20th.October 1923 (Portland, Oregon) — 26th.June 2002 (San Francisco, CA)
Photograph by Nancy Davis
Fish Drum Inc., Medicine Show Theatre,
and the WORD/PLAY series present:
THE POEMS OF PHILIP WHALEN
Poets and writers read Whalen's work
Suzi Winson, Michael Rothenberg, Bill Berkson, Duncan McNaughton,
Jim Koller, Louise Landes Levi, Tom Savage, Karl Bruder, Simon Pettet
Sunday, December 12, 2004 3:00 pm
549 West 52nd St. (bet 10th & 11th), 3rd fl
All attendees will receive a copy of
Continuous Flame: A Tribute to Philip Whalen
photos, tributes, poems, drawings and interviews
Proceeds will go to Poets In Need, Inc. a non-profit organization
that gives Whalen grants to established poets in emergency situations.
for more information go to: http://www.bigbridge.org/pin.htm
Word/Play is partially funded by the New York State Council on the Arts, a public agency
Jump to Philip Whalen's publications, recordings, etc. (listed by Steve Dickison, SFSU Poetry Center).
NEW: —Alastair Johnston at Poltroon Press has made available free downloads of two out-of-print books by
Philip Whalen: Prolegomena to a Study of the Universe and
Whalen celebration at Reed College, October 20th.
Request from Rick London and others, Read here.
Philip Whalen Celebrations on August 30th & September 1st. Details here.
…great to see his big goofy tortoise head peering out (We
call him tortoise, because he taught us! — Lewis Carroll)
I got a call from Rothenberg about a month ago asking me to contribute something on Phil for Big Bridge. I finally got around to it the other day and found a snappy bit I had written to introduce him at a Cody's reading 15 years ago. That seemed fine, but then today (the 26th) I was printing this god-awful Brautigan memoir job and remembered Phil showing me a japanese edition of a Brautigan book that was dedicated to him, and he couldn't figure why. Too humble I guess to realise that although Brautigan was (at the time—1975) getting the bux and celebrity, Phil was the source. So I stopped printing, came in here to my computer and wrote a bit. An hour later I heard he was dead.
(Alastair Johnston, San Francisco, California)
Memories come, other times, we the lucky ones, my godfather, returning to
the earth, closing the circle, my family gets smaller, lighting a candle and
burning incense, I am but the small one, much to learn.
(Giona Beltrametti, Riva san Vitale, Switzerland)
Dear Tom, the sad news about Philip sent your way just a few minutes
back.... Will get by the Zen Hospice enroute home tonight, or else Friday.
Found the *big* sized Interglacial book as Auerhahn did it… here on site
& opened to the Hymnus ad Patrem Sinensis. Like Wieners, shocking how much
those poems are part of one's mind. There is a 1955 tape here, Whalen,
Snyder, & McClure with Rexroth introducing, and it seemed to be half of the
Six Gallery Reading in SF. No sign of Ginsberg part of reading, the
"notorious" end, like a space in the shelves where it should be; believe
Philip Lamantia was on the bill as well… Clark however, in consultation
with Larry Fagin, believes it is NOT the Six reading we have, that there
wasnt a recorder there. But, the reading was re-staged, re-created in
Berkeley shortly after… and our tape is of that, the re-creation.
However it comes around, voices out of the mist… "their own strength
brushed momentarily over it" for sure.
(Steve Dickison, Berkeley, California)
The only thing I can say is — A huge chunk of the world has dropped
away. A hole in the side of the world everywhere. Anyway, I fortunately was able
to say goodbye to him, tell him I loved him. He was in a coma but he heard
me, he jumped and responded. He was in the process of concentrating on
making the trip — but we could speak and he heard. Diane di Prima and
McClure, and Rick London, and other friends of his were there. And I talked
to Alice on the phone in Needles CA yesterday. I'm going to go over to see
Philip today. Have to leave for Bard on Sat. but I feel exhausted.
(Leslie Scalapino, Oakland, California)
At hospice around 4, blustery fog blowing through.
Small darkened room, shades drawn, at top of staircase. Inside one woman, eyes closed, seated on burgundy meditation cushion at left of bed. One or two candles, usual stuff, two reddish-orange nasturtiums atop bedside chest, calla lilies in vase.
Phil laid out in brown robe to chin, bit of right hand visible at waist, three orange marigolds placed on bed at his left. Three ad hoc chairs at right of bed, plus one stuffed chair on same side in corner by slightly open window. Meditation cushions along left of bed and facing its foot. Sat some in corner chair after standing at foot of bed. Quiet.
Left small white envelope of ground coffee next to nasturtiums, very nice aroma. Signed register as 'friend', your name and Bob Creeley's too, ditto. In space there for remark or some such wrote 'o.k.'
Down stairs and out. Cafe at corner, espresso and smoke. Poof.
A Little Later........
