Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters

Revolutionary Letters by Diane di Prima

I’m reading Diane di Prima’s “Revolutionary Letters” this morning. The great Beat poet died this weekend. I haven’t heard many details yet – the news hit social media late last night – but since this is the morning of October 26 2020 here in USA where our Supreme Court is being stolen by right-wing extremists and our society appears to be collapsing under the weight of our so-called government’s greed and corruption, there’s no doubt the poet herself would still be in a revolutionary frame of mind this morning. Here are a few quotes from her stirring and important book Revolutionary Letters.

This is a poetry book that evolved for decades, like Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”. The book was born during the heavy years 1968 to 1971, when USA searched its soul to discover the truth its government could not accept: the Vietnam War was disastrously immoral and had to be stopped. These were the years after Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis, and as a pacifist today I can only bristle at the intimations of continuing violence in this book. Diane di Prima was trying to figure out what to do about all the guns in her country, back then, and we are still trying to figure it out today. She believed in healthy tribes, in peaceful anarchic coexistence, in the power of human understanding and joyful, loving communal effort to solve serious problems. These poems are written from the inside of an exploding planetary crisis, and they speak of harsh reckonings, intolerable realities and impossible choices. On a practical plane, these poems are simply helpful notes for activists. I think they speak to us today.


the value of an individual life the credo they taught us
to instill fear, and inaction, ‘you only live 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 else will finish
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 thousands times in the bellies of your sisters


Everytime you pick the spot for a be-in
a demonstration, a march, a rally, you are choosing the ground
for a potential battle.
You are still calling these shots.
Pick your terrain with this in mind.
Remember the old gang rules:
stick to your neighborhood, don’t let them lure you
to Central Park everytime. I would hate
to stumble bloody out of that park to find help:
Central Park West, or Fifth Avenue, which would you
Go to love-ins
with incense, flowers, food and a plastic bag
with a damp cloth in it for tear gas, wear no jewelry
wear clothes you can move in easily, wear no glasses
contact lenses
earrings for pierced ears are especially hazardous
try to be clear
in front, what you will do if it comes
to trouble
if you’re going to try to split stay out of the center
don’t stampede or panic others
don’t waver between active and passive resistance
know your limitations, bear contempt
neither for yourself, nor any of your brothers
NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us
shoving at the thing from all sides
to bring it down


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 signed
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


who is the we, who is
the they in this thing, did
we or they kill the indians, not me
my people brought here, cheap labor to exploit
a continent for them, did we
or they exploit it? do you
admit complicity, say ‘we
have to get out of Vietnam, we really should
stop poisoning the water, etc.’ look closer, look again,
secede, declare your independence, don’t accept
a share of the guilt they want to lay on us
to perfect bliss they envy, heavy deeds
make heavy hearts and to them,
life is suffering, stand clear.

One Response

  1. “get started, someone else
    “get started, someone else will finish” We started in the 60’s. We couldn’t finish because we needed to eat. Our free time ran out. We had to pay our own way. We had to enter the machine. Its wheels ground our energy to chaff and blew it away. Fortunately, we retained enough to vote the abomination from office. I wasn’t thrilled to vote for Joe. He is at best a 60’s-70’s Republican, but it does slow down the revolting revolution of the criminally insane. Well, that is, if the enemy is unable to corrupt the wrapping-up of the election. “Someone else will finish?” I am absolutely frightened that those who finish may be of the tribe which includes the 70+ million who supported the continuation of this abomination.

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