Although men such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs have dominated the public’s attention in studies of Beat writers, Diane di Prima’s close association with them brought her minimal acclaim. She is not only the premier woman poet of this group but also a writer whose prototypical feminist thought introduced an underground feminist mythology to American literary culture. “Brass Furnace Going Out” is a highly personalized poem depicting a shattering experience that transformed the consciousness of the poet as the experiences reflected in “Howl” did for Ginsberg. Both works are intense renderings of emotional responses that explore dimensions of a subject not previously considered appropriate for literary discourse.
As were many of her contemporaries, di Prima was quite familiar with conventional literary forms but recognized that it was necessary to create a distinctly singular voice to capture the full range of her subject. Her inventive employment of the rhythms of speech and thought, combined with an artful insertion of items from an arcane mythological base, not only made her exploration especially vivid but also created new ways of seeing. Her avoidance of easy judgment, her disinclination to preach or moralize, has kept the poem relevant, whereas propaganda for either pro-choice or pro-life positions on abortion can easily become strident and stale.
As Ann Charters observed, di Prima has been “dismayed that her eloquent meditation on her early abortion has been read by antiabortion groups as supporting their cause.” Beyond the compelling nature of a charged subject, di Prima’s poem is about loss and acceptance in both a specifically personal and a universal sense. Di Prima has not understated the particularly feminine aspects of the experience in tracing the process of grief that follows a traumatizing event, but the poem is not bound by any definitions of gender.