Monday, November 02, 2009

Lew Welch

I love Lew Welch's poems. I keep hoping that he will come back into the poetry conversation in this country, and maybe he is. Last week on Sunday Tony Hoagland, giving a poetry reading for River Arts in Damariscotta, mentioned Lew's poem Step Out Onto The Planet. Less than 24 hours later the poet Bill Berkson, reading at Gulf of Maine Books, mentioned Lew's poem Olema Satori.This week I bought the new DVD documentary One Fast Move or I'm Gone - Kerouac's Big Sur and watched it, knowing that Lew would appear. There he was, in a photo with Kerouac, and mentioned in the narration, having driven Kerouac down from San Francisco to Big Sur, and figuring in Kerouac's novel.
I first read Lew Welch in 1971, discovering him in Jim Koller's magazine Coyote's Journal. I arrived at Gary Snyder's home in California in the spring of 1973, too late for Lew. (Lew and Philip Whalen had been Snyder's housemates and poetry brothers at Reed College). Lew had come to Snyder's ridge land in 1971, hoping to build a cabin, but carried with him his alcohol demons. He walked into the woods, with a gun, leaving behind a note, and his belongings. I got to drive his jeep, but I never got to meet Lew. He did leave behind wonderful poems, and I still hope that people will discover his Ring of Bone - Collected Poems 1950-1971 for the treasure that it is.

Step out onto the planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.

Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands and, maybe
nobody's ever seen.

How many can you find?

Lew Welch


Blogger jenifer said...

Friends, I never met Lew either - he had walked off beyond the Mesa before I arrived. Yet his spirit was still there - "not the bronze casket but the brazen wing!" and, as I mentioned at Bill Berkson's reading, "The Song Mt Tamalpais Sings" defines that time and place for me. I often think, "My face is the map of the steppes, she said, looking West." I think that must have been Magda he was describing. And: "This is the last place. There is no where left to go."


7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Gary. I am including two of Lew's poems in a new anthology I am working on, including the rig of bone poem he quotes. During the Shrub years I often quoted some of his poems from Courses in my readings. I recently reread a lot of the poems and also the books of his letters, I Remain, which I would also recommend to the reader interested in his life and the times.


1:06 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Yes, Lew has been a big influence on me too. I often start one of my readings by reciting his "This Book is for Magda."

I first discovered his "Ring of Bone" in the mid-70s. Two copies sit on my bookshelf, one with cover gone and pages curled - a well used book.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Art Goodtimes said...

i got to hear lew once. rode the cable car to the downtown tenderloin extension office of state or city college and sat in the back of the hall entranced.

in colorado we have a society of fire gigglers, who celebrate lew with annual gatherings and a co-op press.

and then, of course, there's kush -- san fran's archivist bard, who came to talking gourds in telluride and performed lew for us (i treasure those tapes still)

11:42 PM  
Blogger Art Goodtimes said...

oh, and kush took me up to corona heights, where ishi used to walk, when i was in the city last, and we sang kush's chanted version of "then heard ring of bone, when ring is what a bell does..."

11:44 PM  
Blogger jenifer said...

Fire gigglers!

6:38 AM  
Blogger Louise Steinman said...

Met Lew at Reed College and we read "Step Out onto the planet" at our wedding on a cliff over Cape Foulweather 1971. We were sposed to help Lew build his cabin on the Ridge. Check out the memorial with Gary we did for Lew at the Los Angeles Public Library, where I curate the ALOUD series. May you see 300 new things!

6:04 AM  

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