Philip Whalen

Philip Whalen

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 1983).


The Memory Of

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…

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

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

“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.

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