Pat Nolan

Whalen & Wieners: Eavesdropping on the Greats

[Eavesdropping on the greats is bound to garner an earful. A brief unauthorized peek at correspondence between Philip Whalen and John Wieners from the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. Many thanks and appreciations to Messer’s Berkson and Abbott (now jogging funny bones in the hereafter) from whom this little slice of lit-ephemera was got.]


Mr John Wieners

33 South Russel Street

Boston 14, Mass&c.

Dear Mr Wieners:

Here are poems by me & Snyder. All of Snyder’s best stuff is in the gritty grasp of Don Allen… a whole book of poems called Myths & Texts… and Don Allen has gone away to Yaddo & I don’t know if he has that book with him. Anyhow the stuff of Snyder here came to me in letters from Japan & I am sending them on to you as is, & as it is it is good stuff. My own stuff, well, these are things I would like to have printed, I hope you can use it ALL, ALL. If not, I shall suicide again &c, the usual routine. Listen I gave your address to a real nutty girl, I can’t remember her name & I don’t know how she writes, I’ve only seen her, not her poems anyhow she is supposed to have written for a long time, all I know is she is beautiful and her name is Virginia.

Jack Kerouac says he wants to send you this 3-line poem:

Pulling off the human drawers

of girls:

Leaving whole pussy-willows


Because I’m a breathless tree!

(JK & I are sitting here drinking port wine & lemon-juice because it’s cold & windy outside but the birds are making it anyway.)

Also enclosing a dim carbon of Gregory Corso poems (typed out, Jack says, on RANDELL JARRELL’s typewriter in Washington DC) because Gregory is in Europe now & got no agent otherwise & is defenseless &c. The poem of Corso, The Last Warmth of Arnold, JK is a great Miles Davis Moscow unobtainable poem. He ought to be writing this, I hate to type & I aint got any more to tell you anyhow except I hope MEASURE is an enormous success.

KEROUAC again (lying flat on his back now, composing haigai:

Birds chirp,


Bugs the Gate.

Listen, this is absolutely the latest & best news you’re going to get right now. Voluminous love & goodbye.


1624 Milvia St. Berkeley 9, Calif.

[June 18, 1957]

Dear Mr. Wieners:

I have a letter (belatedly) from Gary Snyder praying me to ask you for the return of his poem “Tokyo-1956” as he is having it published elsewhere. In short, I goofed on that particular piece of business. If you don’t return the thing to me at least withhold its publication in MEASURE.

I trust that the magazine is rushing forward with vast élan & éclat. Mr & Mrs Joe Dunn are in high spirits. Creeley writes sad mystical but hopeful notes from his desert. Have you heard from Olson? His vibrations seem not to reach this Elysian region, for which I am most regretful. To coin an ancient phrase, I dig O. the most. He’s a great sweating bodhisattva.

Most cordially,

Philip Whalen

Philip Whalen

On the Feast of S. Marina


1624 Milvia St.

Berkeley 9, California

June 29 [1957]

Dear Phillip Whalen:

I’m sitting here, saying: Lets get this show on the road. Three weeks I’ve been away from Measure, for no reason I can find but it got too big for me, too many of you. So there has been a flight into Egypt, or the Rialto Theatre, somewhere, a lot of places, I wont remember.

You are the first/ on my return. And the hardest. The book opened that way. I very much would like to use a great deal of what you do in Measure. A going thing. From issue to issue, as you do it. However it comes to you. Not only the poem. But say reviews, bitches, COMMENT. Put the man in. I’ll leave the comeback on this to you. But there is space for you & the others, as I tell them. We will last. A necessity here.

I have just re-read the poems, for I wd say, the fifth time. Over the weeks, much on my mind. But nonetheless, I cant bring myself to say: yes, they go. It’s me you gotta make happy. And I aint. Not with yours, or the four Allen sent me, or most of Mr Snyder. Now what right have I got to say that. Me, I never, at least for months, wrote a poem that makes it as well, as ANY of these. That has the wealth these poems, esp. yours have. I’m not a critic. And they’re not anywhere so near so I can even say what I dont like. If they were bad, yes, it wd. be easy, I cd. fill this space up what where you shd. go, what’s not there, etc. but I cant. Because the poems don’t allow it. The intrusion of my 2cts.

