Lew Welch


Many things of interest have happened so fast. . .

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 Dorothy Brownfield,
from 49 Southwest First Avenue, Portland,
28 September 1949

Dear Mom,   Many things of interest have happened so fast that I have not felt able to sit down and write to you. The entire school seems to be upon a new footing. The air is charged with stimulations, but faculty and students alike are more relaxed, and less exhausted and manifest this fact by being witty and stimulating without the grimness I sometimes noticed last year. Time will no doubt change this.

My adviser received my thesis topic in a way that I had not expected. That no one would be in position to advise me regarding [Gertrude] Stein, I knew, and this proved to be the case — no one on the faculty has even read her, much less studied her writings and her approach to them. I therefore was prepared to be discouraged or to be treated with diffidence or humored or allowed to proceed on my own with a marked lack of enthusiasm or interest of any kind. I received none of these reactions. Instead, after outlining my possible approach to the subject my adviser, a Mr. Frank Jones who I now admire for reasons obvious to you in a moment, said: "I have never heard a thesis subject outlined in a manner which better convinced me that the student was upon sure ground, and more capable of producing a worthwhile dissertation. Further, I am delighted to think that someone has the courage to venture upon an uncharted course (the metaphor is, I assure you, his) rather than search for a new angle upon a tired old subject such as Virginia Woolf."

I was, as you might guess, somewhat overwhelmed by such a show of confidence, which later become one of respect, extended to me by one established in my field (Jones publishes in virtually every literary review whenever he wishes to). His final position, which he assumed consciously and which he admitted verbally, was and shall be for the duration of my undertaking, that of a guinea pig upon which my perceptions will be tested. If the thesis is understandable to him, we will assume that I have made my point. Actually this is an ideal situation because he is, in a way, a symbolic representative of the group which I shall try to reach. He is intelligent, educated in the field of literature, receptive but doubtful of Miss Stein's worth. But most important of all, he has not read Stein because he has not been sure that she is sincere or indeed anything more than a literary curiosity, also I feel that he is somewhat doubtful of his security with regards to literature, that is his security is one that is maintained with great labor and which is an important part of his security as a whole, and therefore I feel that he is really afraid of Stein. He is afraid of misconstruing her and of the dangerous position he would be in if he were to commit himself upon such a misapprehension. He is quite right, therefore, in his decision, for one in his position would be unable to retain the peculiar sort of relaxed attitude necessary to a study of Stein. This is a difficult point to make clear, and not worthy of space in this context, but an interesting angle to the whole question.

Therefore, I am in a position of respect this year which I am sure of being able to maintain. I had not thought that I would reach such a position at this early stage of the game, but here it is, and on my own terms. Other indications show that my reputation is more extensive than one which exists in the literature department alone. I was extended permission to enroll in an advanced History course, which should have been open only to History of Phil. majors of senior standing. It is a course which examines, not history but historical method, examining the basic assumptions and general orientation of historians. I wished to take the course in order to become oriented to History, as a discipline, in the same way that I am oriented to Anthropology. After which I hope to be able to read History on my own with a critical understanding of method. It has always bothered me, the basic assumptions upon which History is written.

Further, my work on Stein is almost sure to be published, if I wish and if it is a good piece of work, since no such work has ever been done in a satisfactory manner. Four such works are under way at present which colors, but does not alter, the situation.

Our rooms are now finished and are more than pleasant. I have no classes upon either Tuesday or Thursday and will stay at home and write the nine term papers and half of my thesis which are due this semester. I am carrying 17 units which is too much, but unavoidable. It is more than probable that I shall find it best to finish the book by next September, rather than by June. I am not in a hurry, but am ambitious of a success judged by standards greater than those imposed by Reed.

I received your check on the twentieth, but am rather short of money at present — there was a paint bill to pay. I certainly hope that my GI check will arrive next month, but doubt it. I also received the blankets and shirts.

The weather has been hot and sticky and the sky clouded by forest fire smoke. I shall welcome the rains. I hope that everything is going as well for you as it is for me.          Love,   Lew