The Buddhist beat poetics of Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


A pronounced spiritual and aesthetic interest in the East has pervaded American cultural, intellectual and aesthetic thought since the mid nineteenth century. From the Transcendentalists to the Modernists, the Harlem Renaissance writers to the Beats, American authors--and poets, in particular--have engaged in a number of imaginative conversations with Eastern religions; however, no discourse has proven more pervasive than the American-Budda poetic one initiated by Beat Generation poets of the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of the work of poets like Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel--the two authors who serve as the focus of this spirit poetic dissertation--Buddhism has become a sacred muse in contemporary American poetic discourse, and has proven to be a catalyst for a turn toward language as sacred ritual in American poetry after WWII. While indeed a great deal of scholarly attention has been traditionally paid to male authorial engagements with Buddhism, the twenty-first century has proven a fruitful epoch for examining female contributions to Buddhist literature, and female and male scholars, critics, literary-historians and poets like Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel have worked to (re)vise, (re)define, (re)imagine, and (re)interpret poetry, culture, and identity through a Buddhist lens. This dissertation seeks then to meditate upon ways American female poets Diane di Prima and Lenore Kandel have fundamentally shaped the form and content of American Buddhist poetics by meditating deeply on the nature of human suffering and by utilizing the consecrated space of poetry as a means to minimize human anguish. More specifically, this dissertation will contemplate the literary and artistic, mytho-spiritual quests made by two unique women writers of the Beat Generation who, like Buddha, have courageously journeyed into the depths of the human mind, heart and spirit to liberate themselves, and others, from individual and collective samsara in search of personal healing, creative freedom and spiritual reawakening.