I know the process & I’ll call it, the agony. How this, the poem, is the reason for all of us. I wish Measure I was in, & I cd send it, and it wd. say those things that please me in the poem, or at least expose myself. I intend to print a lot, that dont please me personally, & even if I never dig your work, which isnt so, as I do: SMALL TANTRIC SERMON & THE ROAD*RUNNER/ and a great many parts of both Sour-dough Mt. and esp. The SlopBarrell.

So take this, as an effort on my part, I am not entirely equipped for, or equipped for, at all, at least this kind of letter. Being of no help at all/ only stating the wish that you will send for the two or three years left Measure, your poems as you do them. And I will print those ones I see fit, for Measure. And use you as much as you give yourself into my hands. Right now, I aint making it, with any of you. I hope you can see me thru this, that I am only asking more of you. Since I believe it’s been demonstrated, there is. Right up to that fucking limit. I gotta end this, or Ill call you up on the telephone. Will you come back with your new stuff, no matter what?

My best to you,

John Wieners

I wd. use.

And yours to me. (sure). And the 1st half of “Invocation & Dark Saying

[July 14, 1957]

Dear Mr Wieners,

I think what you are trying to say is this: “I am running a specific kind of magazine. These poems have nothing to do with the aims & purposes of MEASURE.” Or perhaps more pointedly, “You are writing for THE AMERICAN WEEKLY & this is, after all, THE DAILY WORKER.” Anyway, I appreciate your “agonized re-appraisal” and your invitation to send more stuff. I have lots of different things to say in whatever way I can… “reviews, bitches, Comment” … the hitch is this: I avoid writing anything, even a letter, unless it is absolutely necessary, I mean unless it is keeping me awake at night, keeping me away from the kitchen, the bar, the music scene &c. but yes, I’ll send you whatever comes out. Only one other publisher has invited me & I don’t like him (Jay Laughlin.) So look out, I’m coming &c.


Philip Whalen


Bastille Day, 1957

[August 14, 1957]

Dear John,

Please don’t do anything about the Magic War piece until I write you; I haven’t seen Robert about it yet, I’ve been in the Sierras for a week & 1/2 . Will see him soonest & let you know.

As for your objections:

The thing is a letter to Robert, not what I know but a message in terms of his own paideuma [Circled in red with line leading to text in the margin, italicized here.] or what I dug was his, from reading his poems, plays, notebooks &c. I didnt copy any of Faust Foutu into it, only the smell of it, the world of it. It is an anti-magical tirade, pur sang, sans blague, not about faggots, 37th St, starving toads &c. A demon is a demon, a homosexual is a guy with a hangup, I know the difference.

On second thought, send the whole works back to me. I don’t want it printed, any of it.

Damn, damn, damn.


  1. I am not Coleridge.
  2. You aren’t Jno. Livingston Lowes.
  3. Road to Xanadu closed for resurfacing.
  4. Why cant you decide what it is you’re doing or who it is you’re being? An editor makes a magazine to be read by other people. A critic is an unprintable fuckhead. Take your choice.
  5. No charity; compassion: a self-disinterested, detached love

(MILA REPA (the Tibetan one): “The notion of emptiness (of the Self) engenders/ Compassion/ Compassion does away with the distinction between “self” and “other”/ Tho distinction of self and others, the service of others effective.” The indistinction of self and other renders the service of others effective.” )

  1. Back to 4 again: Editor prints what he thinks is live material, don’t smash up the printing press with a hammer & die on receipt of letter from Cleanth Brooks Jr. saying, “It has come to my attention that the poem on page 27 had one too many feet in line 11; you are a booby for printing it.” Or he prints what he’s paid to, fucked into, bullied, whatever. What’s your choice.
  2. I have no quarrel with Olson or his poems. His theories are fine but I can’t use them. He & I understand each other just fine when we’re together, or did when I saw him last.
  3. Rexroth has done many nice things for me and I appreciate them. This isn’t a blanket approval of all he does & says. We get along all right.
  4. No quarrel with Robert, I don’t know him that well. This was only an abstract, an ideological scramble & a plea for calling the whole thing off, not a Celebrated Literary Attack, chastisement, snotty saying, rant, &c.
  5. This isn’t an attack on you but on your indecision.

