Philip Whalen (1923-2002)

Philip Whalen, Sensei, in his peaceful chair, my apartment living room, East 12th Street New York March 1984. he was visiting East coast to give readings N.Y. and Buffalo, calm poet. ‘What are you reading?’ ‘I’m not reading I’m just turning the pages.’ (Ginsberg caption.) photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Allen Ginsberg & Philp Whalen, in Allen’s East 12th St apartment, New York City 1984. photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Philip Whalen, Dr Weber’s office, Boulder,Colorado, August 1, 1985. Photo c. Allen
Ginsberg Estate

A Philip Whalen birthday posting. A gathering of links. (Today is also Rimbaud‘s birthday, and the birthday of Michael McClure). Michael Rothenberg’s definitive edition of The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen is obviously the place to start off (tho’ we still have a warm spot also for his (Phil’s) Selected Poems (Overtime) – not to mention the immortal On Bear’s Head).

For texts immediately available on line, the classic “Sourdough Mountain Lookout” may be read here. It may also be heard (along with other poems) in an early (1956) reading here. Similarly vintage is his contribution to the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference here (and here he is in discussion on that occasion with Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Allen). PennSound have also a 1971 San Francisco reading from Scenes of Life at the Capital – and a 1987 reading from Albuquerque, New Mexico
( “Sourdough Mountain Lookout” can also be listened to (on part 2) there).

Back to printed texts and the illuminating “Goldberry is Waiting” – or P.W., His Magic Education As A Poet” (not the whole text, but a goodly proportion) is available here. And here is his Introduction to the 1982 volume, Heavy Breathing. – [2018 update, regrettably, this text is no longer on line]  Another important essay (and here given in its entirety) is, from 1991, “About Writing and Meditation”. . Here‘s “A Vision of the Bodhisattvas”, here‘s “Historical Disquisitions”, here‘s “Discriminations”. Here‘s “True Confessions” (“My real trouble is/ People keep mistaking me/ for a human being/ Olson (being a great poet) says/ “Whalen! – that Whalen is a – a -/ That Whalen is a great big vegetable/ He’s guessing in exactly the right direction”) – (this is a reproduction of a broadside, illustrated by Keith Abbott).

Steve Silberman provides us with The Invention of the Letter – A Beastly Morality” (written in 1966, and first published two years later), [2018 update – sadly, no moreAlastair Johnson, with two Poltroon Press books – Prolegomena to a Study of the Universe (from 1976) and Prose (Out) Takes (2002), [again, sadly no more]  Michael Rothenberg’s Big Bridge has Mark Other Place, another chapbook (with drawings by Nancy Davis). Brian Unger, currently hard at work among the Whalen papers, provides “Excerpts from the Notebooks of Philip Whalen” (notations from September-October 1967 – essential stuff!). Here’s obituary notices from the US newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle,  and the New York Times).

Interviews? – Phil was, of course, a Soto Zen priest (here’s a 1995 interview with David Chadwick – here) – and here‘s a 2000 interview with friend and fellow-poet David Meltzer – (and here’s a late interview with Brian Howlett (with Lynn Bougureau’s photos and illustrations)).

Secondary sources? – well, let’s start off with Lew Welch on Phil Whalen (from 1969) and Kenneth Rexroth, (from the same year). Tom Clark reviews the Selected in Jacket magazine (as does Lewis MacAdams (for L.A. Weekly)). Alice Notley provides a personal tribute on the PSA (Poetry Society of America)’s web site. Leslie Scalapino‘s introduction to the Collected is available here.
Speaking of Jacket, poet Dale Smith curated a Whalen feature for them (for Jacket 11) in April 2000, (alongside features on Joanne Kyger and the Australian poet-translator, Martin Johnston). He also created a similar gathering for Big Bridge – “On The Occasion of the Publication of Philip Whalen’s Collected Poems“. His own writings on Whalen may be read here, here, here and here.
Miscellaneous other writings – Ron Silliman, Jed Birmingham, Miriam Sagan, Michael Hrebeniak..

We eagerly await Tensho David Schneider‘s forthcoming biography, Crowded By Beauty,
(due out soon, perhaps?, from University of California) – A brief sample to whet our appetite  – here). [2015 update – Crowded By Beauty is now published and available – see more details here]

The Internet Archives remain, of course, an extraordinary trove. Where else to find PW on Virginia Woolf,? on Alexander Pope?, on Shakespeare’s Pericles? on Stravinsky?
The Internet Archive houses all 13 classes of the quaintly-named “In The Pressure Tank“, a series of talks held at Naropa Institute in July and August of 1980.

Here’s Tom Clark’s poem and memory, “Phil” -and more Tom Clark – “Phil Whalen in Bolinas”

Here’s Joanne Kyger’s, “Philip Whalen’s Hat”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *