Saturday’s Whalen celebration at Reed threw a klieg on how many different Whalens you can pull out of his work. There was the clean aphoristic Whalen; the sprawling politico-autobiographical Whalen; Whalen high, Whalen sober; Whalen cranky, Whalen humane; Whalen of the here/now and Whalen of the interglacial Greco-Roman T’ang; Whalen the brain & Whalen the critic of poorly made dinner salads.
A highlight of the night for me was Moshe Lenske’s recollections of postwar Reed and Whalen’s place within it—always in a book, available for any school play, up for talks at his 1414 Lambert Street rental in Sellwood (where Snyder lived for a while in the basement), studying with Blake-drunk pinko campus calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds. (Reynolds’s contribution to the Beat approach to the page, via Reedies Whalen and Snyder, is worth more study. The Zen-leaning English professor-turned-calligrapher used the teaching of the grapheme as “a gateway into the history and lore of civilization,” and his legendary Lefty crankiness could be the model for Whalen’s own. Through another student, Chuck Bigelow, Lloyd’s ideas helped influence the fonts used on Macs.)
Part of the appeal of the Beats for me now is how they reflect an America that’s drifted so from ours it could be a foreign country. Lenske described Reed just after the war as a snug student body of 500-600, studded with returning veterans flush with the G.I. Bill and the social promise of the postwar settlement. Tuition was $300, not a pittance then but low enough that you could hope to pay for the next year’s fees with a decent summer job. Whalen, who grew up in The Dalles (“The End of the Oregon Trail”) 80 miles up the Columbia from here, never turned his back on the Northwest after drifting to San Francisco. He kept up a correspondence with Reynolds and stayed in touch with classmates like Lenske, who was at his ordination as Zen abbot. The Sourdough Mountain Lookout is in Washington, and Lenske described scattering Whalen’s ashes, as per the poet’s instructions, on top of Mt. Hood, which you can see from anywhere in Portland on a clear day.
Hammond Guthrie detailed his hunt for the lost “Crapsey Tea” papers at Reed. Whalen and Lew Welch, whom Guthrie knew at Bolinas in the mid ‘60s, had organized a gag society in the ‘40s called something like the "Adelaide Crapsey-Oswald Spengler Appreciation Society." They printed up ads inviting the public to a series of teas, where the poets (there's no sign the public ever came) picked stanzas from their favorite writers, and brought to the next meeting a poem made with the same words in a new order. Whalen’s insistence that Reed had the “Crapsey stuff” just before he died spurred the Special Collections librarian to track down an unmarked box with 300 pages of Crapsey material. Whalen wrote a “Bouquet to Adelaide” for piano, so the joke—it’s hard to imagine Whalen as a serious Adelaide Crapsey fan—wove faintly through Whalen’s work.
Because the Collected Poems is big, and the reading offered one way through it, here’s a list of what everyone picked to read:
Sourdough Mountain Lookout (1956)
Prose Take-out, Portland 13:IX:58
Hymnus ad Patrem Sinensis (1958)
Bleakness, Farewell (1965)
Creation Myth from Prolegomena to a Study of the Universe (1975)
Waste. Profligacy. Fatuity. (1978)
White River Ode (1966)
To the Muse (1962)
Where Was I? (1963)
Invocation and Theophany (1964)
Lemon Trees (1965)
Ode for You (1971)
Homage to Robert Creeley (1956)
Sad Song (1965)
The Fourth of October, 1963
"I Told Myself": Bobbie Spontaneously (1971)
Dear Mr. President (1965)
Big thanks to Michael Rothenberg for editing the book and putting together a great night. Jordan Davis has an insightful review of Whalen's Collected up here.
3 hours ago