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Revolutionary Letters

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The first of these poems were written during the active days of the late 1960s, and published by the underground press throughout the US and abroad. They were also used as guerrilla theatre. The poems in this edition address some of the history of the past 20 years and were written as the various occasions arose.

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1971

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About the author

Diane di Prima

64 books185 followers
Diane di Prima was an American poet and member of the Beat Generation. She was San Francisco’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2011.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 81 reviews
Profile Image for Vivienne DiFiore.
25 reviews43 followers
January 19, 2019
What to say...what to say.

Anything in prose seems lacking.

I spent a lot of time with this book of poems. I had been seeing references to it all over. I don't even remember hearing about it before this year.

This text feels uncannily close to us. And by us I mean those of you who know what I mean when I say us. Even the shorthand use of "yr" and "wd" is strikingly similar to how I txt. Let alone the nuances of the pieces revolutionary inclinations. The troublings, the poetics, the practicalities.

The name drops had me welling up in the first pages.

This may be magical thinking, but it's as if this was the best time in my life to read this. At no other point would it have resonated as well. A rekindling of affinity for the magical and the poetic coupled with all sorts of points of affinity.

The sort of 'western radical interpretation' of 'eastern spirituality' and so on would have at previous points had me turn away thinking it ignorant and 2nd hand. But what does come off as misunderstood never becomes so odious as to spoil the experience and I too have come to different understandings of what it means to engage with such things.

There is strategic advise about emergency supplies and terrain. There is wise quips about how it is to be done. There is pushing further to the root, condemnations of all civilization rather than just western. There are condemnations of scientism. There is anti-work sentiment. There is a practical and healthy aversion to leaders and rulers.

Reading it I had quite a few moments where I had to put it down to write down the ideas I had-- sometimes happening for dozens of pages in a row. It is a very generative, troubling, and yet also affirming collection of poems.

As much as it seems like it could have been written yesterday by our comrades, as much as it slips into messianic time, the poems are also very of the times they were written. Both in spirit, in what it addresses, and so on. At first some of the 'healthy living' and 'prepping for collapse' stuff rubbed me the wrong way, but eventually I started to see some perhaps neglected truths in it. Some redeeming characteristics of DIY, communes, free love, and so on.

This text places us in a continuum with rebel desert nomads, the people in the hills, in the swamps, in the ghettos, throughout time.

This text is for those who live or dream of living anarchically and against the law even if you cut out the explicit references to anarchists, which are already few.

There are beautiful lines and important points. Small details that stick out and nestle in my mind. There are sweeping passages that go on and take me in.

"someplace it isn't maybe
someplace it ends
some hills maybe
still free
but hungry
over ancient guns"

Understanding that we die a million times as a recipe for living free from the inculcation of fear and inaction.

miner's lettuce



Kill Yelabuga.


all power to joy

Profile Image for Anastasiia Mozghova.
360 reviews558 followers
December 25, 2022
wow, issues di Prima wrote about decades ago, are more than prescient today. every letter is a bold encouragement to think and reconsider and act to change our world for the better. every letter is radical and powerful. it's a challenging reading experience, but an extremely valuable one!
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,049 reviews87 followers
October 9, 2021
I find poetry collections hard to review. I definitely know if I think they're good or not. But parsing what makes them good and finding the specifics and language to explain that to other readers can feel next to impossible.

I've been reading Diane di Prima's poems since the early 80s and always find them compelling. Her language pulls readers along like a torrent during flood season: rapidly and totally. Or maybe I should say I consume her writing the way I consume baklava: insatiably and much too quickly.

The Revolutionary Letters was originally published by City Lights fifty years ago. This new edition makes it clear that, despite the distance in time, di Prima is still speaking to readers in bold language that forces us to reexamine the nature of our daily existence, the distance between our world and a world with justice.

If you are the sort of person who thinks about things, who cares about true and complicated fairness, who wrestles with ideas, who refuses to give up the dream of a better world, read this book. And reread it. Let it sweep you along, then return to it to savor each word.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss; the opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Jack Waters.
255 reviews94 followers
February 19, 2014
Diane di Prima’s late-60s/early-70s revolutionary fervor with her vision of continuance is shown in these Rilke’s-to-a-Young-poet-like Letters. Instead of a blurbed diary of Look What I Did, it is written to those who want to be prepared for the clarion call of the imminent day’s struggle. It reads nearly as well today as it would have upon its initial release.

In this, the second edition, there are 49 brief letters exhorting the reader and would-be revolutionary on the likely-overlooked aspects of revolution that an individual encounters on the ground. Everything from filling a bathtub with water to remembering who the true enemies are of The People.

