Philip Whalen was born on October
20, 1923 in Portland, Oregon. He grew up just south of Portland
and during WWII, he served in the US Army Air Corps. He attended
Reed College on the GI Bill and received his B.A. in 1951.
Gary Snyder and Lew
Welch were Whalen's roommates during college. Whalen read
with Gary Snyder, Allen
Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, and Michael
McClure at the Six Gallery on October 7, 1955, when the infamous
"Howl" was first read.
Whalen is generally considered one of the pioneering forces behind
the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the mid-1950s. The author's
work differs from much Beat writing in its reverential treatment
of the mundane, its self-deprecating humor, and its generally
apolitical tone. Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Paul
Christensen writes: "Whalen's singular style and personality
contribute to his character in verse as a bawdy, honest, moody,
complicated songster of the frenzied mid-century, an original
troubadour and thinker who refused to take himself too seriously
during the great revival of visionary lyric in American poetry."
Whalen was ordained a Zen Buddhist
priest in 1973 and became head monk, Dharma Sangha, in Santa
Fe, New Mexico in 1984. His books include, Canoeing up Cabarga
Creek: Buddhist Poems 1955-1986 (Parallax Press, Feb 1995),
Two Novels (Zephyr Press, Jan 1986), Off the Wall: Interviews
with Philip Whalen (FourSeasons Foundation, Jan 1978), Enough
Said: 1974-1979 (Grey Fox Press, Nov 1980), and Heavy
Breathing: Poems, 1967-1980 (Four Seasons Foundation, Jan
The Memory Of ( Top of Page
Mr J who had been poor for years
Inherited all the money in the world
Bought a gun to blow a hole in his head
To let in air and light he said
To let me out
Today, I have my head to shave
There are lights and shadows in it
All too soon empty open ashes
Join mirthfully to earth
The Dilemma of the Occasion Is... ( Top of Page )
She says she's funny-looking
She can't decide on hair nor clothes.
There are too many shoes to wear.
Almost every downtown corner
Displays crippled, sick and dirty people
Beat and tromped on. Others look
For what to look at, watch to see
If they are noticed
Where to spend all this money.
The Expensive Life ( Top of Page )
Tying up my plastic shoes
I realize I'm outside, this is the park & I am free
From whatever pack of nonsense & old tape loops
Play with the Ayer's dogs, Barney & Daphne
They don't ask me why I shave my head
"Cut the word lines," Burroughs recommends
Daphne & Barney fatter than ever & only I am dieting
(Crease along the dotted lines)
Loops of tacky thinking fall unloosed. The sun
Getting hotter than my flannel shirt requires
What about THE BUDDHIST REVIVAL IN CHINA?
Won't read it now... too blind to see it
Almost too blind to write this, in my room no flowers
The service station wants four bits for compresssed air
At only 16 pounds per square inch
I can see the farthest mountain.
The Imperfect Sonnet ( Top of Page )
"The person of whom
you speak is dead."
Where is the second crystal?
One came in last night & took it; this one
Held the papers on the table
Now I want topaze.
In the middle of the night -
The glass doors locked, nothing else missing
Worthless Quartz eccentrically shaped gone
As Emperor Nicholas Romanov
As "Bebe" Rebozo
Say that you love me say
That you will bring me
A delicious cup of coffee
A topaze cup! From Silesia -
Property of Hapsburg Emperors
The better crystal is upstairs.