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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in 3 series.
The Philip Whalen papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts of Whalen's poetry and prose (both published and unpublished), as well as a small number of publications and publishers' catalogs collected by Whalen.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection has no restrictions.
This collection is located on-site.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Philip Whalen papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Selected Related Material
Philip Whalen Papers at the University of California Berkeley's Bancroft Library.
No additions are expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 09/--/89.
Papers processed Carrie Hintz 02/--/2010.
Finding aid written Carrie Hintz 02/--/2010.
2010-03-11 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
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.
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.
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.
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.
Philip Whalen died June 26, 2006.