It’s a quick read that would work well to revisit every once in a while – it’d be a nice addition to a 72-hour kit -- since you never know when the times’ll come a-changin’.
Profile Image for Wendy Trevino.
Author 6 books128 followers
September 26, 2021
my blurb for the book(!):

"How do 'we' keep fighting? There is no one way, but sometimes you think about lines in Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters. Di Prima's 'letters' feel like they were written to the all of you that always is somewhere coming together. They remind you that you are a part of something, that as sure as you have enemies who want things like jobs, you have friends who want everything. The new letters in this expanded edition continue di Prima's tradition of telling you things you need to know--like 'you have only / so much / ammunition' & how a poem can matter as 'the memory / of the poem / tak[es] root in / thousands / of minds.' & here you thought this classic couldn't get any better."
Profile Image for Amber Tucker.
135 reviews40 followers
June 15, 2013

Left to themselves people
grow their hair.
Left to themselves they
take off their shoes.
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.

Ms. di Prima, your words make my heart fly singing. Thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my pseudo-revolutionary heart.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 12 books30 followers
January 25, 2022
I really didn't like this collection. The lack of intersectionality and ableism, the juvenile simplicity at thinking one can fight their way through systemic problems and basically live on love and fury combined with the lack of musicality really bothered me. There were a few glimpses of a higher poetic caliber peeking out here and there, but mostly the poems felt unfinished and sophomoric. (which, maybe they were? maybe that's part of reading a poet's older work?) It is what it is. The anniversary edition I bought is bound beautifully, though.
Profile Image for Craig Werner.
Author 12 books155 followers
May 10, 2022
I liked these poems much better when revisiting them in the context of a huge amount of reading about the Sixties. Like Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Denise Levertov, and Audre Lorde--as well as her contemporaries Amiri Baraka and Allen Ginsberg--di Prima sought to draw together the multiple dimensions of life-political, psychological, sexual, creative. The directness of her voice sometimes feels like slogan, but the slogans feel increasingly needed as the patterns of oppression she identified continue to play out.
164 reviews4 followers
December 5, 2020
Diane di Prima died October 25, 2020 in San Francisco. These poems originating in the 60's but some few added as late as in the 2000's, you couldn't just label them one of the great "beat" or "protest" or "feminist"or whatever style of books or "new" since they are based in the origins of poems. From the vantage point of the upside down conspiracy, right-wing world we live in now, her seeming radicalism is like being centrist. also musical, beautiful, coherent. It's sad to imagine a time without such a person alive in it. Among the late incantatory letters #93 is outstanding, written on Memorial Day
Remember Sacco & Vanzetti
Remember Haymarket
Remember John Brown
Remember slave revolts
Remember Malcolm
Remember Paracelsus....
Remember to take yr life back into yr hands
It's Memorial Day, remember
what you love
& do it. Don't wait
Remember life hangs by a thread ---
anybody's life...
Profile Image for Jim.
590 reviews11 followers
February 7, 2022
I received this as a gift, opened it and landed on page 76: Revolutionary Letter #62: "Take a good look/ at history (the American myth)/ check sell out/ of revolution by the founding fathers"
This speaks to me right now!

I like the older stuff, filled with energy and optimism that still speaks to us today.
Profile Image for Tereza Dodoková.
12 reviews10 followers
August 20, 2022
čím menej mám času, musím viac čítať. (inak si pripadám okrádaná). leto patrí vydavateľstvu silver press.

4 A.M.?
Profile Image for Peter.
248 reviews8 followers
May 24, 2021
Truth be told, I read a printed .pdf from the Anarchist Library, because this rightly should never be allowed to lapse into obscurity. The fact that di Prima's exhortations and lamentations ring so true today can be either a source of inspiration or of hopelessness, depending on whether you are bound by linear time. She is not, and implores us to do the same; reading this will help.
Profile Image for Ygraine.
571 reviews
February 15, 2021
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 will have to know
the answers.

attaching this article bc it came to mind Often while i was working my way through this collection ?

anyway, i think a lot of this is really Good & really Galvanising, full of tender, generous, relentless questions & demands & challenges, & am taking it as an invitation to figure my shit out, politically & personally.
Profile Image for Cait.
974 reviews25 followers
April 23, 2020
nowhere we can go but they are waiting for us
no exile where we will not hear welcome home
‘goodmorning sister, let me work with you
goodmorning brother, let me
fight by your side’

shared with me by a former student who stumbled across it on her own and wanted to know my thoughts. this was wonderful, clear-headed, pragmatic poetry--reflections and instructions for the times at hand (both in 1971 and today). there were a few moments where it steered almost into an uncomfortable hint of ecofascism, but she explicitly and emphatically corrected course.

