If You're So Smart, Why Ain't You Rich?

By Philip Whalen 1923–2002 Philip Whalen
I need everything else
Anything else
But I have nothing
Shall have nothing
    but this
Immediate, inescapable
    and invaluable
No one can afford
Being made here and now

       (Seattle, Washington
                      17 May, 1955)


Concise (wooden)
Behind them, the garage door
(Paint sold under a fatuous name:
"Old Rose"
       which brings a war to mind)

And the mind slides over the fence again
Orange against pink and green

Returned of its own accord
It can explain nothing
Give no account

What good? What worth?


You have less than a second
       To live
To try to explain:
Say that light
       in particular wave-lengths
       or bundles wobbling at a given speed
Produces the experience   
Orange against pink
Better than a sirloin steak?
A screen by Korin?

The effect of this, taken internally
The effect   
               of beauty
                              on the mind

There is no equivalent, least of all
These objects
Which ought to manifest
A surface disorientation, pitting
Or striae
Admitting some plausible interpretation

But the cost
Can't be expressed in numbers
dodging between
       a vagrancy rap
       and the newest electrical brain-curette
Eating what the rich are bullied into giving
Or the poor willingly share
Depriving themselves

More expensive than ambergris
       Although the stink   
               isn't as loud. (A few
Wise men have said,
       "Produced the same way . . .
       Vomited out by sick whales.")
Valuable for the same qualities
       Staying-power and penetration
I've squandered every crying dime.

Philip Whalen, “If You're So Smart, Why Ain't You Rich?” from The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen copyright © 2007 by Brandeis University Press and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. www.wesleyan.edu/wespress

Source: The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press, 2007)

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Poet Philip Whalen 1923–2002

Subjects Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Class, Life Choices

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Philip Whalen is often labelled a "Beat poet" because he enjoyed his first creative achievement during the years when Beat literature thrived. As an ally and confidant of the major figures of the Beat Generation—and as a significant poet in his own right—Whalen is generally considered one of the pioneering forces behind the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the mid-1950s. The author's work differs from much Beat writing in its . . .

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Class, Life Choices

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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