Sunday, September 18, 2011

From the notebooks of Philip Whalen, in Big Bridge magazine

Here are excerpts from a collection featuring the art and transcriptions of Philip Whalen, with an introduction by Brian Unger, appearing in the current online journal Big Bridge. As Unger is careful to point out, "no subsequent edition of any original work is ever final or complete. And no new edition is ever a substitute for the original. The textual history of a worthwhile literary work necessarily continues, and continues, and continues." This is especially true when dealing with a hand-written and illustrated manuscript in what Unger refers to as Whalen's "arrighi calligraphy style." For more of Whalen's work, there is Michael Rothenberg's large volume The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, published by Wesleyan University Press (2007). Most of these poems appearing at Big Bridgehave not been previously available.

From Brian Unger's introduction: The following excerpts and images from the journals of Philip Whalen have been transcribed and reproduced from the poet's archive in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. For the material featured here in Big Bridge, I selected a brief but fascinating section from one of the 'Kyoto Notebooks' found in the Notebooks, 1957 – arrighi 1990, Box 1, folder 10. Physically, this particular object is rather typical for Whalen, one of those small writing tablets with a faux marble cover, 8" by 10", common in elementary and secondary school classrooms in the 1950s and 60s.

If you are a fan of Philip Whalen's work the journals are a profound joy to peruse, and if you are a student of the Beat Generation or of American Buddhist literature, these journals are an indispensable lens into the life of a late 20th century American Zen monk-poet and his circle. Whalen's journals embody a literary project far removed from, for example, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, written around the same time. In retrospect, Merton's ruminations and meditations seem to reflect the positivist, ecumenical optimism of the period in American Zen dominated by Columbia University lecturer D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966). ...


8 : IX : 67

ran lunatic in the midst of our canoeing trip, had to tie him
up & sit on him in the bottom of the canoe in the daytime, tie
him to a tree at night and he kept talking and laughing and cussing
the whole time we put a gag on him one night so we could get some rest
from his noise but pretty soon he had eaten and swallowed it all some way
or other we were afraid to try that again because he might get all fouled
up with all the cloth inside then he had to get loose a couple times and
we almost lost him completely hunting for him through the brush and timber
we never would have found him except for his talking and we never did catch
him asleep from the time he first started acting funny

Philip Whalen

10 : IX : 67

Dreams of all my family at the cabin
in the woods, from the time the car turns
off the highway the clay bank hillside and
ferns appear as in passing lighthouse beam
then down sloping fir tree tunnel and
so to the house. Who was driving the
car? Dick Anderson, Clarence Thompson—
a friend of mine they never saw, or
some friend from earlier school days
we arrive, my grandmother is delighted,
all the rest jostling and roaring per

Just now I read my mother's
Name in a poem by the Earl of Rochester,
Pepsicola in Japan.


to Wallace Stevens. I never should
have left the U.S.A. without copies of
all his poems.

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