NYC Poetry Festival | Revolutionary Letters, Confronting the Times


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.




Location: Governors Island

Governors Island

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Other upcoming Olios


Feb 22

The Circular Road: Art and the Religious Imagination

Taught by Michael Prettyman
7 p.m. at Strand Bookstore

Sign Up - $20

Feb 25

What Would Buffy Do? Radical Feminism and the Slayer

Taught by Jamie Warren
7:30 p.m. at Neuehouse Madison Sq.

Sign Up - $20

Feb 28

Into the Mystic: Music & the Moving Image

Taught by Whitney George
7:30 p.m. at Blender Workspace

Sign Up - $20

Mar 6

The 2nd Amendment Explained

Taught by Lawrence Cappello
7:30 p.m. at Berg'n

Sign Up - $15

Mar 13

Philosophy Club | Can We Say Everything?

Taught by Jeanne Proust
7:30 p.m. at Living Room

Sign Up - $15

Mar 15

Rethinking Refugee Trauma and Mental Health

Taught by Kim Nguyen
7:30 p.m. at Living Room

Sign Up - $15

Mar 16

OlioHouse | Willpower and the Right to Be Lazy

Taught by Jeanne Proust
noon at OlioHouse | Wassaic, NY

Sign Up - $150

Mar 20

Reimagining the Carceral State: Art, Imagination, and an Abolitionist Future

Taught by Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario
7:30 p.m. at Living Room

Sign Up - $15

Mar 23

Mar 27

Urban Development: From Reconstruction to Gentrification

Taught by Lauren Hudson
7:30 p.m. at Berg'n

Sign Up - $15

Mar 28

Catfishing: The Artist as Trickster in Factual Fictions

Taught by Ted Barrow
7:30 p.m. at Blender Workspace

Sign Up - $20

May 29

Composing Beauty: Mapplethorpe’s Quest for Perfection

Taught by Jeanne Proust
7 p.m. at BAM Fisher

Sign Up - $20


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