I have a new mess bubbling in the boiler & half of it spilled on the floor already. I’ll send you some later if you aren’t tired by now of this transcontinental hot-dry job.

And for the love of Jayzus, lay off the Matthew Arnold bit. Leave that for your elders and so-called betters, viz. some fuckhead like Yvor Winters who gets his living by doing it in Stanford University for the befuddlement of the young rich. I wont curl up & wither away if you simply write a note saying, “No, I cant use your poem, I DONT LIKE IT.” You don’t have to give me a reason, I don’t care about your reasons, except insofar as they elicited 4 & ¾ pp. of your own sometimes delightful LONG BITCH TO PW. Try to stop being scared. What if I did show up in Boston with a meataxe? The police would stop me before I got to Russell St. (This is intended jocularly, & not as a veiled threat.)

You keep talking like I was a constant reader of Measure & other literary magazines. I’ve never seen a copy of M. and as for magazines in general, I prefer Galaxy to Astounding. I read the classics if I feel like reading, or history or biog. I’d rather play or listen to music than read, et cetera on an ascending scale towards sleep.

Observed sign of old age in myself: I care less now what kind of idiot other people think they see when they are looking at me, either in print or in propria persona. You are apparently younger.

Dear Baby,

This is a drag. I am out of cigarets, and now I’ve started juicing for the evening, all by myself, pinching pennies, playing with my balls, my new beard, wondering if you are hearing me at all, if I am no, I’m not, after all, getting through, your last letter proves that or are you by nature an inarticulate analphabet which shall it be? I suppose it is my own fault, I turned loose the jeu d’esprit of a moment into a classroom full of undergraduates – I mean I put it to you that you have no funny bone, it was removed at H…..d. I am not communicating in spite of your protests to the contrary otherwise it wouldn’t have taken 4 & ¾ pp to contain your reply, happy as the last page is, the last page & ½, I mean Baby, if the police ever happen to come in while we’re doing this it’ll mean 99 years to life for both of us and all our friends beside. What it is: After a reading in San Francisco, several students from a Catholic university surrounded Allen Ginsberg and asked pointedly, but what do you believe in? A.G. said, “I believe in my cock.” They asked for explanation of this quaint term, and Mr. G. removed his trousers & shorts & showed them what he was talking about. (This, while several hundreds of people were milling about but not watching very carefully.) You aren’t watching either and it is just as well that you should be sheltered from the coarser aspects of life (“tumescence & detumescence”) which are all too frequently, alas, to be observed anywhere. I am not getting through except to a few old farts which I have heard it already from Sheila Graham or Scott Fitzgerald or Michael Arlen, too bad. Without you singing beside me in the wilderness I must go to that expensive & sordid (old copies of Gentry magazine & a sound system that cheerily plays movie scores, Montevani, & occasionally the Liebestod) steambath in rowdy old Samfrancisco. You should never live so long as to see the corny-dust layed on so thick.

Now it is better, I rushed over to the drugstore & brought a package of Camels back.

Now listen, I know that the hair & the soup are all the same thing, I just didn’t think Duncan did, that was the point of the whole fromage :that he thinks he sees a difference & the hair is more important to him. Do you see now. Oh well. I’ll figure another way to tell you all, as many lives as necessary, & all the patience in the world.

THE BENEFICENT (happy, jocund or some other adjective) BLACKSMITH [“BLACKSMITH” circled in red pencil.], a sonata or what not for young pianists, by F.J. Haydn.