I have copied a few of my favorites here. if you are interested in reading the entire work (it's only 43 pages!), please let me know and I will help connect you with the book.

store water; make a point of filling your bathtub
at the first news of trouble: they turned off the water
in the 4th ward for a whole day during the Newark riots;
or better yet make a habit
of keeping the tub clean and full when not in use
change this once a day, it should be good enough
for washing, flushing toilets when necessary
and cooking, in a pinch, but it’s a good idea
to keep some bottled water handy too
get a couple of five gallon jugs and keep them full
for cooking
store food — dry stuff like rice and beans stores best
goes farthest. SALT VERY IMPORTANT: it’s health and energy
healing too, keep a couple pounds
sea salt around, and, because we’re spoiled, some tins
tuna, etc. to keep up morale — keep up the sense
of ‘balanced diet’ ‘protein intake’ remember
the stores may be closed for quite some time, the trucks
may not enter your section of the city for weeks, you can cool it indefinitely
with 20 lb brown rice
20 lb whole wheat flour
10 lb cornmeal
10 lb good beans — kidney or soy
5 lb sea salt
2 qts good oil
dried fruit and nuts
add nutrients and a sense of luxury
to this diet, a squash or coconut
in a cool place in your pad will keep six months.
remember we are all used to eating less
than the ‘average American’ and take it easy
before we
ever notice we’re hungry the rest of the folk will be starving
used as they are to meat and fresh milk daily
and help will arrive, until the day no help arrives
and then you’re on your own.
hoard matches, we aren’t good
at rubbing sticks together any more
a tinder box is useful, if you can work it
don’t count on gas stove, gas heater
electric light
keep hibachi and charcoal, CHARCOAL STARTER a help
kerosene lamp and candles, learn to keep warm
with breathing
remember the blessed American habit of bundling

the overthrow of government is a crime
overthrowing it is something else
altogether, it is sometimes called
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
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.

what do you want
your kids to learn, do you care
if they know factoring, chemical formulae, theory
of numbers, equations, philosophy, semantics
symbolic logic, latin, history, socalled, which is
merely history of mind of western man, least interesting
of numberless manifestations on this planet?
do you care
if he learns to eat off the woods, to set
a broken arm, to mend
his own clothes, cook simple food, deliver
a calf or baby? if there are cars should he not
be able to keep his running?
how will he learn these things, will he learn them
cut off in a plaster box, encased
in a larger cement box called ‘school’ dealing with paper
from morning till night, grinding no clay or mortar, no
pigment, setting no seedlings in black earth
come spring, how will he
know to trap a rabbit, build a raft,
to navigate by stars, or find safe ground
to sleep on? what is he doing all his learning years
inside, as if the planet were no more than a vehicle
for carrying our plastic constructs around the sun

(for LeRoi, at long last)
not all the works of Mozart worth one human life
not all the brocaded of the Potala palace
better we should wear homespun, than some in orlon
some in Thailand silk
the children of Bengal weave gold thread in silk saris
six years old, eight years old, for export, they don’t sing
the singers are for export, Folkways records
better we should all have homemade flutes
and practice excruciatingly upon them, one hundred years
till we learn to
make our own music

And as you learn the magic, learn to believe it
Don’t be ‘surprised’ when it works, you undercut
your power.
Profile Image for Abbey.
494 reviews14 followers
June 26, 2013
I picked up this book of poetry at City Lights in San Francisco and read it on every BART ride and spare moment. It was the perfect book for the perfect time. di Prima was writing revolutionary poetry at the same time as the Beats, and with the same fervor. I've heard her described as "utopian anarchism" and I couldn't agree more -with every critique of the state, there is a battling cry for love.
Profile Image for Bailey.
20 reviews6 followers
January 31, 2020
favorite poetry I've ever read. powerful thinker, incredible woman
Profile Image for Camille Dungy.
137 reviews11 followers
December 23, 2022
The ferocity of these poems is intensely refreshing and instructive. One of the common questions in times of deep grief is What do I do with all this rage? Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters has clear and direct answers: “hoard matches, we aren’t good / at rubbing sticks together any more.” First published as part of City Light’s Pocket Poetry series in 1971, this fiftieth anniversary issue is an expanded edition of Di Prima’s life-long project, including poems written from 1968 until her death in 2020. Di Prima grieves for lost friends and lost leaders (by lost she sometimes means dead, and she sometimes means morally bankrupt). She worries about water and rivers and oil spills and both the first and second Gulf Wars. She mourns the fabricated divisions that keep good people from treating each other with mutual love and respect. Revolutionary Letters gives clear instructions about what to do with such grief and rage and worry: there are instructions on how and where to hold a protest, instructions on why guns won’t save the day, lists of what to carry in an emergency bag, instructions on how to train a body to survive with less food, and why it is best to avoid processed food entirely. For the reader who finds themself asking, What do I do with all this grief? These are practical poems with realistic answers.

