William Corbett's The Whalen Poem is an enticing experiment and one I'm sure many poets would love to try. He describes the long poem as a response to reading Philip Whalen's Collected Poems. Whalen's style and influence permeate the book, but while Corbett revels in Whalen's signature stream-of-consciousness approach, it is clear that the consciousness propelling the poem is distinctly different. Corbett's poem is full of names and anecdotes, baseball statistics, and literary references. He seems to savor the sound and rhythms of these people and places he mentions, and it is fascinating to watch him sample culture and current events in this way. Still, the book is at its most compelling when Corbett delves into something closer at hand:
My plan is teach until
I forget everything I once remembered
And have my subscription to Life
Cancelled before I have to fill out
Any of the (blank) forms.
These lines, which follow a memory of his father-in-law dying of cancer, resonate with the kind of raw closeness that stream-of-consciousness can deliver. Here, the poem most closely approximates Philip Whalen's prevailing spirituality, something otherwise lacking in Corbett's response to the Zen Buddist poet. Corbett does, however, manage to capture a unique sense of a mind immersed in several decades of culture and history at once. His literary and cultural references place Deborah Kerr, C