philosophy. Today, di Prima’s partners in revolution are not assassins and agents of chaos, but “young men with light in their faces”; di Prima herself finds that she must “embrace strangers on the street” as part of her effort to create a society free from oppressive authority. In addition, the poet calls attention to the sacrifices and injustices that reformers must endure. For a belief in love and freedom, one may be scorned, ridiculed, arrested, imprisoned, exiled, or even executed.

Finally, “April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa” is a comment on what a poem can be. While the poem observes the conventions of the elegy and incorporates familiar methods, such as apostrophe and allusion, the poem abandons rhyme, meter, and, for the most part, figurative language. Lines may have as many as ten words or may be a single word. This combination of standard methods with unconventional methods underscores the central theme of the poem. Just as revolution, the process for establishing a new and better world, has a long-standing tradition, so di Prima’s poem, which honors the pursuit of a new and better world, is based on the old and the new in poetic design.