Saturday, December 29, 2012

philip whalen where ya been all my life!?

okay, i admit i'm a bit slow.  i've seen this book on the shelves for years now.  even tho i think of it as just brand new published i thought i'll pick it up next time.  it's not like whalen is an unknown poet to me.  as luck would have it my mother-in-law had a first edition paperback of donald allen's seminal and vastly influential anthology the new american poetry 1945 - 1960.  i said had because i 'borrowed' it some -- oh i dunno -- 20 years ago.  it's beside me as i type.  whalen is of course in that anthology.

and poets that are very important to me, like lew welch and the german buddhist stefan hyner [who if you don't know his work stop what you are doing right now and google his name for hyner is one of those rare birds who is political, earthy, and mystical at once], who were greatly influenced by whalen.  all that and i've never really read whalen.

until this morning.  last night on the way home i stopped at time-tested books and bought overtime: selected poems [penguin; 1999].  i began reading it this morning on the john.  if i may allow myself a cliche here, i was totally fucking blown away.  this is a poet who is cranky, silly, earthy [again that word, but this is a quality i think important because to be earthy is to know that we are human; every human posses desires, has to eat and shit, loves and hates, has sleep-gummed eyes (a title of a poem by another very important poet in my life, jimmy schuyler) is born and will die] and wise.  this is a poet that speaks to me with a very deep but goofy voice. 

still too early to quote from the old buddhist abbot.  i need to really immerse myself in whalen.  i think i read somewhere that michael rothenberg [another fine poet and whalen's literary executor (if i have that correct)] is at work on a collected whalen.  in the meantime below is a poem by lew welch that features whalen in his zen earthiness.

                   Whalen's Feet

      One day Philip Whalen and I were walking down Howard Steet, near 4th, in San Francisco,
and Philip had to take a piss.  I wasn't drinking then, or at least not that early, so I stayed outside
on the corner, in the sunshine until he returned.

          This is how he greeted me:

          "I really hate to piss in skid-row bars, the floors are always wet and I have holes in my shoes."


At 1:18 AM, Blogger Jean Vengua said...

Yes, Whalen is great. And "cranky, silly, earthy" is a perfect description of his work. I have his big "Collected Poems" by Rothenberg.


At 1:19 AM, Blogger Jean Vengua said...

p.s. I mean edited by Rothenberg.



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