Review published originally with Orion Magazine: https://orionmagazine.org/2021/12/fif...

Profile Image for Kaitlin.
107 reviews20 followers
December 25, 2022
I'm alone on Christmas Day with COVID as I write this, so my circumstances are coloring this review a little. Usually when I finish a book I try to review it on the same day, but I needed my thoughts on Revolutionary Letters to marinade for a while.

Many close readers of this volume of poetry have (rightly) described it as: a clarion call, a rallying cry and a record of times filled with violence, imperialism, inequity and oppression. Furthermore, di Prima also insists on pleasure and joy amidst pain. Without minimising how bad things can get, on both a structural and internal level, she writes vividly, with simple yet powerful language, about what care can do (especially at the end of the world).

In her oft quoted Revolutionary Letters #103, 'Where Are You?', she writes about friends letting friends crash on each other's floors, bringing each other casserole after hospital stays, driving one another to say goodbye to an ex... These are the ways we can hold each other when everything is falling apart. di Prima reminds us how person-to-person care is as important as the activism and organizing that happens outside the home. This is the message her galvanizing poems, written over many years, has left with me.

My friend S lent me this book because they wanted to share some of di Prima's power with me. And they are messaging me today as I spend my holiday largely in solitude. My heart is warm, and I don't feel lonely. I will hold onto di Prima's call to look after each other, and the world, for as long as I can.
Profile Image for Cooper Renner.
Author 21 books42 followers
October 21, 2021
The title is exactly correct. These aren’t for the most part poems, but “letters” or calls to action. And they’re revolutionary both spiritually and physically. Like Che Guevara, di Prima doesn’t mind advocating turning the tools of the “oppressors” against them, which presumes of course that the revolutionaries are always going to know who the bad guys are and only “punish” those who deserve it—an almost comically incorrect assumption. If the revolutionary tools are simply the tools of the oppressors, then the oppressed are pretty well guaranteed to become oppressors in turn. And what are the revolutionaries going to do when they’ve removed those deserving it?—apparently they’re going to return to hunter-gatherer lifestyles which guarantee about 80% of mankind will starve within a few months. It’s an interesting collection, and sometimes the “poems” are actually poems, and di Prima’s sympathies lie with sympathetic people, but as a serious document, it’s a pretty clear indication of why she would have been of interest to government agents.
Profile Image for Tinea.
561 reviews252 followers
March 31, 2022
Earnest, angry, and later bitter. I read this as part of my project to read 1 poem each month, daily for the whole month. For di Prima, I couldn't figure out which poem to read over and over again, to chew on and savor and let the taste change over time. These poems are too up-front for that. They don't leave much to question or uncover; there was never one that I wanted to read again to feel or understand more deeply than on the first go: they are bold, blunt-- quotable but not curious. So I read a different poem each day, and covered much of the book. This is a Situationist book and despite my avatar (a classic Paris May '68 graffiti), it's not for middle-age me, but would be good to hand off to the youth.
150 reviews2 followers
October 27, 2020
Anarchist beat poetry, mainly from the late 1960s and early 1970s. About as dated as poetry can be. Revolutionary Letters is earnest, self-righteous and completely humorless. Many of her targets were worth attacking but they are done in such a heavy handed way the poems come close to parody.
However, one can credit di Prima for being concerned with events outside her own life. Most of the Beats were navel-gazing egotists detached from larger world events. The great irony of this book is that many of the ideas of this leftist radical are now echoed by anti-government right-wing groups.
Profile Image for Tugba.
1 review2 followers
December 23, 2021
"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"
Profile Image for Chris.
75 reviews
December 4, 2022
This collection is comprised of politically themed poems written over more than thirty years. Some show the early thoughts of a young idealist activist-in-trying, while others are more mature reflections on world events, wars, the lost heroes of the counterculture, or musings on the aftermath and effectiveness of the sixties protest movement. In the early pages it felt, at times naive or dated though none can argue with Di Prima’s technical skill or imagery. By the end, I was riveted and found myself coursing through the page savoring every turn of phrase.
Profile Image for Alfonso Gaitan.
35 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2022
The poems added to this edition, though thematically fitting, don’t seem as articulate as the originals - but the collection as a whole doesn’t suffer as a result. Full of politically charged and clever verse, Di Prima’s work strikes me as ahead of her time(even as beat writers go). Seemingly overshadowed by her male counterparts historically, her work almost seems like a precursor to a lot of similarly written punk lyrics - makes me wonder how extensive her influence really is.
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