Synopses & Reviews
One of the most path-breaking and creatively radical poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, Philip Whalen was part of the 1955 Six Gallery reading where the West Coast Beat movement famously began. Working alongside Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac, Whalen developed a conversational and visually unorthodox style that is unique in contemporary poetry. His lifelong engagement with the impermanent and sensuous, concerns deepened by his commitment to Zen Buddhism, are on rich display here, along with his warm humor and original illustrations. This Collected Poems rightfully places Whalen among the foremost poets of his time, offering readers a truly major body of American poetic work.
"A friend and inspiration to Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, the Oregon-born California Beat poet Whalen (1923 2002) also played a serious role in the history of American Buddhism, traveling to Japan, then becoming a Zen monk in 1974. Whalen's copious pre-1967 writings make up the bulk of this volume: often they reflect a first-thought best-thought aesthetic, with scenes from West Coast nature and San Francisco bohemia, ecstatic and disillusioned jottings and quips about love, sex, drugs, literature and America, along with holographs and drawings. The work Whalen did in Japan tells a different story. The last and best of his long sequences, the 60-page 'Scenes from the Capital' (1969), combines a Ginsberg-like flow with more considered reflections on travel, alienation and the poet's own mind: 'If you want something hold out an empty hand,' Whalen advises; 'If you want a poem find a blank page.' His move into more dedicated Zen practice slowed downhis verse: 'How to explain that everything is unimaginably splendid/ And horrible?' an ode from 1979 inquires. Beat compleatists, seekers of Buddhist poetry and anyone else drawn to the history of countercultural writing should find much in this big book to like, though its sheer bulk (and price) may be a deterrent.(Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)