25 Points: Lew Welch

Ring of Bone: Collected Poems
by Lew Welch
City Lights Publishers, 2012
252 pages / $17.95 buy from City Lights









1. I’ve been reading Lew Welch for some 20 odd years. First I read Edgar Allen Poe, Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, Hawthorne, Thoreau et al and then I found out about Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, and Lew Welch. (I heard of Philip Whalen too but he took a while longer for me to dig)

2. Welch met Whalen and Snyder when all were students together @ Reed College in Portland, OR on lawns where I once threw a Frisbee (was it?) several years ago with my pal Jeffrey Butler and his son Austin. And then a couple years later went back to see the JESS show. Lately I’ve been avoiding phone calls. I only talk to my mom. I owe Jeffrey Butler up in PDX a good long chat one of these days.

3. When I read Lew Welch I often think about Robinson Jeffers (and vice versa)
“I’m the ghost Roan Stallion” – Lew Welch

4. Both Leos, we’re born August 16th


Sunnylyn Thibodeaux, Lew Welch, and me.

5. “You know Lew always CRIES when he reads and it will ruin the evening.”
–Joanne Kyger.

6. David Highsmith gave me a broadside, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead” for my birthday one year. It’s up in our bathroom. This tag-line, ad copy throwaway, now emblazoned in millions of modern day minds, is attributed to Welch from his 9-5 Chicago workadays.

7. Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News is Welch’s step-son. He sang Welch’s “Graffiti” with his mother in the audience @ SF Public Library. Dig it:

8. Welch walked off with his gun never to be seen again.

9. Tall and lanky with a bursting head of red describes Lew Welch as if he was a good looking woman.

10. Before any poet bothers to write a poem concerning problems of rat infestation they should be familiar with Welch’s “Buddhist Bard Turns Rat Slayer” especially if they consider themselves to be Buddhist and are a “professor” in the Bay Area.

11. There are moments in Welch’s poetry I find him to be the greatest of poets and others where I have no feeling whatsoever for what he’s doing.

12. Kush of Cloud House is the biggest fan of Welch I know. Ask him to sing Lew Welch poems for you!

13. One time I wrote and published some sophomoric lines mimicking Welch’s “Ring of Bone”. …I saw myself… in the Dutch stream of her thighs…

14. In that photo out of Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan biography that’s not a bearded (?!?) Welch standing back of a phenomenally drunk looking Jack Spicer next to an elegantly young knockout Joanne Kyger, it’s the infamously great poet Ebbe Borregaard!

15. How did she get all the way up this hill
With one leg in a cast
On crutches
Dead drunk
In that very modern party dress
1:30 a.m.
Dirt trail treacherous with Eucalyptus nuts
The night moonless and fogged over anyway?
(Welch, “For A Kyger Known By Another name”)

16. As a young man, Welch was among the earliest as well as by far the most readable and enlightening of Gertrude Stein scholars.

17. There was a riot down on Market St. in San Francisco. Welch went down to check it out with Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley. Outside a bar they nearly tripped over Philip Whalen who was drying out his feet resting them on the unusually sun-warmed pavement. “Hi Phil,” said Notley stooping down as Welch & Berrigan went inside the bar each for a piss and beer.

18. In his interview with David Meltzer, Welch identifies Charles Parker and Jack Spicer as the two men most hell bent on self-destruction he’d ever witnessed.

19. My great uncle Jack Pinkham lived with his wife in a space with his art studio and rooftop garden attached during the Sixties over near Potrero in San Francisco. It was the top quarters of a glass manufacturer. My mother would occasionally visit them there before her marriage to my father. She would sit and discuss the Bible with Jack. Lew Welch on occasion picked her up in his cab after she’d been walking the bay’s edge for a couple hours and took her back to Jack’s. He dug the rooftop garden and all Jack’s sculptures scattered about.

20. Slang envelops Welch’s poems without ever diminishing them.

21. My mom and dad used to drive around in RVs. Once they drove up to San Francisco from Anaheim to see her uncle Jack and also pal around with Welch. They went to the river and Welch and my dad sat around smoking pot and drinking whiskey shooting at ground squirrels with a .22 and a bb gun. Both of them broke down in tears when they killed a squirrel.

22. Once my dad used a machete to lop off the head of a rattler who had curled up beneath his girlfriend’s sweater which she had left under her cot while camping next to the Colorado River. He grilled up the snake and ate it: “Like chicken”.

23. John Cusack recently starred as Edgar Allen Poe in The Raven. A horribly confused murder mystery suspense that switched up biographical facts with Poe’s fiction and poems. (In the universe of the film Poe’s literary executor and subsequent posthumous arch-nemesis Griswold ends up being one of the victims, killed therefore before Poe’s own death.) I hope nobody ever makes a film about Lew Welch, or attempts otherwise portray him: this does mean YOU James Franco. (I do however still hold out hope for the making of the film POUND. Sophia Coppola to direct. Sean Penn, nicely wizened, in the lead role. Feeding feral cats, appearing stoic. Lots of silent long shots of sky water earth.)

24. I’ve never read Welch’s incomplete novel I, Leo. Yet have consumed everything else on multiple occasions. Welch’s letters are fantastic.

25. Lew Welch on the ridge breaking dawn corduroy & rifle glistening eye’d gazes down.

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  1. Grant Maierhofer

      Very well done, and I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of this guy who I’m now looking into aggressively, seems rad. ‘The Raven’ was fucking awful. ‘POUND’ would be a masterpiece.

  2. Josh Mahler

      As I’m reading this I’m looking at the recently released “Ring of Bone” resting in line on my shelf, which is the collected works of Lew Welch. Such a phenomenal poet…I love Lew Welch because he meant what he wrote. We talk about writing to live, but he lived to write and he did it…this collected volume is a testament to his legacy…and while neglected in our time (he should be more widely read), I read his works with empathy and love, and internalize his vision. Simply put, I love to read his writings…that is enough.