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Philip Whalen Biography

(1923– ), On Bear's Head, Like I Say, Memoirs of an Interglacial Age

poems poet

American poet, born in Oregon, educated at Reed College. Whalen is associated both with the Beats and with the San Francisco Renaissance. In terms of tone and conviction, his poetry most resembles that of Lew Welch; it is clear and witty, possessing a kind of classical poise which comports well with its jazz-derived flexibility. Increasingly absorbed in Buddhism, Whalen spent several years in Japan, thereby reinforcing both the playful and the spiritual dimensions of his verse. On Bear's Head (1969) is a collection of most of the important work written during the first twenty years of his literary career: it includes Like I Say (1960), Memoirs of an Interglacial Age (1960), Monday in the Evening (1964), and Every Day (1965). Of the later volumes, The Kindness of Strangers (1976) and Enough Said (1980) are particularly important; Heavy Breathing: Poems 67–80 (1983) is a second volume of collected poems. You Didn't even Try (1966) is a slight but beautifully composed novel. Its portrait of an unattached, rather scholarly poet offers another version of the characteristic Whalen persona: kind, but remote from the paraphernalia of twentieth-century consumer capitalism, he seeks solace in the natural world and in a direct, unexploitative series of relationships with his fellow human beings.

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