Lew Welch Papers, 1943 - 1971 (MSS 13)

Restrictions: Original scrolls located in Box 7 are restricted; photocopies must be used instead. The most fragile scroll, a 1961 version of "Din Poem," has been scanned. The digital version may be viewed, upon request, in the Special Collections & Archives reading room.

Extent: 2.6 Linear feet (6 archives boxes and 1 card file box)

The papers of Lew Welch (1926-1971), an important member of the West Coast Beat poetry community. Lew Welch's papers include correspondence, poetry, prose, plays, essays, songs, scrolls, and notebooks. The collection as a whole contains information pertaining both to Welch's personal battle with recurring depression as well as his struggle to construct a Beat poetry that might do justice to his notion -- inherited from his hero, William Carlos Williams -- of "The American Idiom."

Although Lewis Barrett Welch's life was marked by uncertainty and a lack of permanent goals, he gained an enduring position in the world of literature through his writings and personal influence.

Welch was born 16 August 1926 in Phoenix, Arizona, to Lewis Barrett Welch Sr. and Dorothy Brownfield Welch. Mrs. Welch was the daughter of a wealthy Phoenix surgeon. Lew Welch claimed that he began suffering mental breakdowns while still a baby, about which he once told David Melzer, "I went to the loony bin when I was fourteen months old. . . It is the world's record. Even among my beat generation friends. I have the world's record. I copped out, I went crazy, split, I said 'forget it!'"

Following the birth of Welch's sister his parents' marriage broke up, and Dorothy Welch moved the family to California in 1929. Welch was three at the time, and for most of his childhood his mother moved from town to town in California. He attended schools in Santa Monica, Coronado, La Mesa, and El Cajon. In Palo Alto Welch finished high school.

While still in school Welch enlisted in the Air Force, and he entered the Force following graduation. He spent less than a year in the service and then returned to California, where he enrolled at Stockton Junior College. While at Stockton he met James Wilson, a teacher who encouraged him to write. It was Wilson who suggested that Welch study at Reed College, a school in Oregon with a reputation for a progressive faculty and student body.

Welch entered Reed College in 1948, and the following year moved into a house with Gary Snyder; the following year they were joined by Philip Whalen. By the fall of 1949 Welch was co-editor of the school's literary magazine and was writing constantly. He wrote his senior thesis on Gertrude Stein and graduated in 1950.

The period following Welch's graduation was marked by turbulence. During the summer of 1950 he planned to move to Chile, and he asked his mother for a $1000 loan for the trip. By fall he had changed his plans and remained in Oregon. Late in the year he met William Carlos Williams, who was to become Welch's hero. Welch went to visit Williams in New Jersey and ultimately rented an apartment in New York City. His initial enthusiasm for the city soon diminished, however, and after a brief stay in Florida he moved to Chicago. There he enrolled in the Master's program at the University of Chicago. Again, he quickly became discouraged and depressed, and in 1951 suffered a nervous breakdown.

Welch dropped out of school and began undergoing psychoanalysis.

He lived a relatively tranquil life for the next five years, and in 1953 he went to work preparing ads for Montgomery Ward. Shortly thereafter he married Mary Garber.

For a number of years Welch showed his poetry only to close friends. With the emergence of the Beat movement, however, Welch's friends Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder began receiving national attention. Welch's desire to devote himself completely to his poetry was revived. He transferred to the Oakland office of Montgomery Ward and soon became a part of the San Francisco poetry scene. In 1958 he was fired from his job. His marriage fell apart soon after.

At the same time, however, Welch's poetry was beginning to meet with some success. Donald Allen included one of Welch's poems in The New American Poetry -- the important anthology published in 1960. That same year Welch's first book, Wobbly Rock, was published. He was drinking heavily during this time, but he continued to write extensively. For a time he lived with his mother in Reno, Nevada, and then in a cabin in the Trinity Alps. He moved back to San Francisco in 1963, and in 1965 published three books.

In 1965 Welch began teaching a poetry workshop offered through the Extension program of the University of California at Berkeley. Despite his burgeoning success, Welch's bouts with depression and heavy drinking continued. After the breakup of another relationship in 1971 Welch returned to the mountains. On 23 May 1971, Gary Snyder went up to Welch's campsite and found a suicide note in Welch's truck. Despite an extensive search, Welch's body was never recovered.

The Lew Welch Papers document the life of an important member of the West Coast poetry community. Although the bulk of the collection was acquired from Donald Allen in 1974, additional materials were received from Allen in 1978. The later additions have been integrated with the materials from the first accession. The materials cover the period 1943 to 1971 and are organized into four series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE; 2) WRITINGS; 3) REVIEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS; and 4) PERSONAL AND BUSINESS RECORDS.

