Lew Welch was part of the San Francisco Beat movement. He’s the lesser known member of a trio of major Beat poets from west coast, the other two are Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen.
Welch was born in Phoenix, Arizona on August 16, 1926 to Lewis Welch Sr. and Dorothy Welch. In 1929, after his parents divorced, Lew, his sister, and his mother moved to California. In 1944 Welch enlisted in the Army Air Corps, but he never saw active service. In 1948 he moved to Portland Oregon to attend Reed College. While at Reed, Welch met and roomed with Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder. He worked at the magazine and wrote his thesis on Gertrude Stein. SHSU Special Collections has a Stein collection. While attending Reed he met William Carlos Williams, who encouraged him to get his thesis published. After College, Welch entered the advertising business. He moved to New York first, where many say he came up with the slogan: “Raid Kills Bugs Dead,” although some question this claim. He later moved to Chicago to further his advertising career. While in Chicago he missed out on the famous reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, which prompted a request to transfer to his company’s Oakland headquarters. Once he moved back to San Francisco he got involved with the literary scene again. In order to dedicate more time to writing, Welch quit his job and got another job as a cab driver.
At times Welch lived with other Beat writers including Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Like many other Beat poets Welch did not like war. He and other writers and editors signed a pledge called “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” and refused to pay tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
In the 1960’s Welch began teaching at the University of California Extension Poetry Workshop. In early 1971 Welch and his common law wife, Magda Cregg, broke up. On May 23, 1971 Welch walked out of Gary Snyder’s house, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with a Smith&Weston .22 revolver, leaving a suicide note. His body was never found. He left an executor and, as a result, a good portion of his work was published posthumously.
Lew Welch was a very talented writer. He could make a grisly sky burial, where your body is fed to vultures, seem glorious. The Wild Dog magazine have a very good example of his amazing writing ability. The poem is titled Belly Musky Pit in Wild Dog issue 17 on page 45, and was published on June 8, 1965. The poem is either talking about garbage or a bodily function but his writing is so good that you can’t stop yourself from reading the poem again and again trying to figure out exactly what it’s about. Belly Musky Pit can be found in the Wild Dog Collection in Series 2, Subseries 4, Box 9, and Folder 2.
To view and read poems by Lew Welch and learn more about The Wild Dog Papers, visit Newton Gresham Library’s Special Collections on the fourth floor of the Library.
View a detailed finding aid of this collection at Sam Houston State University’s Archon page and see just what materials are in the collection.