Revolutionary Letters: 50th Anniversary Edition
Pocket Poets Series No. 27
City Lights Pocket Poets Series
Published by: City Lights Publishers
Imprint: City Lights Publishers
Expanded 50th anniversary edition of the City Lights classic of eco-feminist-Zen Beat poetry, featuring fifteen new poems. Simultaneously released with Diane di Prima's Spring and Autumn Annals on the one-year anniversary of her passing.
By turns a handbook of countercultural living, a manual for street protest, and a feminist broadside against the repressive state apparatus, Revolutionary Letters is a modern classic, as relevant today as it was at its inception, 50 years ago.
During the tumult of 1968, Beat poet Diane di Prima began writing her "letters," poems filled with a potent blend of utopian anarchism and Zen-tinged ecological awareness that were circulated via underground newspapers and stapled pamphlets. In 1971, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published the first collection of these poems in his iconic Pocket Poets Series, and di Prima would go on to publish four subsequent editions, expanding the collection each time. During the last years of her life, di Prima got to work on the final iteration of this lifelong project, collecting all of her previously published "letters" and adding the new work, poems written from 2007 up to the time of her death in October 2020. Published in a board-bound edition that proudly features the original edition's cover art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Praise for Revolutionary Letters, 50th Anniversary Edition:
"There is a generosity and affection in Revolutionary Letters that I find myself returning to, always, when I'm at my most cynical and feeling lost for any understanding of what a better world might look like. When I need to be grounded and re-centered in my understanding of community care as a living, breathing, full-time mission. And, quite simply, when I need to be reminded of how language can begin on the page, and echo far beyond."—Hanif Abdurraqib
"What's astonishing about Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters is how these poems are adamantly useful. A manual of insurgent instruction, these poems tell you how to mitigate tear gas and sleep deprivation, eat a healthy diet, and overthrow the state. This book is ever more urgent in our moment, as a resurgent left faces down the apocalypse. Revolutionary Letters is a time machine towards a better future."—Ken Chen
"With this new and expanded edition we are offered a window onto a master poet redefining revolution over her lifetime. Di Prima continues to interrogate the ways in which we have been taught to live, love, eat, write, fight and take control. How can we make the most of this book and its wisdom? It's not enough to simply read it or even to write our own Revolutionary Letters. These poems are not realized until we are called upon to act."—Cedar Sigo
"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. And here you thought this classic couldn't get any better."—Wendy Trevino
Praise for Revolutionary Letters: 50th Anniversary Edition:
"With Revolutionary Letters and Spring and Autumn Annals, di Prima’s conversations are continuing apace—a one-two punch of radical imagination and luminous language; memoir and mobilization."—KQED
"City Lights has graced us with two di Prima collections—the previously unpublished Spring and Autumn Annals, and an expanded edition of her classic Revolutionary Letters—a feast from one of the great talents of the Beat generation and beyond. Di Prima, who died in 2020, was a poet we chose time and again for her spiritual examinations, feminist presence, and her passion for and range of linguistic constructs. We’re lucky to have these two new volumes, which will inspire deeper contemplation of her work and impact."—Chicago Review of Books
"The commanding 50th anniversary edition of beat poet di Prima’s 1971 classic, published with its original cover designed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is a time capsule of the 1960s protest movements that remains remarkably relevant to the present moment. … Di Prima added to this collection of poems through 2007, and later pieces offer insight into her views on subjects including the war on terror and immigration. Readers will find inspiration in her wisdom and uncompromising passion, and these poems should rightfully find a new audience with younger generations of activists."—Publishers Weekly
"Many of the Letters, which include critiques of U.S. imperialism, racism and rampant consumerism, remain fresh and relevant. … Drawing on broadsides and pamphlets, mixing conversation with tight poetic form, Di Prima’s Letters are restless; and indeed, after that first publication in 1971, she kept writing them. … And while the early Letters, written during the late 1960s and 70s, twitch with revolutionary energy, the economy of some later poems suggests that di Prima’s craft did not wane."—The Times Literary Supplement
"In the Letters, di Prima takes what she learned in New York as a publisher and a maker of street and poets’ theatre and adds a radiant political energy. The poems combine spontaneous analysis of political conditions with a compendium of survival skills. She offers spiritual guidance and pragmatic advice for social action."—London Review of Books
"[Revolutionary Letters] remains ever hopeful even if bleak, especially given how little has changed in this country’s political agenda abroad and at home over the last 50 years. Far too many of the issues raised in the earliest poems still ring familiar. However, as the poems urgently plead, the way things are and have been is not the way they must be. They are a wake-up call to every new generation."—The Brooklyn Rail
"The ferocity of these poems is intensely refreshing and instructive. … 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."—Camille T. Dungy, Orion Magazine
"This comprehensive edition moves from the Vietnam War to 21st-century surveillance. Di Prima reflects on what it means to dissent and what it means to love and what it means to work with the shards of a broken world and repurpose them. She reaches out to her cosmos, rallies her circle. In the best, still-vital ways, it’s a night-table book that pinpoints the challenges and hatches plots."—Lynell George, Alta Journal
"Di Prima’s life was devoted to the development of her own personal cosmology, which imbues Revolutionary Letters with its mystical aura and spiritual context … For di Prima, immersion in what she called the 'hidden religions'—those wisdom traditions and practices excluded from the predominant Judeo-Christian monotheism, among them Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Gnosticism, Sufism, Kabbalah, astrology, tarot and magic—provided a way to confront the crises of the day, from the war in Vietnam to racism and homophobia in America, global poverty, and the destruction of the environment."—Francesca Wade, The Baffler
"In City Lights’s 50th anniversary edition of Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters, we meet a magic conveyed across an expanse of years to the emergency of our edge state—at the precipice of racial reckoning, environmental cataclysm, accelerating authoritarianism, and system failure—in the form of letters/poems that speak to the ineffable with clarity, hilarity, no- nonsense, and a shimmering refusal to acquiesce to the autopilot of modernity, bourgie subscriptions to passivity, delusional indoctrination, or “baroque apologies for Kaliyuga.”—Rain Taxi
"Reading di Prima changed my life. ButRevolutionary Letters was much more then a poetry book, it was a call to arms, a primer on how to live and embrace the counter culture....Printed to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the original Revolutionary Letters, this expanded collection is as potent and precious as the first missives Di Prima penned. This current superb volume was edited by Di Prima and includes more then four decades of Revolutionary Letters. She addresses climate change, racism, motherhood, sex, life and death with the articulate fervor that makes her one of the most significant voices of her generation."—Live Mag!
"Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters, published in this fiftieth anniversary edition, is a collection as politically incendiary as any poetry written in English across the last half century. … [the book] stands as a vital contribution to American radical poetry. The thinning social texture of the political and atomization of the individual that have proliferated across the West in recent decades are cut through with images that self-ironize and mollify, a pluralism which so often offers healing only actionable in isolation. By contrast, in the best of the letters, the interlocking strata of meaning and form become textures of recalcitrance: a 'cosmogeny / laid out before all eyes' that does its best to resist recuperation. Di Prima’s ability to dig at the coils of the unsaid with every tool to hand, be it an occult text, a recipe, a slogan, or the act of motherhood, creates a poetry capable of recognizing the dark character of our social reality without collapsing into cynicism."—The Adroit Journal
"One of 2021's better developments was the long-overdue return of Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters into print. Originally published in 1971, these poems remain every bit as revelatory as they were upon their first appearance fifty years ago. It's a timeless call to arms for the '70s militant or the present-day anarchist, a series of beautiful poetic streams that can be shouted through a megaphone or whispered to a friend. Equal parts shattering, instructional, and compassionate, di Prima's voice shines through in this masterful collection, and we should all thank the publishing gods that Revolutionary Letters is back in print for us to enjoy, learn from, and ultimately treasure."—The Book Table, Oak Park, IL
"When I was a much younger and more optimistic writer, I found myself believing that the writing of a poem, alone, could change the circumstances of an immensely flawed world, no matter what the poem was (or wasn't) asking, no matter what it was (or wasn't) doing. A part of my re-education was finding the poetry of Diane di Prima, specifically these Revolutionary Letters. Poems that are indictments, of not only the speaker, but also the reader. Poems that allow for rage and dissatisfaction to be channeled outward into something beyond the page. There is a generosity and affection in these poems that I find myself returning to, always, when I'm at my most cynical and feeling lost for any understanding of what a better world might look like. When I need to be grounded and re-centered in my understanding of community care as a living, breathing, full-time mission. And, quite simply, when I need to be reminded of how language can begin on the page, and echo far beyond."—Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America
"The bourgeois poet says poetry makes nothing happen, but what's astonishing about Diane di Prima's Revolutionary Letters is how these poems are adamantly useful. A manual of insurgent instruction, these poems tell you how to mitigate tear gas and sleep deprivation, eat a healthy diet, and overthrow the state. Less interested in displaying lyric interiority than inculcating a radical ideology, di Prima's letters are explosive and nourishing—and that most paradoxical thing, a classic text from an antisystemic tradition. Not simply a relic from a New Left past, this book is ever more urgent in our moment, as a resurgent left faces down the apocalypse. Revolutionary Letters is a time machine towards a better future."—Ken Chen, author of Juvenilia
"With this new and expanded edition we are offered a window onto a master poet redefining revolution over her lifetime (through a prism). Di Prima continues to interrogate the ways in which we have been taught to live, love, eat, write, fight and take control. In her classic poem 'Rant' ('Revolutionary Letter #75') she describes this mindset as 'a multidimensional chess / which is divination / & strategy'. This time reading through I was reminded of Baraka's Wise, Why's, Y's and Ginsberg's The Fall of America. How can we make the most of this book and its wisdom? It's not enough to simply read it or even to write our own Revolutionary Letters. These poems are not realized until we are called upon to act."—Cedar Sigo, author of All This Time
"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."—Wendy Trevino, author of Cruel Fiction
"Revolutionary Letters is a practical guide to visionary living, a necessary handbook for all who fight for the end of prisons, borders, and environmental degradation. Its poems mourn, conspire, and command, by turns sensuous, brisk, and searing. Di Prima challenges us endlessly to be equal to our own bodies, to the body of the earth: 'sense and sex are boundless, & the call / is to be boundless with them.' I turn to this book when I am depleted by the news, because di Prima's voice is heartening, an offering of strength."—Sophia Dahlin, author of Natch