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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Philip Whalen's CLASSICS SHELF (condensed)


Notebook entry, Kyoto, 1967: Philip Whalen (Bancroft Library, U. of California)

24:VII:58 ...I write this in bed at 3:40 A.M. after a day of reading, almost continuous reading -- (re-reading Tristram Shandy) -- during which I kept promising myself “I will stop at the end of this chapter & try to begin writing again.” I didn’t actually stop until a few minutes ago.

I got into this pickle by starting a couple weeks ago with the notion that I must mend my prose style by perusing again the sedate pages of Johnson, the ironic epithets of Smollett, & the lively grace of Sterne. All that has resulted is an echoing of their sounds in my empty skull & bent reflections of their kinds of phraseology in current letters to my friends & in this place -- a dismal conclusion to my original plan. In addition (or in diminution, rather) I feel a great lapse of my inventive & authorial powers.

6/VII:65  In rage & panic, hungry, I sold half a dozen books for $2. I’ve eaten almost all of it: The Iliad, a contemporary verse translation with Wedgwood illustrations, THE DESERT MUSIC, JOURNEY TO LOVE, THE 100,000 SONGS (xlations from Milarepa), and a Dante illustrated by George Grosz...

Philip Whalen: from Notebooks (1957-1966), 2009

Dear Tom,

Here is Philip [Whalen's] CLASSICS SHELF (condensed).

When Philip recently moved into a smaller room with better sunlight in the [Hartford Street, San Francisco] Zen Center, it was necessary to reduce his immense library into something more portable. In addition to all of his Buddhist books, he requested the following books be kept as his own portable collection:

Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems
Paperback of Emily Dickinson Collected
Lloyd Reynolds' books
Copies of his own books
Large Print Bible
Copies of Joanne Kyger's books
1 volume edition of Plato
Krazy Kat books
Mountains and Rivers Without End, Gary Snyder
Thomas C. Wolfe, The Story of a Novel
1986 Edited Copy of Finnegans Wake, Random House (confused maybe with printing of Ulysses)
All volumes of Stravinsky's Letters
Edith Sitwell's Collected
Robert Craft's book about Stravinsky
Archie and Mehitabel
Journal to Stella, Jonathan Swift
Collected Plays by W. B. Yeats
Selected Robinson Jeffers
Tristram Shandy
Annotated Wasteland in paperback
Humphrey Clinker
Old Collected Poems of W. Carlos Williams, 2 or 3 volumes
All books by Gertrude Stein: paperback of The Making of Americans, Narration, What Are Masterpieces?, Lectures in America
EE Cummings Collected
2 large volumes of Thoreau journal

-- Brit

Britton Pyland to TC, 17 October 2006

Notebook entry, Kyoto, 18 October 1967: Philip Whalen (Bancroft Library, U. of California)


Pages from The Invention of the Letter: A Beastly Morality: Philip Whalen, 1967 (via Steve Silberman)

The imagination may be compared to Adam's dream -- he awoke and found it truth.
-- John Keats to Benjamin Bailey, 22 November 1817


Bowie Hagan said...


Philip Whalen always cheers me up. Thanks.


Hazen said...

This one is special, Tom. Thanks for sharing this private record of the artist’s mind at work. I like that Whalen takes care to make Adam and Eve anatomically correct, in a rough-draft sort of way. “Never let him sleep in the afternoon.” Back in the day, I preferred to work deep into the night and then get up at first light, so I was an inveterate napper.

Ed Baker said...

The Invention of the Letter I bet-you is en toto on the net....

sent him a copy of Shrike in 2,000 a visual "thing"
not knowing that he cld hardly see.

ON BEAR'S HEAD (and some of his early "stuff" big
for me...

those who don't know his work... try a STRAIGHT THROUGH read of The Collected Poems

I recalled what you post as "The Invention of the Alphabet" not "the Letter" close, eh?

Sandra said...


vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Priceless Classics Illustrated.

Wooden Boy said...

I didn't realise Genesis had a third creation narrative.

I love the image of Adam tracing out the music in the sand. Whalen knows how to use a pen. The mirroring of Jesus in John 8 happens so lightly.

