Lew Welch

Born: August 16, 1926
Place of Birth: Phoenix, Arizona
Died: May, 1971 (?)
Place of Death: Nevada City, California (?)

  Texts from Levi Asher - Literary Kicks
Excerpted by permission of copyright holder

The least-known member of the trio of Beat poets who met at Reed College in Oregon, Lew Welch was perhaps even more tuned into literature than the other two, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. But he did not share the remarkable Buddhist calmness that Snyder and Whalen had in common, and when these two poets became instantly famous after participating in the landmark Six Gallery poetry reading in 1955, Lew Welch was away in Chicago, working as a marketing researcher while recovering from a nervous breakdown.

He had been writing poetry since discovering Gertrude Stein as a young man. William Carlos Williams read Welch's poems while visiting Reed College, and tried to help Welch publish his thesis on Gertrude Stein. But Welch's emotional illnesses and nervous breakdowns crippled his promising literary career, although he did gain recognition after joining Snyder and Whalen in San Francisco.

Lew Welch is the hard-partying Dave Wain in Jack Kerouac's novel 'Big Sur.' Matching Kerouac drink for drink during the joyless events described in this book, he appears destined for the same troubles that faced Kerouac (although even he tells Kerouac to stop drinking by the end of the novel). During this time he was in a relationship with Lenore Kandel, later the author of a well-known book of erotic poetry, who appears as Ramona Swartz in Kerouac's book. He and Kandel broke up shortly after.

Lew Welch appears to have committed suicide while staying at Gary Snyder's house in 1971, although his body was never found. He left the following note, discovered by Snyder:

"I never could make anything work out right and now I'm betraying my friends. I can't make anything out of it - never could. I had great visions but never could bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It's all gone. Don Allen is to be my literary executor- use MSS at Gary's and at Grove Press. I have $2,000 in Nevada City Bank of America - use it to cover my affairs and debts. I don't owe Allen G. anything yet nor my Mother. I went Southwest. Goodbye. Lew Welch."
Aram Saroyan wrote a book about Welch and the Beat scene, 'Genesis Angels.' This book offers a touching and well-written consideration of the short life of this enigmatic poet.

Literary Kicks
by Levi Asher