Whalen, Philip

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Biography

Philip Whalen (1923-2002) graduated from Reed College in 1951 on the GI Bill after serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II. It was at Reed that Whalen met and became friends with poets Gary Snyder and Lew Welch. Several years later, Whalen was one of the poets who read with Snyder and others at the historic Six Gallery reading in San Francisco on October 13, 1955. Allen Ginsberg first performed his poem, Howl, at the Six Gallery reading.

After spending several years in Japan, Whalen was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1973 and spent two decades in Zen Centers in San Francisco and New Mexico.

Whalen wrote nearly two dozen books including Memoirs of an Interglacial Age, Like I Say, On Bear's Head, The Kindness of Strangers: Poems, 1969-1974, Canoeing up Cabarga Creek: Buddhist Poems, 1955-1986, and Overtime: Selected Poems.

He passed away on June 26, 2002.

From the guide to the Philip Whalen Correspondence, 1978-1987, (University of California, Davis. General Library. Dept. of Special Collections.)

Biographical Chronology

  • 1923: Born the only child of Glenn Henry and Phylis Arminta Bush Whalen in Portland, Oregon. Childhood spent in a small town on the Columbia River southeast of Portland called, The Dalles.
  • 1939: Writes first poem in high school social science class. Mother dies.
  • 1941: Graduates from high school. Family moves to Portland, Oregon
  • 1943 - 1946 : Drafted in to the U.S. Army Air Corps. Trained to teach radio operation and repair.
  • 1946: Attends Reed College under the GI Bill.
  • 1948 - 1949? : Meets Lew Welch. Meets Gary Snyder soon thereafter.
  • 1950: Moves into rooming house where Lew Welch and Gary Snyder also lived. William Carlos Williams visits Reed on tour of western states. Whalen, Welch and Snyder give Williams their manuscripts for criticism. Also takes creative writing and calligraphy courses from Reed professor, Lloyd Reynolds.
  • 1951: Produces a small book of poems, Three Satires. Senior thesis project entitled, The Calendar. Graduates with a degree in Literature and Languages. Moves south to San Francisco, California and then to Venice, California, then returns to San Francisco.
  • 1952: Moves into an apartment with Gary Snyder. Spends the following three summers working at a fire station in the Skagit Valley of Mt. Baker National Forest.
  • 1955: Participates in the historic Six Gallery reading that included, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Soon after the reading he meets more of the Beat writers: Neal Cassidy, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky. Takes peyote for the first time.
  • 1955 - 1956? : Has first experimental Zen sesshin (meditation practice) with Gary Snyder, Albert Saijo and a few others in a cabin in Mill Valley, California.
  • 1956: Lives in Berkeley. Meets Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer. Moves to Newport, Oregon for the following two years.
  • 1959: Returns to San Francisco. Evergreen Review 2: The San Francisco Scene, which includes Whalen, is published. Meets Richard Baker at Grove Press in New York.
  • 1960: First full-length book of poems, Like I Say, published followed by Memoirs of an Interglacial Age. Included in Donald Allen's New American Poetry anthology.
  • 1962: Recipient of the Poets Foundation Award.
  • 1963: Writes first novel, You Didn't Even Try, which was later published in 1967.
  • 1964: Receives V.K. Ratliff Award.
  • 1965: NET (The National Educational Television Center) film series, USA: Poetry films a portrait of Whalen. Receives, with the help of Ginsberg, a grant-in-aid from the National Academy of Arts and Letters which helps him pay for his move to Kyoto, Japan.
  • 1966 - 1967 : Lives in Kyoto, Japan where he teaches English, tours and writes. Gary Snyder and family living in Japan at the same time.
  • 1967: Returns to California.
  • 1969: On Bear's Head: Selected Poems published.
  • 1970: Severance Pay: Poems 1967-1969 published.
  • 1969 - 1971 : Second trip to Japan. Stays with Richard Baker and family for a brief period.
  • 1971: Returns to Bolinas, California. Zentatsu Richard Baker Roshi invites Whalen to visit the Zen Center in San Francisco which Whalen accepts. Begins formal Zen training.
  • 1972: A novel, Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head is published. Whalen requests ordination as an Unsui (Zen monk).
  • 1973: Ordained as Unsui.
  • 1975: Takes the position of Shuso (acting head monk) at the Zen Mountain Center, in Tassajara Springs, California.
  • 1976: The Kindness of Strangers: Poems, 1969-1974 published.
  • 1977: Decompressions: Selected Poems published. Attends the Centrum Foundation poetry conference in Port Townsend, Washington.
  • 1980: The Diamond Noodle, a prose text, is published.
  • 1981 - 1982 : Resident head monk at South Ridge Zendo in San Francisco.
  • 1983: Heavy Breathing, Poems 1967-1983 published. Attends the International Poetry Conference, Rome.
  • 1984: Presides as Tanto (practice leader) at the Dharma Sangha, Santa Fe, New Mexico under the direction of Zentatsu Richard Baker Roshi.
  • 1985: Two Novels a reprinting of two earlier books, You Didn't Even Try and Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head published.
  • 1986: Receives the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
  • 1987: At the end of July Whalen's formal training as Zen monk successfully completed. Receives The Fund For Poetry award.
  • 1988: Returns to San Francisco were he serves as Godo (head of practice) at the Hartford Street Zen Center. In November works as master in residence in poetry at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
  • 1992: Becomes abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center, San Francisco.
  • 1995 - 1996? : Retires as abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center, San Francisco.
  • 1996: Canoeing up Cabarga Creek : Buddhist poems, 1955-1986 published.
  • 1999: Overtime: selected poems and Some of these days: poems published.
  • 2002: Philip Whalen dies in San Francisco, California.

