For Diane di Prima 1934-2020

Head-on war is the mistake we make
time after time
There is a way around it, way to out?ank
technology, short circuit
“energy crisis”: retreat & silence
cunning
courage and love

Diane di Prima, Revolutionary Letter #58

Diane di Prima, famous beat poet, radical, anarchist, activist, died at age 86 on October 25, 2020. One of the better tributes to her was an interview with her daughter, Dominique di Prima, on CBC radio in Canada:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.5778707/beat-poet-diane-di-prima-taught-her-kids-to-question-authority-and-believe-in-their-own-creativity-1.5778900

(Thanks to Robert Graham for sharing this).

Below, we share a selection from Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters May 1968 – December 1971.  The full collection of letters may be found here. A collection of her work entitled The Poetry Deal is also available online here.

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #1

I have just realized that the stakes are myself

I have no other

ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life

my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over

the roulette table, I recoup what I can

nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu

nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag

this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with

this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move

as we slither over this go board, stepping always

(we hope) between the lines

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #2

The value of an individual life a credo they taught us

to instil fear, and inaction, ‘y ou on ly li ye once’

a fog in our eyes, we are

endless as the sea, not separate, we die

a million times a day, we are born

a million times, each breath life and death:

get up, put on your shoes, get

started, someone will finish

//

Tribe

an organism, one flesh, breathing joy as the stars

breathe destiny down on us, get

going, join hands, see to business, thousands of sons

will see to it when you fall, you will grow

a thousand times in the bellies of your sisters

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #4

Left to themselves people

grow their hair.

Left to themselves they

take off their shoe’s.

Left to themselves they make love

sleep easily

share blankets, dope & children

they are not lazy or afraid

they plant seeds, they smile, they

speak to one another. The word

coming into its own: touch of love;

on the brain, the ear.

//

We return with the sea, the tides

we return as often as leaves, as numerous

as grass, gentle, insistent, we remember

the way,

our babes toddle barefoot thru the cities of the universe.

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #9

advocating

the overthrow of government is a crime

overthrowing it is something else

altogether, it is sometimes called

revolution

but don’t kid yourself: government

is not where it’s at: it’s only

a good place to start:

1. kill head of Dow Chemical

2. destroy plant

3. MAKE IT UNPROFITABLE FOR THEM to build again,

i.e., destroy the concept of money

as we know it, get rid of interest,

savings, inheritance

(Pound’s money, as dated coupons that come in the mail

to everyone, and are void in 30 days

is still a good idea)

or, let’s start with no money at all and invent it

if we need it

or, mimeograph it and everyone

print as much as they want

and see what happens

//

declare a moratorium on debt

the Continental Congress did

‘on all debts public and private’

& no one ‘owns’ the land

it can be held

for use, no man holding more

than he can work, himself and family working

//

let no one work for another

except for love, and what you make above your needs be given to the tribe a

Common- Wealth

//

None of us knows the answers, think about

these things.

The day will come when we have to know

the answers.

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #12

the vortex of creation is the vortex of destruction

the vortex of artistic creation is the vortex of self destruction

the vortex of political creation is the vortex of flesh destruction

flesh is in the fire, it curls and terribly warps

fat is in the fire, it drips and sizzling sings

bones are in the fire

they crack tellingly in

subtle hieroglyphs of oracle

charcoal singed

the smell of your burning hair

for every revolutionary must at last will his own destruction

rooted as he is in the past he sets out to destroy

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #19

(for The Poor People’s Campaign)

if what you want is jobs

for everyone, you are still the enemy,

you have not thought thru, clearly

what that means

//

if what you want is housing,

industry (GE. on the Navaho reservation)

