Crowded by Beauty: The Life and Zen of Poet Philip Whalen by David Schneider

By David Schneider

Philip Whalen was once an American poet, Zen Buddhist, and key determine within the literary and creative scene that spread out in San Francisco within the Fifties and ’60s. while the Beat writers got here West, Whalen grew to become a respected, much-loved member of the gang. Erudite, shy, and profoundly religious, his presence not just moved his speedy circle of Beat cohorts, yet his robust, startling, cutting edge paintings could come to affect American poetry to the current day.

Drawing on Whalen’s journals and private correspondence—particularly with Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder, Kyger, Welch, and McClure —David Schneider exhibits how deeply bonded those intimates have been, aiding each other of their paintings and their non secular paths. Schneider, himself an ordained priest, presents an insider’s view of Whalen’s struggles and breakthroughs in his thirty years as a Zen monk. whilst Whalen died in 2002 because the retired Abbot of the Hartford road Zen middle, his personal instructor noted him as a patriarch of the Western lineage of Buddhism. Crowded through good looks chronicles the process Whalen’s lifestyles, concentrating on his targeted, eccentric, funny, and literary-religious perform.

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BANJO EYES • 27 In this and other joint appearances, Whalen and Ginsberg’s distinct styles played out. Allen—voluble, dominating, confessional, energetic, demanding— was polite to his guest coteacher, when he remembered Philip was there. Philip, sometimes left with room to do naught but embroider, embroidered beautifully. He supplied Allen with missing names, dates, editions, locations. He chuckled at Allen’s intentional provocations, told supportive stories, but had no qualms at all in correcting or flatly contradicting him.

Sex was such a standard part of his communication that it took on the air of a regular column. When Allen wrote in a quiet period, “Just about no sex at all these days,” one has the feeling of turning to the sports page and finding that one’s team has been shut out. Horny and outrageous as he showed himself to be in the 1950s, Allen still fell into occasional doubt and guilt about his sexual activity. One letter to Philip about it occasioned a learned lecture by return mail on the history of the mind-body split before and in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the various sources of guilt, what Buddhism might have to say about sexuality, and a funny report on research about masturbation—“No exact description of ‘excessive’ was given .

Take the two girls [Ginsberg has written that he’s living in a ménage, with two girls in his bed, and that the tiny flat is crowded, and that he has little room] & a typewriter & a hotel room & go to work, if work is 22 • BANJO EYES what you want. v A. B. ”18Allen’s letters to Philip also contain many instances of flat-out name-dropping. As Philip was unruffled by Allen’s jibes, he was equally unimpressed by hyperventilated mentions of the rich and famous. When Allen let it be known, for example, that he was hanging out with, jamming with, even beginning to record with the likes of Bob Dylan and John Lennon, Philip wrote back that it was wonderful that Allen was finally learning music.

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