Snap your fingers for our new poet laureate

Di Prima and Amiri Baraka get down in Bohemia
Photo by Fred W. McDarrah

“The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.” Diane di Prima, San Francisco’s new poet laureate as of last year, should be an expert on imagination’s primacy. Her work in such volumes as The Revolutionary Letters (1971) helped to shine a light on the role women played in Bohemia- not always the most well-lit arena. On Fri/19, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts holds a reception to laud the most well known female voice of the Beat movement, and celebrate her turn as our city’s bard.

Here’s the bio-in-a-nutshell; born Italian-American in Brooklyn, Di Prima was a precocious writer, corresponding with Ezra Pound by the age of 19. After attending Swarthmore she starting gettin' wierd with in with the Beats in Manhattan, in 1966 spending time on Timothy Leary’s Millbrook psychedelic community. She's worked closely with Amiri Baraka, and the two co-founded the New York Poet’s Theatre. She became a connective figure between the Beats and hippies, moving to California permanently in the '60s where got in with the radical improv group, the Diggers, and started studying world religions. She’s written over 48 books. 48 books! Would that we all could have a paragraph like that written on our lives.

And the poetry? The words often often personal, serving to widen Di Prima's scope beyond an individual life to constancies in the human condition. But rather than stretch my capacity as a poetry critic, let us just revel in the glory of the words themselves. Below, “Revolutionary Letter #1” from Revolutionary Letters.


I have just realized the stakes are myself

I have no other

ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life

my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over

the roulette table, I recoup what I can

nothing else to shove under the nose of the maȋtre de jeu

nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag

this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with

this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move

as we slither over this go board, stepping always

(we hope) between the lines


The poet laureate honor was first bestowed on Lawrence Ferlinghetti by Willie Brown in 1998. MCCLA’s event will also feature past honorees Devorah Major, Jack Hirschman and Janice Mirikitani, amongst other members of the rhymey profession.

Celebrate Diana di Prima

Fri/19 7:30 p.m., free

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts

2868 Mission, SF

(415) 821-1155

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