a car for everyone, garage, refrigerator,

TV, more plumbing, scientific

freeways, you are still

the enemy, you have chosen

to sacrifice the planet for a few years of some

science fiction Utopia, if what you want

//

still is, or can be, schools

where all our kids are pushed into one shape, are taught

it’s better to be American’ than black

or Indian, or Jap, or PR, where Dick

and Jane become and are the dream, do you

look like Dick’s father, don’t you think your kid

secretly wishes you did

//

if what you want

is clinics where the AMA

can feed you pills to keep you weak, or sterile

shoot germs into your kids, while Mercke & Co

grows richer

if you want

free psychiatric help for everyone

so that the shrinks

pimps for this decadence, can make

it flower for us, if you want

if you still want a piece

a small piece of suburbia, green lawn

laid down by the square foot

color TV, whose radiant energy

kills brain cells, whose subliminal ads

brainwash your children, have taken over

your dreams

//

degrees from universities which are nothing

more than slum landlords, festering sinks

of lies, so you too can go forth

and lie to others on some greeny campus

//

THEN YOU ARE STILL

THE ENEMY, you are selling

yourself short, remember

you can have what you ask for, ask for

everything

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #20

(for Huey Newton)

I will not rest

till men walk free & fearless on the earth each doing in the manner of his blood

& tribe, peaceful in the free air

//

till all can seek, unhindered the shape of their thought

no black cloud fear or guilt

between them & the sun, no babies burning young men locked away, no paper world

to come between ?esh & ?esh in human encounter

//

till the young women

come into their own, honored & fearless birthing strong sons

loving & dancing

//

till the young men can at last

lose some of their sternness, return

to young men’s thoughts, till laughter bounces o? our hills & ?lls

our plains

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #23

A lack of faith is simply a lack of courage

one who says ‘I wish I could believe that’ means simply that he is coward, is pleased

to be spectator, on this scene where there are no spectators where all hands not actually working are working against as they lie idle, folded in lap, or holding up newspapers

full of lies, or wrapped around steering wheel, on one more pleasure trip

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #26

‘DOES THE END

JUSTIFY THE MEANS?’ this is

process, there is no end, there are only means, each one

had better justify itself. To whom?

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #41

Revolution: a turning, as the earth turns, among planets, as the sun

turns round some (darker) star, the galaxy describes a yin-yang spiral in the aether, we turn from dark to light, turn

faces of pain & fear, the dawn awash among them

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #48

Be careful.

With what relief do we fall back

on the tale, so often told in revolutions that now we must

organize, obey the rules, so that later we can be free. It is the point

at which the revolution stops. To be carried forward later & in another country, this is

the pattern, but we can break the pattern

//

learn now we see

with all our skin, smell with our eyes too sense & sex are boundless & the call

is to be boundless in them, make the joy now, that we want, no shape

for space & time now but the shapes we will

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #50

As soon as we submit

to a system based on causality, linear time

we submit, again, to the old values, plunge again into slavery. Be strong. We have the right to make

the universe we dream. No need to fear “science” grovelling apology for things as they are, ALL POWER

TO JOY. which will remake the world.

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #54

It takes courage to say no

//

No to canned corn & instant

mashed potatoes. No to rice krispies. No to special K. No to margarine mono & di-glycerides, NSDA

for coloring, causing cancer. No to

white bread, bleached w/nerve gas (wonder bread). No to everything fried

in hardened oil w/silicates. No to once-so-delicious salami, now red w/sodium nitrate.

//

No to processed cheeses. No

no again to irradiated bacon, pink phosphorescent ham, dead plastic pasteurized milk. No to chocolate pudding

like grandma never made. No thanx

to coca-cola. No to freshness preserves, dough conditioners, no

potassium sorbate, no aluminum silicate, NO BHA, BHT, NO

di-ethyl-propyl-glycerate.

//

No more ice cream? not w/embalming ?uid. Goodbye potato chips, peanut butter, jelly, jolly white sugar! No more DES

all-American steaks or hamburgers either! Goodbye, frozen ?sh! (dipped & coated w/ aureomycin) Fried eggs over easy w/ hormones, penicillin & speed.

Goodbye, frozen ?sh! (dipped & coated w/ Carnation Instant Breakfast, Nestle’s Quik. Fritos, goodbye! your labels are very confusing.

