Pieces of a Poet: A Diane di Prima Collage

Photo credit: Allen Ginsberg LLC Getty Images

Commemorating the poet and activist in her own words, as quoted in various remembrances and obituaries.

The only exception is the final poem, which I chose myself.

14 grown-ups (so-called) and all their accompanying kids & pets, horns & typewriters, and at least one rifle.

my vow is:
to remind us all
to celebrate
there is no time
too desperate
no season
that is not
a Season of Song

I don’t mind that people use the Beat label. It’s just that it’s very much of one time, a long time ago. A lot of people kept being Beat writers in terms of the language they used. I can do it sometimes but not most of the time.

I took the agenda, more or less, that Pound proposed, and taught myself some Homeric Greek so I could sound out the poems

I’d study usually at home, and then I’d take my notebook and go out and write, run around the city and write. And then the typing and revising happened at home in the evening. We needed very little, so $70 a month covered the rent. The house was $33, the apartment — four of us lived in it. It was a cold-water flat. No heat. Bathroom in the hall.

Today is your
birthday and I have tried
writing these things before,
but now
in the gathering madness, I want to
thank you
for telling me what to expect
for pulling
no punches, back there in that scrubbed Bronx parlor

It was at my grandmother’s side, in that scrubbed and waxed apartment, that I received my first communications about the specialness and the relative uselessness of men

process, there is no end, there are only
means, each one
had better justify itself.
To whom?

Photo credit: Chris Felver / Getty Images

Jack wanted me to hang out because everyone was gay and I was straight. He was probably hoping to get laid later.

Be careful.
With what relief do we fall back
on the tale, so often told in revolutions
that now we must
organize, obey the rules, so that later
we can be free. It is the point
at which the revolution stops. To be carried forward later & in another country, this is
The pattern, but we can
break the pattern

learn now we see
with all our skin, smell with our eyes too
sense & sex are boundless & the call
is to be boundless in them, make the joy
now, that we want, no shape
for space & time now but the shapes we will

I was writing ‘Revolutionary Letters’ at a fast clip and mailing them to Liberation News Service on a regular basis; from there they went to over 200 free newspapers all over the U.S. and Canada. I also performed them, sometimes with guitar accompaniment by Peter Coyote, on the steps of City Hall, while my comrades handed out the Digger Papers and tried to persuade startled office workers on their way to lunch that they should drop out and join the revolution.

I’d like my daily bread however
you arrange it, and I’d also like
to be bread, or sustenance for
some others even after I’ve left.
A song they can walk a trail with.

Photo credit: James Oliver Mitchell

cuts through time and cuts through space, and we have no idea what it is — it’s so wonderful and large

it wasn’t really a happy moment, because I knew immediately what wasn’t going to happen.

matched dishes, a washing machine, a regular consensus lifestyle of any sort

It was all downhill from then

reading and loving the romantics was a no-no. You would rather be caught reading a comic book than Thomas Wolfe’s novels. I would lie and say, ‘Well, oh no, I’m reading Archie.’

I studied with Keats and Pound. Keats’s letters told me everything I needed to know until I found ABC of Reading.

the building blocks of poetry — the image, the dance of the language, and the music of words.

I’m not going to lose the opportunity to look this man in the eye and talk to him.

Keep my hands off younger people’s work. Try to grasp what they’re after, and if I can get that out by hanging out with them, then I could nudge them in that direction.


yr battles

“pick yr shots”

you have only

so much

ammunition —


will it do

the most


you are selling

yourself short, remember

you can have what you ask for, ask for


you could always go back to those drafts and pull something out when you got stuck, you know; and then I got the sense of how your mind worked in the first place, and that was very interesting

He said nothing else. After about ten minutes we all started to go out the door. We were looking at everything. Oh, that has a form; that has a form. He was telling us that all forms are okay. Leave your mind alone. Don’t mess with everything all the time

Write exactly what’s happening as closely as you can.

when you break thru
you’ll find
a poet here
not quite what one would choose.

I won’t promise
you’ll never go hungry
or that you won’t be sad
on this gutted

but I can show you
enough to love
to break your heart

how to make it smooth and really hip or kind of avant-garde prose. And I knew that if I did that I would be violating this book, so all of a sudden I decided, ‘Hmm, I can’t touch this. I’m going to leave all the flaws in it.’ This is in the nature of a received text. I can’t touch it. And I never did. And so I published it myself. And never did publish with New Directions

Photo credit: Fred W. McDarrah

However great your visioning and your inspiration, you need the techniques of the craft. They are passed on person to person, and back then the male naturally passed them on to the male. I think I was one of the first women to break through that.

The day I kissed you, the last cockroach
he died. The United Nations
they abolished all prisons. Pope
admitted Jean Genet as a member
of the College of Cardinals. The
Ford Foundation, at huge expense,
rebuilt the city of Athens.
The day we made love, the god of bread
returned to Earth, Eisenhower left
to play golf. Supermarkets
they sold marijuana. And Apollo read
poems in Union Park Square.

The day you frolicked in my body
the bombs dissolved.

1934–2020. Rest in Power.



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