Weaponizing Words: Political Vigilance and Letter Writing as Activism


Diane di Prima (b. 1934) is a poet, rebel, activist, feminist, Buddhist, anarchist, and seer who emerged from the Beat Movement. She influenced a generation of artists and writers as a publisher of mimeograph texts (alongside Amiri Baraka, co-founding The Floating Bear literary magazine) and as the founder of the New York Poets Theatre in 1960s Greenwich Village. 

Too often relegated to a byline of the Beat Generation, referred to there as one of the “few female writers of the scene to make it,” Di Prima’s work has a passion and fire all its own, an embodied sense of the bio political as well as the anarchic.

Epistles are letters written as poems, providing both a tactile sense of intimacy and accessibility, a play between internal and external dialogue. In addition to engaging the personal and historical context of Di Prima’s work, we will examine a short series of epistles by other poets. 

What is the relevance of such a form in the digital era? We are also 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? 

Using “Revolutionary Letter #63” as a flash point, we will compose our own epistles. Packets of Di Prima’s poems, additional epistles, and blank postcards for our brief free-writing exercise will be provided. We will also have on hand the names and addresses of local elected officials and public servants, should we want to put our poetic activism to work.





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