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Lions Roar : May 2007
About a Poem: David Schneider on Philip Whalen’s “Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis” THIS POEM serves well as an intro- duction to the work of Zenshin Philip Whalen, “poet’s poet” among the Beats, because: He handwrote and decorated it. Whalen studied calligraphy at Reed College under the seminal teacher Lloyd Reynolds and preferred pen and other writing materials all his life to the constriction of the typer. It’s full of jokes—the title, for exam- ple—and slang—busted, conked out, whizzed, Chinamen. Though eru- dite, Whalen lost neither respect nor fondness for the rough-and-tumble, proletarian colloquy of the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up. It’s gorgeous poetry. Intricate rhythm and near-rhyme are made to look casual—quick splashed pic- ture—bug, leaf / cariacature of Teach- er—though Whalen is not above showing, at the climax of the poem, that he can sling words as well as his pals Ginsberg and Kerouac —busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars— before collapsing like a spent lover with a line that is both offhand— and deadly serious. The poem’s subject is, after all, the proper con- duct of the spiritual life, stemming from the realization of the crux: their own strength brushed momen- tarily over it. In this sense, the poem is what it describes. ♦ DAVID SCHNEIDER studied Zen as a younger dharma brother to Philip Whalen at the San Francisco Zen Center. He wrote a journal of Zen life with Whalen called Side Effect and is working on Whalen’s biography, Crowded by Beauty, which will be published by University of California Press. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 120