Philip Glenn Whalen (October 20, 1923 – June 26, 2002) was an American poet and Zen Buddhist. He is often labeled as a Beat poet and generally considered one of the pioneering forces behind the San Francisco Renaissance of the mid-1950s. His work differs from much Beat writing in its reverential treatment of the mundane, its self-deprecating humor, and its generally apolitical tone.
Born in Portland, Oregon, Whalen began writing poetry at the age of sixteen, experimenting with various traditional forms of verse and contributing to his high school’s literary magazine. Whalen served in the US Army Air Forces during World War II and attended Reed College on the GI Bill. There, he met Gary Snyder and Lew Welch, and graduated with a BA in 1951. He read at the famous Six Gallery reading in 1955 that marked the launch of the West Coast Beats into the public eye. He appears, in barely fictionalized form, as the character "Warren Coughlin" in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, which includes an account of that reading. In Big Sur he is called "Ben Fagan.”
The year 1960 saw publication of two major Whalen works, Like I Say and Memoirs of an Interglacial Age. The 1960s saw Whalen turn toward a range of personal subject matter, resurrecting the trivial as the essential substance of daily life. Whalen spent 1966 and 1967 in Kyoto, Japan, assisted by a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a job teaching English.
He moved into the San Francisco Zen Center and became a student of Zentatsu Richard Baker in 1972. The following year, he became a monk. He became head monk of Dharma Sangha, in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1984. In 1987, he received transmission from Baker, and in 1991, he returned to San Francisco to lead the Hartford Street Zen Center until forced by ill health to retire.
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