From the guide to the Philip Whalen papers, circa 1940-2002, (The Bancroft Library.)

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Philip Whalen was born in Portland, Oregon in 1923 and grew up in The Dalles-- a small town in Oregon on the Columbia River. Whalen wrote his first poems while a high school student in The Dalles, but he began to write more seriously and identify himself as a poet while serving in the Air Force during World War II. His position training radio operators left him with ample down time in which to read and to write poetry. After the war ended, Whalen intended to pursue his interests in Asian literature and languages at the University of California at Berkeley, but his economic circumstances required moving back to his family's home in Portland. Back in Portland, Whalen attended Reed College on the GI Bill where he studied English and creative writing, and learned calligraphy from Lloyd Reynolds, a professor of art history and creative writing. It was also at Reed that Whalen met and befriended two other young poets, Lew Welch and Gary Snyder. The three lived together in a Portland rooming house and shared an affinity for the poems of William Carlos Williams and the rhythmic prose of Gertrude Stein. Though they never considered themselves part of an artistic or poetic movement, the three young poets would become core members of the Beat Generation and usher in a new style of West Coast poetry known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Though Whalen had been studying and writing poetry throughout college and for several years after graduating from Reed he published infrequently during the first few years of his career and was known mostly among other poets in San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest. It wasn't until his participation in the historic 1955 Six Gallery reading that he received national attention. The reading was organized to highlight the work being done by local San Francisco poets and was a major factor in bringing contemporary poetry, especially the work of the Beat poets, into the national cultural consciousness. The event, which was organized by Allen Ginsberg and hosted by Kenneth Rexroth, featured Whalen, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure and Philip Lamantia as well as Ginsberg, who read Howl for the first time at the event.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Whalen's fame grew after the Six Gallery reading and he sold several poems to significant literary journals such as the Evergreen Review before the publication of two major book of poems in 1960, Memoirs of an Interglacial Age and Like I Say. The momentum around the west coast beats that started picking up after the Six Gallery reading continued and became codified with the publication of Don Allen's anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 by the Grove Press. This anthology featured a number of emerging poets and served as a virtual who's who of contemporary poetry, including Whalen, who contributed several poems to the volume. Whalen continued to publish regularly collections of poetry such as On Bear's Head: Selected Poems, Severance Pay: Poems 1967-1969, The Kindness of Strangers: Poems, 1969-1974 through the 1990s. He also wrote three novels- a loose trilogy comprised of Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head, You Didn't Even Try, and The Diamond Noodle.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED In addition to being a poet, Whalen was also a devout Buddhist. He studied meditative practices and lived in Kyoto Japan in 1966 and 1967 writing immersing himself in Zen Buddhist practices. He was ordained at Zen Buddist priest in 1973 and rechristened Zenshin Ryufu, which means "Zen-mind-dragon-wind." He spent most of the later years of his life living in Zen Centers and monasteries, including a role as the abbot of a monastery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and at the Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco where he acted as abbot for the center and its associated AIDS hospice. He retired from his work as an active priest in 1996, but continued to write and publish poetry throughout the 1990s.

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Philip Whalen died June 26, 2006.

