A Remembrance of Diane di Prima, 1934-2020

Nov 12, 2020

Portrait of poet Diane di Prima

By Garrett Caples

It is with much sadness that we note the passing of one of the greatest and most characteristically revolutionary poets associated with our press, Diane di Prima. Diane died on October 25th due to never-resolved complications stemming from a fall a few years ago.

She began her work as a poet in New York City, where she started publishing the stapled mimeo magazine The Floating Bear with co-editor LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in 1961, the same year she co-founded the New York Poets Theatre. She would go on to attain notoriety with her Olympia Press novel, Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969), a fictionalized account of her bohemian life in Manhattan at the turn of the ’60s. Relocating to San Francisco and becoming a stalwart member of the late ’60s counterculture, Diana published her signature volume Revolutionary Letters in 1971 as part of the City Lights Pocket Poets Series. She would continue to add to this volume—part poetic manifesto, part how-to guide to rabble-rousing and avoiding arrest—for the rest of her life. Her later work with City Lights included such volumes as Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems (1980) and The Poetry Deal (2014), a book commemorating her tenure as San Francisco Poet Laureate. Other important works include her ongoing serial poem Loba, published as one volume by Penguin in 1978, and Recollections of My Life as a Woman (2001), a de-fictionalized account of the period first chronicled by Memoirs of a Beatnik.

Diane’s distinctive voice and all-around toughness will be sorely missed during these trying times. A fiery personality, Diane could excoriate the powers of systemic oppression in this country like no one else, but we also wish to acknowledge her penchant for enchantment and wonder, as seen in “Revolutionary Letter #46”:

And as you learn the magic, learn to believe it
Don’t be “surprised” when it works, you undercut
your power.

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