Subject: Last paragraph of brief (San Francisco) Chronicle obit:
In recent days, while discussing
his death with friends whom he
thought were treating the subject
too morbidly, Mr. Whalen said:
"I'd like to be laid on a bed of
(Duncan McNaughton, San Francisco, California)
Whalen's passing pulled the light out of today, as it did last night when Michael Rothenberg emailed
me the news. We all knew he was dying, yet Philip confounded the time-tables set for his vanishing
act. We're left as we started with the sheer delight of his poetry.
Alastair Johnston forwarded the NY Times obit of Nellie Monk — happy daze of moira and synchronicity.
[From: The Ghosts in Canoeing Up Cabarga Creek: Buddhist Poems. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1996.]
Dear Tom, So much to say that I've run out of words.
As ever, love
(David Meltzer, Richmond, California)
anche Philip ci ha lasciato,
è stato un grandissimo uomo Zen
sarà partito serenamente
verso il paradiso di Amida
(GianPio Fontana, Salorino, Switzerland
Interesting playful people (which is how I saw Whalen, although I never knew him) should not die.
At least not before me.
(David Ball, Northampton, Massachusetts)
Friday Afternoon — back from the SF Zen Hospice where Philip lays in awesome 'state' in the room
he had to leave a year ago because he just wasn't dying quick enough. In the proper brown robes,
like a greatly imposing cicada husk terrifying and gentle and normal. I brought a vase of the Bolinas
nasturtiums, that being one of his favorite flowers, besides frangipani which I have never seen.
Thursday's SF Chronicle obit quotes him as saying last week that he would like to be laid out on a bed
of frozen raspberries. Cremation tomorrow morning at Colma with Dick Baker doing a 'ceremony' and
maybe Norman Fischer if he can postpone his Dharma Art workshop. Diane di Prima, Jerry Hieler…
and later Joanna McClure and Nancy Davis during the hour Don and I were there. I sent your greeting
to him out into the space around where we sat. Nice orchids. Love to all there, and to Val.
Much regard (back from a week at Naropa and Boulder last Sunday night)
(Joanne Kyger, Bolinas, California)
empty wrapper of his favorite incense ...
his body laid out on view
cold to the touch, but the nurse points out
how his big heart is still warm ...
(Gary Gach, San Francisco, California)
When I heard around noon on Tuesday that Philip was expected to die within a matter of hours, I
found myself thinking of a statement Gail Sher read at a conference on poetry and meditation maybe
15 years ago. In this statement, I don't think Gail mentioned poetry or meditation at all, except
briefly at the end. Mostly, she talked about a piano teacher she'd had who told her that striking
the right keys at the right tempo was less important than applying the right amount of weight while
you were playing. And it was only later that I remembered Philip was also part of the panel where Gail
read her statement. (Philip, as I recall, was almost dismissive of the event. He mumbled something about
seeing no particular connection between poetry and meditation — they were each their own thing and there
wasn't much else he could say about it).
In life, Philip was good at applying the right amount of weight to the keys — and he had a naturally
light touch. This did not seem to be something Philip had to work at. He had a deep-running knack for
being himself. He was way too savvy to screw up his enjoyment of life with too much self-evaluation, but
he was always aware of himself and the situations he found himself in. And he didn't make any effort to
hide himself. So when his whimsical, magical mind was at work, he could really be entertaining. A few
weeks ago, we somehow got to talking about tombstones. Near the end of this rambling conversation, he
remarked that, rather than the traditional R.I.P. inscription, he thought R.S.V.P. might be a good
alternative — preferably rendered in a tasteful neon. Although I neglected to ask him, I'm guessing
he would have told me that I'll have to figure out for myself what number to use when the time comes
to make the call.
(Rick London, San Francisco, California)
Phil by Tom Clark
(Tom Clark, Berkeley, California)
I owe a lot to him for breaking through my ignorance about the
'nature of mind.' An imposing presence and mountain of a man…
he could stop your mind with a gaze.
(Jacqueline Gens, Brattleboro, Vermont)
Went along with Larry Kearney in his car Saturday morning out to the
service in Colma, attended almost exclusively by Zen friends — so that I
felt somewhat out of place, not too much. Buddhist chanting, homage to
the Bodhisattvas & Buddhas. Warm remembrances by many there, standing from
their seats. Humor. Simple, the abbott (Richard Baker, I understand)
leading the service mentioning Philip had asked for "a Socrates milkshake"
and the "bed of frozen raspberries." People got up, placed irises, one red
rose, a nasturtium (one woman had gone outside & picked for Michael McClure
after he recalled a nasturtium haiku Philip had made up sitting around one
day late 50s) and raspberries too into the cardboard box with his body,
paid their respects. Somewhere along the line Baker said "it's only
Philip's body we're committing to the fire." And it was.
Summer turned up that morning… first hot day all year, and it's stayed so
(Steve Dickison, Berkeley, California)
I'm quietly mourning Phil and wish I had gotten to say goodbye, but on the other hand
had wonderful visits with him last November, in Leslie's company. I will miss him so much.
