Lew Welch


the noise they were making...

from How I Work as a Poet

to Dorothy Brownfield, 28 September 1949

to Dorothy Brownfield, et al, 4 November 1950

to Philip Whalen, 7 July 1957

to Donald Allen, 18 December 1959

to Charles Olson, 9 August 1960

to Larry Eigner, 7 September 1961

draft of a letter to Robert Duncan, July 1962

to James Schevill, 16 October 1966

to Robert D. Wilder, 19 June 1969

from How I Read Gertrude Stein



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To Larry Eigner,
from 2273 California Street, San Francisco,
7 September 1961

Dear Larry,   I've just gone through On My Eyes for the third or fourth time & want to tell you how beautifully I think you write.

For one thing, there is a speed in poems like the one starting "It's getting there" which I've only seen in Olson & Whalen, and I think you're even faster. By speed I think I mean only that really all the old lumber is finally gone, and that what is being got at is hit directly. The impression from that poem is exhilarating, a trip, a swift ride.

But it is a much deeper thing you do in the poems which, like your title says you are doing, speak in that big range just before what we see enters the world of words. I don't know of any poem in our language that does this better than the one about all that equipment about to work on that field, "the noise they make." (I just looked it up and find it's "the noise they were making.") & it's the look into that world which runs all through the book which makes it so astonishing and fresh and good.

But this is craft & the rest is harder to talk about: that I am moved by those poems, lifted out and shaken up a bit — something that after all is the only point to it. It is the big thing that you are doing (and I think what that is is the strong statement which translates out: "I walked about this planet for a while, it was this" or, like what Van Gogh did "I saw a sunflower, I Van Gogh," but I blabber, possibly).

I have to use your lines

                                    there are all types
                                    of an animate gaiety

as a dedication to a section of the poem I am now working on —  a long poem about salmon fishing, commercially, the job I am now doing & which may finally have freed me altogether (or not). I will try to keep all my bitterness out of the poem — a thing you do so beautifully in yours . . .

As I write this my cat is nursing an old T-shirt of mine. He chews & purrs and kneads & today we discovered, upon lifting him up from these devotions, that he had his (perhaps) first erection. Now he has stopped. He sleeps in his flea-collar (September in San Francisco is the month of fleas: world famous). It is all about us, at every speed at once       Lew Welch





                                                                                                     There are all types
                                                                                                      Of an animate gaiety

                                                                                                                     — Larry Eigner

          Porpoises all the way out

          I shoved fishhooks through herring carefully, the
          Hook as near the tail, body straight (the bait can't spin), &
          A pin through the head and hook
          Tied with a rubber band

          One after the other
          Neatly arranged, belly up

          Their bellies always white as
          Porpoises, first, fast
          White, driving through the water faster than you, then
          Big black shape and splash

          (Startled from herring, laugh, I
          (Always feel lucky when they

          Jellyfish, brown, like turkish pillows or
          Ice — white in clumps of thousands, the
          Goo all over the fishing wire, sting when
          Splashed in the eye

          "The slimy ones," filthy son of a bitches, nothing
          To my knowledge, eats them

          Green water, brown water, water with


          Patches exactly like chicken shit even PLANKTON
          Feathers in it, the  

          "Penguins," to fisherfolk, murre, I'm told, up
          To dry their tiny wings (stand like emblems on Roman standards)
          & swim as fast as roadrunners run

                                   "caught one three stops down" (60 feet)

          A bird on a fishhook!

                                         or the barnacles when we painted the
                                         boat bottom: cluster of them on the
                                         screw shaft. A whole life spinning! &
                                         then I wire-brushed them into
                                         void for how many Kalpas, the

          Whole business very hard on sentient beings

          It's all crowded around us as we walk our bellied floor

          The salmon so big in August we
          Shoot them in the head before gaffing them
          Pounding their heads in, guts ripped out & thrown to the gulls

                                         lice in the gills
                                         lice by the fin behind their vents

          Like tiny rays or skates

          very                 "You can't do that and be a Buddhist."
                                  So much the worse for Buddhism.

          next to end:              No more fish to gut, the
                                           Gulls ignore us into port


          at times a fishing boat is visited by canaries

                                 "I had dozens of them once, albacoring, they
                                 stayed with me 3 or four days, hopping all over the
                                 place. One died in the scuppers. Just sat there
                                 sleeping, so I didn't disturb him. Then, plop,
                                 over he goes with his little feet straight up in the
                                 air. It was awful. And not one canary has lit on
                                 the boat since."

          That's as far as I got on Sept. 6, 1961