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P.J. Corkery



 The novelist Don Carpenter remembered Philip Whalen, the poet who died Wednesday, as "big and soft-looking, but not soft." Whalen "loved to talk and laugh," said Carpenter, "and he knew nearly everything. He was a man of extreme courage, and refused to work at anything but being a poet." That is what is most important about Philip Whalen. But the facts of his biography assembled make him seem to have been an almost archetypal Beat. He was born in Oregon in 1923 and attended Reed College with Gary Snyder and Lew Welch.

    On October 7, 1955, he participated in the powerful Six Gallery reading with Ginsberg, Snyder, Philip Lamantia and Michael McClure, where Ginsberg's "Howl" was first read. In "Dharma Bums," Kerouac portrayed him as Warren Coughlin and described him as "180 pounds of poet meat." Whalen not only spent time embracing Buddhism in Japan, he was ordained a Zen priest in 1973. Thus he seems to have been iconographic. But he was more than a towering figure of a rich, lost time. He was a poet always. Herewith some lines of his to recall him:

    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
    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 compressed air
    At only 16 pounds per square inch
    I can see the farthest mountain. ...

    Tip us off at Phone P.J. at 415-359-2792.

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