Container List


Scope and Content of Series

Series 1) CORRESPONDENCE: Arranged alphabetically, the series includes correspondence from Donald Allen, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen. Of particular biographical importance are the 18 folders containing letters from Welch's mother, Dorothy Brownfield Welch, who wrote her son regularly from 1943 to his death in May 1971.

Box 1 Folder 1
Allen, Donald
Box 1 Folder 2
Baker, Richard
Box 1 Folder 3
Brautigan, Richard

Brownfield, Dorothy [Welch's mother]

Box 1 Folder 4-10
Box 1 Folder 11-14

Includes handwritten sections from poems "In my middle youth..." and "I David, arm in the sling" in letter dated 1 Feb. 1950. TS of poems "Monologue of one whom the spring found unaccompanied...," "Fragments," "Corinna's Gone A-Praying" in letter dated 21 March 1950.

Box 1 Folder 15

Includes paraphrase from Paulinus of Nola letter dated 17 Feb. 1952 and TS of "Breakfast, One Easter," in letter dated 17 April 1952.

Box 1 Folder 16

Includes TS of "Note from Pioneer on a Speck in Space" in letter dated 21 July 1957.

Box 2 Folder 1

Includes outline of autobiographical novel (3 pps) dated April 1960; 1 TLs (1 p.) from Ms. Brownfield to Emil Garber (Mary's father).

Box 2 Folder 2-3

Includes TS of "Birthday Poem, with Instructions to his Mother," dated 8 May 1963.

Box 2 Folder 4
Box 2 Folder 5

1 TLs to LW from Robert Jones, clerk of Cal. Poetry Reading Circuit, dated 12 June 1969, 1 TLs (3 leaves) to Dorothy B. from Mary Welch dated 15 December 1957.

Box 2 Folder 6
Cuddy, Terry (Prisoner at San Quentin)
Box 2 Folder 7
Doss, John
Box 2 Folder 8
Doyle, Kirby [all are letters from Welch to Doyle]
Box 2 Folder 9
Durand, Robert
Box 2 Folder 10
Hausman, Gerald
Box 2 Folder 11
Hawley, Robert (editor of Oyez Press)
Oversize FB-035 Folder 8
Herms, George - "You'll get everything that's comin to ya!" paper collage, ca. 1961-1963

Single leaf collage, slightly oversize, with black and white image of a woman on the front and muddled typescript on reverse. Originally folded and mailed to LW and Kirby Doyle.

Box 2 Folder 12
KitKitDizze - Miscellaneous letters and notes concerning Welch's projected home in the Sierras
Box 2 Folder 13
Korte, Sister Mary
Box 2 Folder 14
Koller, James
Box 2 Folder 15
McClure, Michael
Box 2 Folder 16
Martin, John
Box 2 Folder 17
Moore, Marianne
Box 2 Folder 18
Murphy, Pat
Box 2 Folder 19
Olsen, Charles
Box 2 Folder 20
Ring of Bone - Miscellaneous correspondence and Grove Press Contract for Welch's proposed publication
Box 2 Folder 21
Rago, Henry (editor of Poetry Magazine)
Box 2 Folder 22
Saijo, Albert
Box 2 Folder 23
Saleh, Dennis
Box 2 Folder 24
Schevill, James (San Francisco Poetry Center)
Box 2 Folder 25
Shoemaker, Jack (editor of Maya Press)
Box 2 Folder 26
Simon, John Oliver
Box 2 Folder 27
Snyder, Gary
Box 2 Folder 28
Thompson, Marilyn and Bari
Box 2 Folder 29
University of California at Davis - Letters concerning readings at UC Davis
Box 2 Folder 30
University of California at Santa Barbara - Letter concerning readings at UCSB, from Ruth Cole
Box 2 Folder 31
University of Utah/John Vernon - Letter concerning reading
Box 2 Folder 32
Upton, Charles
Box 2 Folder 33
Welch, Lew - 1 ALs draft to Philip Whalen; 1 TLs to Will Peterson; 1 TLs carbon to Welch's mother; 1 MS -- thought by Don Allen to be part of an enclosure to a letter to James Wilson which is perhaps related to Welch's poem "Invention Against Invention"
Box 2 Folder 34
Whalen, Philip


Scope and Content of Series

Series 2) WRITINGS: Arranged in six subseries: A) Poetry, B) Essays, C) Prose and Plays, D) Scrolls, E) Songs, and F) Notebooks.