The line from Keats' letter is a perfect close.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Clearly strange trees
clustered with branches
bend like people
in drawings.

Schoolish notes
look free here.
Mother of changes
reflecting the crucial
feedback to awaken.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

"and a Dante illustrated by George Grosz"

thrown in at the last
for some light reading
after a little annotated Wasteland, Plato
"all books
by Gertrude Stein"
between sips of green tea
what is left of the library?
side by side
unimaginable treks
up steep paths
yet another pass
not quite there
at all.
will you wait
until I get there, too?
tell me
all the rules.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I like page 9 the best. The snaggle-toothed beast with the star-burst mane. I like the cross-eyed look of him, ready to shake hands with the moon and stars.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

"Chrysanthemum perfume autumn"

is very busy
there's lots of intense dreaming
in the darker afternoon
which lasts longer
than before. This is where
the animal helper muse lives--
a bear or a fox is there
bringing in the flowers
turning the perfume.

TC said...

Pleased that people enjoyed this.

Bowie, me too, about the up-cheering effect of PW. Somewhat miraculous in that one would never have been tempted to describe Philip as a particularly cheery fellow. But then, was there ever a more tiresome writer than Samuel Smiles?

Great comments all round here.

"I like that Whalen takes care to make Adam and Eve anatomically correct, in a rough-draft sort of way."

"I didn't realise Genesis had a third creation narrative.

"I love the image of Adam tracing out the music in the sand. Whalen knows how to use a pen. The mirroring of Jesus in John 8 happens so lightly.

"The line from Keats' letter is a perfect close."

"The snaggle-toothed beast with the star-burst mane. I like the cross-eyed look of him, ready to shake hands with the moon and stars."

The relation between Poetry and Letters is old and deep but perhaps not as firm as once was. Kids who learn how to use a Smartphone in school but not how to make proper letters by hand are being rendered illiterate in the strict sense of the word. This Benign Illiteracy is a common curse among (even) "writers" these days. Really it would be interesting to make a graph illustrating the concurrent and proportionate increase in functional illiteracy and Postmodernism. Phil has become a Pomo icon (not his doing, he'd have had a laugh, but still history is funny that way). Even so and notwithstanding however, his work represented for yours truly, in learning days, a wonderful living example of that old-time intimacy between the physical making of letters and the imaginative shaping of words. The elements of freedom and play in the physical act of hand-writing are as old as the written word itself and have no keyboard parallel.

Something of the depth of Phil's beautiful literariness is hinted at in his CLASSICS SHELF (condensed). When we were neighbors once upon a time, we talked often and perhaps too long about some mutually admired books on this list, which both of us had been loving since skool daze and in some cases even beyond. Does anybody read these books (or any real books) now?

How can a writer grow up without knowing Tristram Shandy?

Phil was born in Portland and attended Reed College, where his art was influenced forever by a great teacher, Lloyd Reynolds.

Here is that teacher demonstrating the method of italic calligraphy:

Aster Snowdrop Buttercup Sunflower.

Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
A paradise for a sect; the savage too
From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep
Guesses at Heaven; pity these have not
Trac'd upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The shadows of melodious utterance.
But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die;
For Poesy alone can tell her dreams,
With the fine spell of words alone can save
Imagination from the sable charm
And dumb enchantment. Who alive can say,
'Thou art no Poet may'st not tell thy dreams?'
Since every man whose soul is not a clod
Hath visions, and would speak, if he had loved
And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.
Whether the dream now purpos'd to rehearse
Be poet's or fanatic's will be known
When this warm scribe my hand is in the grave.

John Keats, The Fall of Hyperion: from Canto I

ACravan said...

I guess I could say this cheered me up. It certainly affected me positively, was a wonderful thing to wake up to, and will stay with me. Curtis

TC said...


Great to hear from you as always. And it is fine to share a moment of uplift.

In pursuit of further cheer, then, let us aspire to the transcendent light of the North Cascades:

Philip Whalen: From Sauk Lookout

Nin Andrews said...

Wow, this is just so much fun. I totally love it.

TC said...

Thanks Nin. Of course I thought of your swell comics, putting this one up.