//

All I can say

is what my daughter age six once said to me: “if I can’t pronounce it

maybe I shouldn’t eat it.” or, Dick Gregory

coming out of a 20-day fast:

“the people of America are controlled by the food they eat”

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #63

Free Julian Beck Free Timothy Leary

Free seven million starving in Pakistan Free all political prisoners

Free Angela Davis Free Soledad brothers

Free Martin Sobel…… ’

Free Sacco & Vanzetti Free Big Bill Hayward Free Sitting Bull

Free Crazy Horse

Free all political prisoners Free Billy the Kid

Free Jesse James

Free all political prisoners Free Nathan Hale

Free Joan of Arc

Free Galileo & Bruno & Eckhart Free Jesus Christ:

Free Socrates

Free all political prisoners Free all political prisoners

All prisoners are political prisoners

Every pot smoker a political prisoner Every holdup man a political prisoner Every forger a political prisoner

Every angry kid who smashed a window a political prisoner Every whore, pimp, murderer, a political prisoner

Every pederast, dealer, drunk driver, burglar poacher, striker, strike breaker, rapist

Polar bear at San Francisco zoo, political prisoner

Ancient wise turtle at Detroit Aquarium, political prisoner Flamingoes dying in Phoenix tourist park, political prisoners Otters in Tucson Desert Museum, political prisoners

Elk in Wyoming grazing behind barbed wire, political prisoners Prairie dogs poisoned in New Mexico, war casualties

(Mass grave of Wyoming bald eagles, a battle?eld) Every kid in school a political prisoner

Every lawyer in his cubicle a political prisoner

Every doctor brainwashed by AMA a political prisoner Every housewife a political prisoner

Every teacher lying thru sad teeth a political prisoner Every Indian on reservation a political prisoner Every black man a political prisoner

Every faggot hiding in bar a political prisoner

Every junkie shooting up in John a political prisoner Every woman a political prisoner

Every woman a political prisoner

You are political prisoner locked in tense body You are political prisoner locked in sti? mind You are political prisoner locked to your parents You are political prisoner locked to your past Free yourself

Free yourself

I am political prisoner locked in anger habit I am political prisoner locked in greed habit I am political prisoner locked in fear habit

I am political prisoner locked in dull senses I am political prisoner locked in numb ?esh Free me

Free me

Help to free me Free yourself

Help to free me Free yourself Help to free me

Free Barry Goldwater Help to free me

Free Governor Wallace Free President Nixon. Free J Edgar Hoover Free them;

Free yourself Free them Free yourself Free yourself Free them Free yourself

Help to free me Free us DANCE

Diane di Prima reading …

FIRST DRAFT: POET LAUREATE
OATH OF OFFICE

for all poets everywhere

It is the poem I serve
luminous, through time
that celebration
of human breath, of melos
it is and always has been
the muse androgynous and ruthless
as any angel scattering words that need no
radio frequency no broadband
it is the light on the ocean here and
the sky in all its moods
luminous fog that wakes me up
to write, and something I call the
“Imp of the Short Poem”
it is the people of San Francisco
in their beauty
Bright luminous eyes looking out
from homeless faces
looking up
from gardening skateboarding singing
playing cards playing ball
barbecuing in their backyards
the folks in the Mission
the Excelsior in Bayview
Hunters Point
Japantown
North Beach
folks in the Sunset
working & idle
passionate angry silent
powerful in their silence
my friends and neighbors
parked at Ocean Beach, at Twin Peaks
in their cars
watching the sun go
down
my vow is:
to remind us all
to celebrate
there is no time
too desperate
no season
that is not
a Season of Song

(2009)

Biographical Note

Diane di Prima was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1934, a second generation American of Italian descent. Her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was an active anarchist, and associate of Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman. She began writing at the age of seven, and committed herself to a life as a poet at the age of fourteen. For the past thirty-four years she has lived in northern California, raising ?ve children. In the late ’60s she took part in the political activities of the Diggers and is widely considered the most important woman writer of the Beat movement. (Cited from the collection of Revolutionary Letters).

The Allen Ginsburg Project website carries an extensive collection of material dedicated to Diane di Prima. An obituary has been posted on the Poetry Foundation website.

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