Revolutionary Letters – Diane di Prima (1971)


“Poetry, for Diane di Prima, was a living thing. Poetry lived in myths, histories and obscure hermetic texts as much as it lived in the cadences and rhythms of daily life: meals, homes, children, friends, contemporary happenings. Nowhere is this orientation toward poetry as a living entity more prominent than in di Prima’s books. In her 86 years, di Prima published over 40 books and wrote many more. Revolutionary Letters, one of di Prima’s best-known, most-loved collections of writing, was founded on a particularly di Prima-esque premise of aliveness: that the numbered series of letter-poems in the collection would be ongoing, always expanding, never closed. She began writing her Revolutionary Letters in 1968, soon after she moved to San Francisco to work with The Diggers, an activist-performance troupe who distributed free food around the Bay Area. Di Prima read these early ‘letters – numbered poems combining elements of lyric, epistle, memoir and practical instruction in the arts of revolution – on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, offering them to passing officials as an urgent performance. She sent the letters as she wrote them to the Liberation News Service, an underground organisation that distributed them to over 200 free and independent newspapers across the US and Canada, where they were read by thousands of people. Revolutionary Letters was first collected and published as a book in 1971; the book saw five expanded printings between 1974 and 2007. Di Prima continued to write revolutionary letters – in response to oppression, corruption, war and the human potential for spiritual courage – for the rest of her life. For di Prima, revolution – like poetry – was a living entity, a state of being in direct contact with the most essential aspects of life, and a fearlessly expedition into unknown physical or spiritual territory. … Di Prima dedicated the collection to Bob Dylan and her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, an Italian Anarchist who emigrated to the US in the early years of the 20th century. Some of di Prima’s earliest memories were of reading Dante and Giordano Bruno with Mallozzi, a skilled tailor by trade who was friends with Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman and often spoke at anarchist gatherings in the Bronx. The fierceness and joy of Italian Anarchism runs throughout Revolutionary Letters, bursting forth in lyrics, chants and declarations: ‘Even the poorest of us/ will have to give up something/ to live free’ (‘Revolutionary Letter #17’). …”
frieze – Diane di Prima’s Guidebook to Revolution
For Diane di Prima 1934-2020 (Video)
Harpers Bazaar: What We Can Learn From Diane Di Prima
City Lights – Revolutionary Letters: Expanded Edition – Pocket Poets Series No. 27
Revolutionary Letters 1-3, by Diane DiPrima
YouTube: Revolutionary Letters, 1969

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