Did you never hear of a sirvente ? [This line is in a jagged red circle]

Damn it. I said & meant gasolene. Devils, demons & such like needing fuel, being that they are from a fiery environment, HELL. Real Hieronymous Bosch demons… you thought he was painting pretty imaginary figures? Read your own Cotton Mather, & the Malleus Malefica (in the translation of the Reverend Montague Summers) not to mention various Hebrew sources. There are six general worlds, those of men, angry deities, paradisal ones, hungry ghosts (the universe of Tantalus), hell, and the animal kingdom… this is Tibetan. There are actually a great many other times and worlds & conditions, but these are the closest & the general run, the one in which we spin.

What minute are you in. Find out.

The police in San Francisco are suppressing HOWL. The trial comes up Friday, The People vs. Ferlinghetti (the publisher & bookseller & poet who printed it & sold it)… lewd, obscene salacious literature &c. which will warp the minds of the young &c. being on public sale. I’ll let you know what happens there; I plan to attend the trial.

Oh, yes… at the center of that Tibetan world picture are a pig, a rooster & a snake… Ignorance, Desire & Attachment.

And I said in a poem I showed you, “And the mind, though changed by it ……… can change:/ A dirty bird in a square time” and you complain,

“I know nothing about you, I don’t know you, &c.”

I AM NOT GETTING THROUGH. [This sentence is in a red square.] Even if I came back to Boston it would make no difference except my new beard would be older & longer & I wd be distracted by the alien landscape (known to me only via N. Hawthorne, H.D. Thoreau, currier & ives & ee cummings.). &(MAXIMUS) You would go on hearing your Bird records like nothing else was getting through.

(Jno. Williams, to yrs truly, in conversation: “I have to hear at least three or four hours of Miles every day, or…” referring to a celebrated trumpet virtuoso of our day.)

Shall I take up the study of the barytone horn in order to reach those who are 5 years younger, 10 years younger?

I havent heard from Kerouac. He had left for Mexico before the big earthquake & hasn’t been heard of since. I have a frantic letter from his mother inquiring after him; I suppose I must wire all his friends in Mexcity to find out how he is or not.

I am leaving Berkeley soon, either for San Francisco or Oregon or somplace, but direct your remarks, if any, to this same address; they will be forwarded & I’ll write you from wherever anyway.

Baby, I am beat. It isn’t a question of vocabulary. The answer is not in the flyblown, libelous pages of Wellek & Warren. The flannel poets, R…..d W….., R…t L….l, & Co. aren’t telling the truth, all they really know. I only know for sure that writing isn’t really controlled completely by these creeps & their backers in the University… or by your own weird advisors. Or any one of us. There is too much to be done, and I’m still looking for a way to do a little of it.

Nevertheless, it is a pleasure, trying to write to you, whether I get through to you or not at all or only part of the time; you are the audience I want, the lost, the scared, the conscious one… NOT a Message of Salvation, that’s an all-day sucker, but to BE there, to make it, to know the difference between making it & not making it.

(from the latest “new mess bubbling &c.”…

MC**** came around &

We went over all the latest bonze jazz

& he has a new wife & V*** has gone off

to live the primitive life with some

Eureka cat

MC— says, “I finally dig

That I’m making it

Right now

Or I’m not making it”)

needless to say he wasn’t referring to the lady. (“more to a man than the contents of his jock-strap”… yr. obdt. svt.) And not forgetting that sexual intercourse between whatever two persons is an exchange of knowledge as well.

This is getting more & more sententious & absurd as the evening runs on, & there is no excuse for it, I have a great deal else to do, but you would write a long letter so I must reply at length. I will stop now.

Love & nothing,




[August 23, 1957]

Dear John,

I have got word from Snyder… he says to tell you, go ahead & print Toji & Kyoto Sketch.

What was I going to say. Oh, I have a big fat thing in the fire & will send it, steam, char & all quick as it is done. Meanwhiles, the idea of Measure, what Olson calls “the breath”, what Williams keeps chirping about “the line, the measure” : : : I suspect that is what you’re interested in for your book, & I, I want orchestration of ideas, sounds, whole masses of stuff (organs) that compose into a Monster that seeks whom to devour. I am Dr Frankenstein, not Oliver Goldsmith. I believe in breathings or measures, I hear them & they are there too, but they are a subliminal concern, cytological, embryological; what I want is the whole animal rushing around, complete.