But he had, I think, become very uncomfortable. Couldn't walk for months, couldn't see.
He was so full of light though, and ungloomy. I'm in Needles again; we await rain
(some year it will come.) Love, Alice
(Alice Notley, Needles, California)
So, revisiting in homage, it's a good first line I come across,
"The last of California built for Ginger Rogers," of LaJolla in the Morning.
And I'm reminded I always liked the straight titles of his volumes, "Like I Say," "Every Day," "Enough Said."
(Herbie Butterfield, Colchester, England)
Philip was laid out in a lovely Victorian room just four blocks from here,
Page St. Hospice, ancillary to Page St. Zen Center, for three days. Joanne
made a flying visit — Bolinas to Phil to Bolinas in 3 hours — and I went that
evening and sat for 1/2 hr. Only other person there was a monk right off a
scroll, seated on a cushion in a corner, staring straight ahead with big
eyes out of a gaunt face. Somewhere someone was cooking fish. Flowers in
the corner. Very quiet, except for murmured conversation from another
story, as it were, drifting in an open window, drapes gently wafting.
Thoughts like, I guess Decca Mitford's book caused a change in the law,
pushed through by undertakers, that required a body to be embalmed even if
it's to be cremated, which the deceased, in my experience, would have
enjoyed. Philip looked much like he had in the last year or two, on his
back in bed, clean shaven jowls & pate, one hand curled over his hip, the
rest in freshly pressed brown monk's robe with a quilt over his legs. Only
words spoken were at the end of the half hour, "Goodbye, old friend."
Then the introspective walk home, late San Francisco brilliant summer afternoon,
hints of fog off the coast but plenty of sun, circulars blowing along with me.
(Jim Nisbet, San Francisco, California)
His books include.... POETRY Three Satires, privately printed, 1951. PROSE You Didn't Even Try (novel; also see below), Coyote Books, 1967.
Steve Dickison, Director
Several recordings of Philip Whalen reading his work, from 1955 to 1988, are documented
in The Poetry Center's American Poetry Archives, including outtakes from the NET series
USA: Poetry, produced November 10, 1965 in San Francisco by KQED television's Richard O. Moore.
Self Portrait from Another Direction, Auerhahn Press, 1959.
Memoirs of an Interglacial Age, Auerhahn Press, 1960.
Like I Say, Totem Press, 1960.
Hymnus ad Patrem Sinensis (broadside), Four Seasons Foundation, 1963.
Three Mornings (broadside), Four Seasons Foundation, 1964.
Monday in the Evening, Pezzoli [Milan], 1964.
Goddess (broadside), Auerhahn Press, 1964.
Every Day, Coyote's Journal, 1965.
Highgrade: Doodles, Poems, Coyote Books, 1966.
T/o, privately printed, 1967.
The Invention of the Letter: A Beastly Morality Being an Illuminated Moral History for the Edification of Younger Readers, Carp & Whitefish Press, 1967.
Intransit: The Philip Whalen Issue, Toad Press, 1967.
On Bear's Head, Harcourt and Coyote Books, 1969.
Severance Pay, Four Seasons Foundation, 1970.
Scenes of Life at the Capital, Grey Fox, 1971.
The Kindness of Strangers: Poems 1969-1974, Four Seasons Foundation, 1976.
Prolegomena to a Study of the Universe, Poltroon Press, 1976.
Decompressions: Selected Poems, edited by Donald M. Allen, Grey Fox, 1978.
Enough Said: Poems 1974-1979, Grey Fox, 1981.
Heavy Breathing: Poems 1967-1980, Four Seasons Foundation, 1983.
Canoeing Up Cabarga Creek: Buddhist Poems, 1955-1986, Winson (Berkeley, CA), 1996.
Overtime: Selected Poems, (Edited by Michael Rothenberg) Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head (novel; also see below), Black Sparrow Press, 1971.
Off the Wall: Interviews with Philip Whalen, edited by Donald Allen, Four Seasons Foundation, 1978.
The Diamond Noodle, Poltroon Press, 1980.
"You Didn't Even Try" and "Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head" (reprint in one volume of Whalen's two novels), Zephyr Press, 1985.
Two Novels, Zephyr Press (Somerville, MA), 1985.
The Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco CA 94132
vox 415-338-3401 — fax 415-338-0966 Poetry Center Link
December 22nd. 2004
A note from Louise Landes Levi; facts unverified as yet.
Friend's house burns down (Joanne & Philip's editor
((for Penguin))...He also edited long memorial work for Philip, finally
completed/ 1 day before NYC reading of CONTINUOUS FLAME - in memory
Philip Whalen - the house burns down/ w. all archives & Philip's
entire library, with it...His ashes didn't burn, they had been
scattered at Mt. Hood/
January 29th. 2005
Alastair Johnston has A Memoir of Philip Whalen on the Poltroon Press website.
His books include....
Three Satires, privately printed, 1951.
You Didn't Even Try (novel; also see below), Coyote Books, 1967.
Steve Dickison, Director