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reed magazine logoWinter 2008
Language as Transient Act: the Poetry of Philip Whalen

Language as Transient Act: the Poetry of Philip Whalen

Philip Whalen ’51 and Reed English professor Lloyd Reynolds; Allen Ginsberg, who took the photos, wrote: “We visited his old teacher at Reed College returning from 1963 July Vancouver Poetry Conference—Reynolds taught poets calligraphy.”


Unfinished, 3:XII:55

We have so much
That contemplating it
We never learn the use—

Poisoning ourselves with food,
with books
with sleep

Ignorance quicker than cyanide
Cuts us down
No lack of opportunity to learn;
Flat-footed refusal! Call it
Perversion, abuse, bullheadedness
It is rejection of all we know

A single waking moment destroys us
And we cannot live without

You come to me for an answer? I
Invented it all, I
Am your tormentor, there is no
Escape, no redress

You are powerless against me: You
Must suffer agonies until you know
You are suffering;

Work on that.

from Canoeing Up Cabarga Creek
(Parallax Press, 1996)

Up in Michigan

Tough branch stems blue
Chicory flowers
Down flat leaves almost dandelion
Blue delicate five-tooth petal edge
Almost invisible thread hair center
Lots of Queen Anne’s lace, Joel misquotes Williams,
“Wild carrot invades a whole field”
Big leaf trees where land floats outward
Glacier tundra peat prairie
The sun rises in the north

from Overtime (Penguin Books, 1999)

Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis  

I praise those ancient Chinamen
Who left me a few words.
Usually a pointless joke or a silly question
A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin of a quick
splashed picture­—bug, leaf,  
caricature of Teacher 
on paper held together now by little more than ink  
& their own strength brushed momentarily over it
Their world & several others since
Gone to hell in a handbasket, they knew it­­
Cheered as it whizzed by—
& conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom
Happy to have saved us all.

from Memoirs of an Interglacial Age (Auerhahn Press, 1960)


reed magazine logoWinter 2008