From the guide to the Philip Whalen Papers, 1941-1979., (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn (Everett) Leroi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) Papers, 1957-1965 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Joel Oppenheimer Papers, 1925-1988. Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries
referencedIn Richard Brautigan Papers, 1942-2003, (bulk 1958-1984) Bancroft Library
referencedIn Irving Rosenthal papers, ca. 1950-1996 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Don Carpenter Correspondence, 1963-1973 University of California, Davis. General Library. Department of Special Collections.
referencedIn Larry Fagin Papers., n.d., 1958-1977. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Allen Ginsberg papers, 1937-1994 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Joanne Kyger Papers, 1950-2009 Mandeville Special Collections Library
creatorOf Philip Whalen Correspondence, 1978-1987 University of California, Davis. General Library. . Dept. of Special Collections
referencedIn Philip Whalen Collection., 1958-1977. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Aram Saroyan Papers., undated, 1950-1977. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
referencedIn Don Carpenter papers, 1950-1993 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Lew Welch Papers, 1943-1971 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Thomas Francis Parkinson Papers, 1950-1985. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn John Wieners Papers, 1955-1970 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Alice Notley Papers, 1969-2001 Mandeville Special Collections Library
referencedIn Diane Di Prima Papers, 1948-1971 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Gerard Malanga Papers, 1944-1971 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Charlie Vermont Papers, 1965-1983 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Oyez Press Records., 1963-1987. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
creatorOf Philip Whalen Papers, 1941-1979. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn Robert A. Wilson collection, 1906-2011 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
referencedIn Gary Snyder Papers, 1910-2003;, (1945-2002 bulk) University of California, Davis. General Library. . Dept. of Special Collections
referencedIn Jack Kerouac collection of papers, 1942]-1969 The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
referencedIn Robert LaVigne Papers, 1954-1969. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn Loewinsohn, Ron. Papers, 1953-1976 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Lines (New York, N.Y.) Archive, 1963-1965 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn C: A Journal of Poetry, Archive, ca. 1955-1966 (Bulk 1964-1966) Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn Ann Charters Papers., 1966-1982. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Joanne Kyger Correspondence, 1957-1975 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Larry Eigner Papers., 1950-1979. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
referencedIn Archive for New Poetry. Curator's Correspondence and Subject Files, 1974 - 1989 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Love Magazine Archive, 1965-1968 Fales Library & Special Collections
creatorOf Philip Whalen papers, circa 1940-2002 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Jack Kerouac Papers, 1920-1977, 1935-1969 The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
referencedIn James Koller Papers., 1959-1986 Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
referencedIn Records, 1962. Houghton Library
referencedIn Mark Green papers, 1954-1991, bulk 1954-1978 Archives of American Art
referencedIn Peter Orlovsky Papers, 1954-1971. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Archive for New Poetry (University of California, San Diego). corporateBody
correspondedWith Artists and Writers for Hughes. corporateBody
associatedWith Baraka, Amiri, 1934- person
associatedWith Berrigan, Ted. person
correspondedWith Brautigan, Richard person
associatedWith Brown, William D., 1918- person
correspondedWith Carpenter, Don person
associatedWith Charters, Ann. person
correspondedWith Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005 person
associatedWith Di Prima, Diane. person
associatedWith Di Prima, Diane, Archives person
correspondedWith Eigner, Larry, 1927- person
correspondedWith Fagin, Larry. person
associatedWith Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997 person
associatedWith Green, Mark person
associatedWith Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 person
associatedWith Koller, James. person
associatedWith Kyger, Joanne person
associatedWith LaVigne, Robert, 1928- person
associatedWith Lines (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Loewinsohn, Ron. person
associatedWith Love (Berkeley, Calif.). corporateBody
associatedWith Malanga, Gerard. person
correspondedWith Mayer, Bernadette person
correspondedWith McClure, Michael person
associatedWith Notley, Alice, 1945- person
correspondedWith Oppenheimer, Joel person
associatedWith Orlovsky, Peter, 1933- person
correspondedWith Oyez Press corporateBody
associatedWith Parkinson, Thomas Francis, 1920- person
associatedWith Rexroth, Kenneth, 1905-1982 person
associatedWith Rosenthal, Irving. person
associatedWith Rosenthal, Irving, 1930- person
associatedWith Sagan, Miriam, 1954- person
associatedWith San Francisco Zen Center corporateBody
correspondedWith Saroyan, Aram. person
associatedWith Scalapino, Leslie person
associatedWith Snyder, Gary person
correspondedWith Snyder, Gary, 1930- person
correspondedWith University of Connecticut. Special Collections Department Collector person
correspondedWith Vermont, Charlie person
correspondedWith Waldman, Anne, 1945- person
correspondedWith Welch, Lew person
associatedWith Whalen, Velna person
associatedWith Wieners, John, 1934- person
associatedWith Wilson, Robert A. (Robert Alfred), 1922- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
American poetry--20th century
American literature--20th century
Poets, American--20th century--Correspondence
Beat generation
Occupation
Poets, American
Authors, American
Function

Person

Birth 1923-10-20

Death 2002-06-26

Americans

English

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