I can't live in this world
And I refuse to kill myself
Or let you kill me
The dill plant lives, the airplane
My alarm clock, this ink
I won't go away
I shall be myself —
Free, a genius, an embarrassment
Like the Indian, the buffalo
Like Yellowstone National Park.
The Collected Poems
edited by Michael Rothenberg
Wesleyan University Press, 2007
For nearly any other collected poems
one can almost assume cracking the book open
to the middle will well provide the reader
with some of the best poetry by the poet.
Not so Philip Whalen.
For the last 50 years I guided my Whalen trajectory
through my favorite book of his, On Bear's Head,
a book devised and brought into existence through the
tough work of James Koller, Bill Brown and Don Carpenter
after a little fight with the co-publisher Harcourt & Brace.
Coyote Books was the rightful instigator, as usual.
Whalen was hot from the start — say after he gets through
his apprenticeship in the 40s— from the 50s onward
he is sailing, and Michael Rothenberg's perfect book
for Whalen: cover jacket design and hundreds of poems
(what more do you need?) plus Whalen's drawings and
doodles and general Philip-energy, it's all here in the Wesleyan
edition and I've come during a virus pandemic and read it all (ALL)
now a second time. Reading Philip Whalen is like bicycling up
a hill while eating an ice-cream cone, and maybe it's a hot day
but it doesn't have to be. Energies transfix. You know you've
got a poet when everyone says he or she is reading him and
no one knows who you're talking about.