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"...Today, I have my head to shave | There are lights and shadows in it
All too soon empty open ashes | Join mirthfully to earth.


Philip Whalen We at Fish Drum mourn the loss of our dear friend Philip Whalen, respected poet, Zen Buddhist monk, Abbot, teacher, original thinker, and key figure in the literary canon of the second half of the 20th century. Phil has died in San Francisco at the age of 78.

(see also Fish Drum Mag #18)

Philip Whalen
October 20, 1923 - June 26, 2002

Whalen hailed from Portland Oregon, born October 20th, 1923. He was drafted in 1943 into the U.S. Army and later went to Reed College on the G.I. bill where he met up with poets Gary Snyder and Lew Welch.

By the fifties, the three wound up in the Bay Area encountering Allen Ginsberg , Jack Kerouac, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Joanne Kyger to name a few, and the explosive American poetry revolution began. He is credited by some as one of the progenitors of both the Language School poetry movement and of Zen poetry in America.

He published his first major book of poems in 1960, Like I Say . Whalen's inspirational sources and great loves were diverse: Kyoto, Buddhist practice, calligraphy, Gertrude Stein, peanut brittle, and Dr. Who, however he was not a dilettante. He was perhaps the wisest and wittiest of his Beat cronies and surely the most elegant with vast resources of literary and historical knowledge at his fingertips.

He referred to his writing as "a continuous nerve movie". His fans termed it the stream of consciousness of a brilliant man. His many friends found him affectionate, cranky, perfect, daring, and necessary. His buddy Robert Winson called him "a large, soft, bear-elephant w/clever speech."

Whalen wrote dozens of books of poetry and two novels in over 40 years, including On Bear's Head, The Diamond Noodle, You Didn't Even Try, Canoeing up Cabarga Creek, Overtime: Selected Poems and the recently released Goofbook.

He is survived by his sister Velna Whalen of San Diego.

Donations in memory of Philip Whalen can be sent to

Poets In Need Inc.
Post Office 5411
Berkeley, CA 94705

For more information click here:

Suzi Winson, Editor