This ain’t a theory, only a momentary apercu, a small boot in the ass to find out if you are inside those baggy pants. Interoffice communication, in Rexroth’s phrase. The sun is hot & I am on, temporarily, so I will argue no further here but continue boiling & frying up this new soufflée. Watch & pray.

Oh, Kerouac is gone to Mexico, so communication with him is temporarily in abeyance, viz. hung up, but I will forward your mail to him when he writes me.

All happiness,




[September 23, 1957]

Dear John, These are absolutely the latest words – one from today & 1 from last month & none of it about CITY, but I don’t have anything old or new on that subject, many apologies. well anyhow, hope you are digging the most in S.F. Give my love to Mike & everyone; tell them to write.





Oct 3, 1957

Dear Phillip: YES. (You dont have to go further.)

Arrived 4 hours ago – and yours/here. Like a city. Entire unto itself. Know that first off that Take #4 on 12: VIII: 57 goes into #5 THE DOMESTIC (scene). OK OK – but the poem demands we wait. You are carried here in all yr. flesh. // And now in all honesty, the humility you open in me from Harangue: (two “r”’s?): its alright w/me if there’s 3. That one what can anyone say in the face of that poem. I wish Measure could come out tomorrow so that those words, strain, the man breaking thru might be “issued abroad” – the hilltops etc. And this not because it is to JW but that. Across the kitchen table: Tom Field says “God they’re both beautiful. I’m gonna write Whalen too” and Ebbe B. says: “I cant say anything, it’s that there for me.” Not that [The letter ends here; no second page is in the Whalen archive.]


Dear Philip Whalen:

I’ve had word that Measure is starting again. & cd. you send me a short lyric on the “ordinary” around you. Not carbuncle, nor “magick” but that use of the ordinary object we [illeg] rather you practice so well. No spatial jumps now. Even the Indian myth wd. do. Yr. treatment of “fetish” if you believe in same. As I do. Roses, etc. 10,000. petals.)

Any legend left? Yr. other mss. I left in Freude’s cellar 1960 21st Avenue, if you care to pick up same. I am sorry I forgot to bring same East, but I had no hope then.

Note new predicament. Dilemma. Please exert force with Western forces to free poor Pip imprisoned behind China’s walls. The mainland here gone dry.

All love to you


The institution of course is no answer. Nor the , or any use of the mad, as Pound knew so well. What are yr. dreams telling you? Expect to hear from !

June 25th, 1962

Dear Philip:

I have tried so hard before to answer your letter and let you know the great joy it brought when receiving it. But I haven’t been able to simply because there were no poems to include with it.

Enclosed find a copy of Measure to show you I have been busy some way.

Not that I don’t write; I do daily but nothing pleases me enough to submit. Perhaps, upon seeing each other, we might find one to include.

Thank you for the offer. And hope it can be made again sometime. To edit is a fine job and I wish you all good luck in it, knowing that you will have same.

With all best wishes and Love,

Jawn Wieners

185 Eliot Street

Milton 87, Massachusetts

[8th Street Bookshop, NYC

to Mr. Philip Whalen, Mill Valley, CA

c/o Albert Saijo]

Friday December 7, ‘62

Dear Phil:

Ted is busy with Christmas season, and wants me to tell you he called Paetel and gave him your address and your message. He says that even if he can’t write it with your fine calligraphic style, he still wishes you the best of Christmas and the happiest of New Years. As I do too.

Faithfully, with love,

John Wieners

Also would you please send 10 FOOT [PO’s Note: poetry mag edited by Richard Duerden–#2 featured PW]or have your representative send 10 for the bookshop to sell?

[Editor's Note. This piece first appeared on PAROLE, the blog of the The New Black Bart Poetry Society. My thanks to them for allowing me to republish it here.]

Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and two novels. His most recent books of poetry are the two volume selected poems So Much, 1969-1989 & 1990-2010 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018, 2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society. His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.
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