Lew Welch


We talk American...

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, and Maitland and Virginia Griggs,
from 1321 Southeast 72nd Avenue, Portland,
4 November 1950

Dear Everybody, It looks as if I am destined to be one to whom interesting things keep happening. I have really had an exciting time with Dr. Williams, so exciting in fact, that I can hardly come to really believe it. I can, actually, now, but it took some time to do it.

I gave the great man my thesis, he read it, and then said that he was very excited by it, had learned a lot from it, that it was written very lucidly (and this is the best he could have said, since for me clarity is the aim) and then he said that it ought to be published. He said it really ought to be published because there were many things in it that should be down where everyone could see it, if they were so inclined, and because it is high time that someone pointed out that Gertie was the greatest thing that happened this century at least to art and letters. He was, himself, not convinced of the latter until after he read the thesis and he hasn't read it all yet either but was convinced after reading the first chapters. Also he thought that I was the only one who had grasped her in a clear way. So. He is going to get me a reading at Random House as soon as I want it.

Random House is really a surprise and a tremendous break. If I were first published by a minor company New Directions for instance the second book would be as hard to publish as the first, besides the fact that I would not make any munny. Also the advertising would not be as good and my audience much smaller and of the precious sort in whom I am not interested.

Of course, Williams is not going to be able to get it published for me he is not a literary dictator of the sort that T. S. Eliot is in England but Eliot is a pious ass, and, after all, one likes to think that it is one's book that is doing the thing, not someone's opinion of it. Williams can certainly get me a reading perhaps by Bennett Cerf himself and that is all I think I'll need. Just a concentrated reading.

Dr. Williams himself is the sweetest old guy I have ever met. Sixty-seven years old and, distressingly, a fairly close resemblance to Harry Truman. But very lively. He is so exciting to be around that one sees again that Gertie is right when she says "the business of the artist is to be exciting and if he is not then there is nothing to any of it." And Williams is very exciting, and very very simple. Not one pretense or affectation. He was reading his poetry last night and got very worked up himself and very intense and simple, and it was like watching a good jam session. I never thought it possible, really, like a good jam session. He stopped in the middle after reading several of his things and said "these may not sound like poetry to you, no matter, don't define the damn things, let 'em come to you AND BESIDES, he said, THEY'RE IN YOUR OWN LANGUAGE."

That's his kick. We do not speak the language of England and our poetry should not have the English form. We talk American, and the poet's job is to intensify this dialect, sharpen it into poetry, keep the words clean and sharp, and MAKE things out of them. And my, he is right. One hears the language of conversation in a wholly different way after reading him. Words become lively, and poetry unaffected. It was a jam session. And he has invited me to a real jam session in Washington sometime this year he and his friends are going to read their own and each other's stuff for two or three days without stopping. "It makes it very exciting" says he, you really learn and I'm going to read all four parts of Paterson (three hundred pages or so) I may be the only one left standing at the end but I really want to do it." What a guy.

When he isn't this excited he is very shy and very very modest, with a story about everything. He hears them from everyone and remembers them and tells them to make clear his points. a doctor who knows everyone in his town Rutherford N.J. and who says, without, strangely, any sentimentality, "When you really know people intimately, and you have to if you're a real doctor, that is a family doctor, then you get to love 'em."

His wife is a lovely little lady, and the two of them are very devoted. She read my thesis too, and wants to read all of Stein, and has invited me to their home when I get back East. Williams and I have decided to take care of the publishing etc. when I get back to N.Y. So it looks like I have me a friend.

He was so simple when he said to me "don't worry about getting anywhere right away, you'll get there all right, it may seem that there are a great many people ahead who are keeping you down, and that you are better than they are, and this is probably true, you are better than they are, but after all in twenty years they'll all be dead and there you'll be." He's right too, of course.

So there's nothing more for me to do in the West. And in the East all I have to do is polish that book up a bit and get. the frightened senior out of it and then sit back and autograph books. I certainly didn't expect this to happen, not now, later certainly, but not now when I'm only 24. Well, someone has to say something, everyone else is only mumbling and trying to be clever and learned, and so I guess I'll have to be the one — ho-hum.

I will try to get to N.Y. as fast as possible. Will send a wire when my plans are definite. See you all very soon       Lew       (the voice of the latter half of the 20th century)

P.S. The Hansens say hello to Mom.