From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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“Rothenberg has done an exemplary job with The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen…. He includes a short biography of the poet, as well as an extensive bibliography, various of Whalen’s own prefaces, (Gary) Snyder’s astute and heartfelt foreword and a thoughtful essay by poet Leslie Scalapino. He’s even reproduced the tables of contents of Whalen’s original collections."—Lewis MacAdams, Los Angeles Times
“This is a beautiful book.”—Jordan Davis, The Nation
“Presenting some of the most significant poetry of the postwar era, The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen should boost Whalen’s cultural status to the level of recognition he deserves, for it reveals an acute introspective power unequaled in the writing of the period.”—Dale Smith, Rain Taxi
“Philip Whalen is a great American poet. Some--too few--readers have known this since the mid 1950s, when his poems first appeared in little magazines and small-press books. In publishing The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, Wesleyan gives the world at large this incomparable poet, and major literary event. …(Y)ou will enjoy Whalen’s poems, and you may come to love them.”—William Corbett, The Boston Phoenix