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Vegetable Nerves: A Group Reading of Philip Whalen’s “Scenes of Life at the Capital”

July 16, 2020 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm PDT

City Lights in conjunction with Wave Books present

Vegetable Nerves: A Group Reading of Philip Whalen’s Scenes of Life at the Capital 


with David Brazil, Anselm Berrigan, Andrew Schelling, Hoa Nguyen, Marie Buck, Norman Fischer, Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie), Will Alexander, Aisha Sasha John

In celebration of the new edition of Scenes of Life at the Capital by Philip Whalen, edited by David Brazil, Wave Books and City Lights have invited poets from across North America to read his book-length poem in its entirety. This event will include a recording of Whalen reading from the book as well as a presentation of Whalen’s artwork, unavailable in earlier editions.

This is a virtual event that will be hosted by City Lights on the Zoom platform. You will need access to a computer or other device that is capable of accessing the internet. If you have not used Zoom before, you may consider referencing Getting Started with Zoom.


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Event is free, but reservations are required


(Purchase Book Here)


Written from 1969 to 1971, West Coast Beat poet Philip Whalen’s “Scenes of Life at the Capital” is a lasting testament to the ambition, range, powers, and devotion of this crucially important American voice. Positioned among the Buddhist temples of Kyoto, Whalen looks across the ocean to address the new frontiers, political problems, and transformative hopes of the United States of the 1960s—so much of which still resonates today. In this new edition—with a deep and enlightening afterword by David Brazil—Whalen’s poem is further cemented as a fundamental work in American literary history.

Philip Whalen (1923–2002) was a central figure of the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat movements. One of the readers at the historic Six Gallery reading, he was the author of numerous books of poetry and prose. A longtime practicing Buddhist, he was eventually ordained as a Zen monk and practiced at Zen Centers in New Mexico and San Francisco until his passing in 2002.

David Brazil is a poet, pastor and translator. His third book of poetry, Holy Ghost (City Lights, 2017), was nominated for a California Book Award. He is the editor of Wave Books’s edition of Philip Whalen’s Scenes of Life at the Capital. With Kevin Killian, he co-edited The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater, 1945-1985. With Chika Okoye, he was the founding curator of the Berkeley Art Museum’s Black Life series, focusing on cultural production in the African diaspora. He has presented his work at Cambridge University, Johns Hopkins, and San Francisco State University, among other venues. He lives in New Orleans.

Anselm Berrigan once asked a barber, when he was six, to cut all his hair off so he could look like Philip Whalen. He is a poet and a high functioning bum, as well as a janitor of dreams at various schools. Books include Something for Everybody (Wave), Come In Alone (Wave), and Wobble Factory (Absolute Slab Editions/free pdf).

Andrew Schelling cut his teeth on poetry in the Bay Area of the 1980s. He lives in Colorado, teaches at Naropa University, and has published twenty-odd books. Recent titles: Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo and Pacific Coast Culture, and with Anne Waldman Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha.

Poet Hoa Nguyen‘s books include Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008 and Violet Energy Ingots. Her forthcoming book, A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, will be published in 2021 by Wave books. Born in the Mekong Delta and raised and educated in the US, Hoa has lived in Canada since 2011.

Marie Buck is the author of Portrait of Doom (Krupskaya, 2015), Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (Roof, 2017), and Unsolved Mysteries (Roof, forthcoming 2020). She lives in Brooklyn and is the managing and web literary editor at Social Text.

Norman Fischer is a poet, author, and Zen Buddhist teacher and priest. The author of seventeen books of poetry and six books of prose on Zen and religion, his most recent publication is Experience: Thinking, Writing, Language, and Religion , a long-awaited collection of his essays about experimenta

Phil Elverum, 1978-present:  born and raised in Anacortes, Washington, maker of experimental songs and recordings that explore an internal world, the experience of a person rooted in a particular place (island Pacific NW), part of a lineage of countercultural fringe-workers that goes back beyond memory.

Will Alexander is a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, aphorist, visual artist, pianist. He is approaching 40 published titles in the aforementioned genres. A City Lights author he is also poet-in-residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice California. He lives in Los Angeles.

Aisha Sasha John is a choreographer and poet. Her chapbook TO STAND AT THE PRECIPICE ALONE AND REPEAT WHAT IS WHISPERED will be published by UDP in 2021. Her most recent book, I have to live. (McClelland & Stewart 2017), was shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize.



July 16, 2020
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm PDT
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City Lights Books