A) Poetry: Notes, revisions, and alternate versions of Welch's published and unpublished poetry.

B) Essays: Carbons and xeroxes of Welch's pieces for The San Francisco Oracle and The Realist. Also included are pieces entitled "Expose the Bones of Rhetoric," "Language is Speech," and "The Use of Poetry," each of which provide the reader with a clear understanding of Welch's strategies for constructing a poetry in the "American idiom." Also included in this subseries is an essay dedicated to William Carlos Williams ("Early Poems and Long Thing for WCW," 1950), as well as Welch's 1950 Reed College BA thesis, "The Writing of Gertrude Stein: Its Nature and Principles."

C) Prose and Plays: One folder of miscellaneous short fiction, and two plays, "I, Leo" and "Twins."

D) Scrolls: Poetry and fiction fragments on scrolls. The original scrolls are restricted due to fragility; photocopies are available for use. Digital copies may also be available for viewing upon request.

E) Songs: Lyrics and music of songs by Welch.

F) Notebooks: The Notebooks subseries is highly useful as a passage-key into the inner workings of Welch's writing praxis. Included are 10 notebooks, each containing notes, rough drafts, and outlines -- the materials from which later poems were generated. Of particular historical importance is the 1971 spiral-bound notebook with an entry dated 14 May 1971: this is believed to be Welch's final note before his suicide or disappearance into the wilderness.


Titled poetry

Box 3 Folder 1
"Brandy's Wedding" (crossed out) or "Poem MSS" - Miscellaneous drafts of poems from various periods with some carbons
Box 3 Folder 2
"Fishing" folder - "Section for Fish Poem" typescript; prose account of salmon fishing, typescript with holograph revisions
Box 3 Folder 3
"For Consideration (For Sure)" - Poems in TS, some carbons. Includes TS of The Mountain Poems and Leather Prunes
Box 3 Folder 4
"Fragments" - Folder of 14 fragments, TS (with carbons) from scrolls, notebooks, loose leaf folders, etc. Includes two maps in holograph
Box 3 Folder 5
"Invention Against Invention" - Typescript with holograph dedication to Charles Olsen and revisions
Box 3 Folder 6
"Late Poems from Ring of Bone" - TS drafts and holograph drafts, various stages
Box 3 Folder 7
Leather Prunes - Poem drafts, some on napkins, some carbons
Box 3 Folder 8
"1963" - TS and MS, includes versions of "A Letter for Robert Duncan," and "Invention Against Invention"
Box 3 Folder 9
The Mountain Poems and Spring Rain Revolution at the Forks - Early versions of Hermit Poems and The Way Back. TS, signed
Box 3 Folder 10
On Out: Selected Poems 1950 - 1960 - TS, clean carbon, inscription to LW's wife and signature on title leaf
Box 3 Folder 11
"Our Lady of Defeated Love" - Drafts of poem. Holograph draft of preface to "Cement" and one MS poem
Box 3 Folder 12
Ring of Bone - Some carbons, slight holograph, TS
Box 3 Folder 13
"Small Book to Break the Rain" - TS with holograph revisions from 1967
Box 3 Folder 14
Spring Rain Revolution at the Forks and Hermit Poems - TS, some carbons, with corrections, signed
Box 3 Folder 15
Trip Trap - Single typed sheet formed by joining several sheets together. TS of book prepared by Welch, Albert Saijo, and Jack Kerouac. Believed typed by Kerouac
Box 3 Folder 16
"The Wanderer" - Poem with the I-Ching throw upon which the poem is based, holograph
Box 3 Folder 17
The Way Back - TS including carbon; holograph poem by Gary Snyder, "The Four Vows," annotated by Welch
Box 3 Folder 18
"To Write..." etc. - List of poems written and "to write." Holograph on paper napkin, from 1970. Two Poems: "Dear Joanne"; and "A Poem for Gerard Malanga" in holograph. Poem: "Words to that Effect," TS with holograph addition. Poem: "The Epiphany of Toffy Belski," TS

Miscellaneous and untitled poetry

Box 3 Folder 19
Miscellaneous papers - "A Farewell Note to God, Should He Exist." Preface, 1 page fragment from larger preface to Ring of Bone. Proposed table of contents for Ring of Bone. Miscellaneous cards including short prose notes. Leaves from small notebook containing maps and drawings. Assorted notebook fragments and leaves, addresses, and lists. "Across Space and Time" by Charles Olsen, 1 page TS of Olsen piece from Set no. 1
Box 3 Folder 20
Miscellaneous poems - MSS ("Poetry Workshop Joyce Brians" crossed out). Miscellaneous poems and TS with various dates. Some holograph revisions and one poem in holograph. Includes draft of "Words to That Effect" and proposed table of contents for On Out


