NYC Poetry Festival | Revolutionary Letters, Confronting the Times

None at Governors Island

Sat, Jul 28 at 1 p.m.   |   90 minutes

Di-Prima's letters are part chant, part warrior cry, part plea, and part instructional guide. If we read these poems as their titles imply, as letters, who then is being addressed?

Epistles are letters written as poems, providing a tactile sense of intimacy and resonant accessibility, an interplay between internal and external dialogue, reader as recipient and voyeur. For this Olio, we will use selections from Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters as in inroad to the epistolary form. Appearing in various, ever-lengthening editions throughout the 1960s and 70s, these letters are part chant, part warrior cry, part plea, and part instructional guide. If we read these poems as their titles imply, as letters, who then is being addressed? Who is speaking? Di Prima’s work seeks to confront the immediate history of her time while looking forward to ours.

In addition to engaging the personal and historical context of Di Prima’s work, we will also examine a short series of epistles by other poets, including Jack Spicer, Bernadette Mayer, Evie Shockley, and Langston Hughes, and consider recent phenomena such as text message poems and collaboratively written twitter novels. What is the relevance of Epistle form in the digital era? And particularly in a time of political vigilance, when many are organizing letter-writing campaigns to Congress? How might we practice letter-writing as both art and activism?

Finally, using our examples as a flash point, we will free-write on the spot and compose our own epistles. Packets of Di Prima’s poems as well as additional epistles and writing exercises will be provided, as will blank Olio postcards, designed for the occasion, which we will use for our brief free-writing exercise. We will also have on hand the names and addresses of locally and nationally elected officials, public servants, and community organizations, should we want to put our poetic activism to work.
Teacher: Jessica Rogers
Venue: Governors Island

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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.