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Lewis Barrett Welch, Jr. (August 16, 1926 — May 1971?) is an American poet associated with the Beat generation of poets, artists, and iconoclast.

According to Aram Saroyan who wrote Genesis Angels: The Saga of Lew Welch and the Beat Generation, Welch decided to become a writer after reading Gertrude Stein's long story "Melanctha." Welch published and performed widely during the 1960s, and taught a poetry workshop as part of the University of California Extension in San Francisco from 1965 to 1970.

On May 23, 1971, he walked out of poet Gary Snyder's house in the mountains of California, carrying his 30-30 rifle and leaving behind a suicide note. His body was never found.

Early life

Welch was born in Phoenix, Arizonamarker, but moved with his mother and sister to Californiamarker in 1929. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1944 but never saw active service. He worked for a period before joining Stockton Junior College, where he developed an interest in the works of Gertrude Stein.

In 1948, Welch moved to Portland, Oregonmarker to attend Reed Collegemarker, where he roomed with Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen. Here he wrote his thesis on Stein and published poems in student magazines. William Carlos Williams visited the college and met the three poets. He admired Welch's early poems and tried to get his Stein thesis published.

The world of advertising

After college, Welch moved to New York and worked in the advertising industry. Saroyan claims it was Welch who came up with the advertising slogan "Raid Kills Bugs Dead" but others have questioned this claim . During this time, it has been claimed, Welch started to display emotional and mental problems and went to Floridamarker to take a course of therapy. He then went to the University of Chicagomarker, where he studied philosophy and English. In Chicagomarker, he joined the advertising department of Montgomery Ward. He was working there at the time of the famous poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Franciscomarker that launched what was to become known as the San Francisco Renaissance.

Later life and work

Wanting to get back to poetry, Welch applied for a transfer to Montgomery Ward's Oaklandmarker headquarters, and started to get involved in the San Franciscomarker literary scene. He soon gave up advertising and earned a living driving a yellow cab while devoting more of his time to writing. He became an active participant in Beat culture, living at various times with Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and appearing as the character Dave Wain in Jack Kerouac's novel Big Sur (1962).

He had a common-law relationship with Polishmarker refugee Magda Cregg, and became, essentially, the stepfather of Hugh Anthony Cregg, III who later chose the stage-name Huey Lewis in honor of Welch. In 1960, poet Lenore Kandel met Welch and Snyder, and they introduced her to many people in the Beat movement.

On May 23, 1971, he walked out of poet Gary Snyder's house in the mountains of California, carrying his 30-30 rifle and leaving behind a suicide note. His body was never found.

References

  • Lew Welch: Ring of Bone: Collected Poems 1950-1970 has a preface by the poet and a useful chronology, not to mention 200+ pages of poetry.
  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)


Bibliography

Note: Before committing suicide in 1971, Lew Welch left a note naming Donald Allen his literary executor. Donald Allen published much of Welch's work posthumously via Grey Fox Press.

  • Trip Trap: Haiku on the Road (1973) (ISBN 0912516046) Jack Kerouac, Albert Saijo, and Lew Welch
  • How I Work as a Poet (1973) (ISBN 0-912516-06-2)
  • Selected Poems, with a preface by Gary Snyder (1976) (ISBN 0-912516-20-8)
  • On Bread and Poetry: A Panel Discussion Between Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, and Philip Whalen (1977) (ISBN 0-912516-27-5)
  • I, Leo: An Unfinished Novel (1977) (ISBN 0-912516-24-0)
  • Ring of Bone: Collected Poems (1979) (ISBN 0-912516-03-8)
  • I Remain - The Letters of Lew Welch & the Correspondence of His Friends (Volume 1: 1949-1960) (1980) (ISBN 0-912516-08-9)
  • I Remain - The Letters of Lew Welch & the Correspondence of His Friends (Volume 2: 1960-1971) (1980) (ISBN 0-912516-42-9)
  • How I Read Gertrude Stein (1995, originally written late-1940's) (ISBN 0-912516-23-2)


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