The Invention of the Letter
April 24, 2008 5:46 PM

The Invention of the Letter
-- a rare hand-drawn book by Beat poet and Zen teacher Philip Whalen. Though lesser-known than his peers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Whalen was a wonderful and subtle poet who was also one of the first Americans to study Zen in Japan. (He appears in Kerouac novels like The Dharma Bums under pseudonyms like Warren Coughlin and Ben Fagin, "a quiet, bespectacled booboo, smiling over books.") He met Gary Snyder and Lew Welch at Reed College, where he studied calligraphy with the illustrious Lloyd Reynolds. While in Kyoto in 1966, Whalen sketched out a charming fable about the invention of language in the Garden of Eden that was eventually published by pioneering communard Irving Rosenthal and given away for free at a 1968 reading in San Francisco. The Invention of the Letter has since become extremely scarce and is now available online for curious scholars and Beat fellow travelers.
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