Box 4 Folder 1
Drafts of "Final City - Tap City" - Includes carbon of printed version
Box 4 Folder 2
Early Poems and Long Thing for William Carlos Williams - Long essay about Welch's own poetry, dedicated to WCW (1950)
Box 4 Folder 3
Expose the Bones of Rhetoric - TS draft in scroll format
Box 4 Folder 4
Greed - San Francisco Oracle essay, xerox and photocopy of various versions with published version and photocopy of letter to editor
Box 4 Folder 5
How to Survive in The United States - TS
Box 4 Folder 6
Language is Speech - TS of essay
Box 4 Folder 7
Uses of Poetry - TS draft
Box 4 Folder 8
Writings of Gertrude Stein: Its Nature and Principles - Reed College BA thesis, May 1950, carbon TS; inscribed by LW to his mother

Prose and Plays

Box 4 Folder 9
Fiction - Miscellaneous TS prose. 8 sections with carbons, mostly from scrolls which have been broken down and pasted together

I, Leo

Box 4 Folder 10
First draft, long scroll format
Box 4 Folder 11
Second and third drafts. TS, corrected
Box 4 Folder 12
Twins - TS of play (incomplete)


Din Poem

Box 7
Very long early version and holograph poem on scroll. Heavily taped from pieces, 1961

Restrictions Apply

Box 7
Scroll poem with carbon, 1966

Restrictions Apply

Box 7
Hard Start - Typed scroll, fiction fragments

Restrictions Apply

Box 7
Endless Autobiography of the Whole United States - Typed scroll, fiction fragments

Restrictions Apply

Box 7
Late Urban Love of Peter Held - Typed scroll, draft of prose with carbon

Restrictions Apply

Box 5 Folder 1
Photocopies of high-acid and taped scrolls


Box 5 Folder 2
Graffiti and Supermarket - Words and music, on stencil with original
Box 5 Folder 3
Songs - TS and MS, including holograph version of "Supermarket" music; some carbons


Box 5 Folder 4
Pages from black loose-leaf notebook - Early poems, rough drafts of long poems, prose drafts, letters with poems from other poets, including three from Philip Whalen and one from Gary Snyder
Box 5 Folder 5
Brown silk-covered notebook - Hermit Songs in holograph, calligraphed by Welch including design, dedication and two holograph poems by Philip Whalen, 1964
Box 5 Folder 6
Ledger, "The Fisherman's Notebook," signed - Various notes on three pages with five pages of notes for projected book of poems
Box 5 Folder 7
Loose-leaf notebook from early San Francisco period

Spiral-bound notebooks

Box 5 Folder 8
7 X 8 1/2, 3 pps., with entries of notes for poems
Box 5 Folder 9
4 X 6, 18 pps., notes for teaching
Box 5 Folder 10
4 X 6, 35 pps., notes, including journal kept in Big Sur, 1962
Box 5 Folder 11
3 X 5, loose-leaf, 8 pps., Forks of Salmon period
Box 5 Folder 12
List of supplies on rear page for construction of house. Single entry dated 14 May 1971 (in front), believed to be the last note made by Welch before his disappearance, 1971
Box 6 Folder 1
8 1/2 X 11, 9 pps., "tentative structure for I, Leo and other works"


Scope and Content of Series

Series 3) REVIEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS: Xeroxes and originals of reviews both of Welch's work and by Welch on other poets' work. Included are announcements for readings at the San Francisco State Poetry Center, San Quentin Prison (with Richard Brautigan), and others.

Box 6 Folder 2
Miscellaneous documents, announcements, sections from magazines, broadsides, gathered by Welch, announcing readings. Includes review of Welch's plays from San Francisco Magazine
Box 6 Folder 3
Press release and program note written by Welch for San Francisco State College poetry reading in 1966. Carbon with holograph revisions. "A Short Love Story of a Man and a Planet," printed in Omen I, 1 (1970), later titled "He Begins to Recount His Adventures." Gavin Arthur's hand-drawn horoscope for Welch, signed; crayon of printed horoscope, 1966 - 1966
Box 6 Folder 4
Publicity - Clippings of Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column, 26 October 1966. Original clippings and negative of Grover Sales' review of Welch's "One Man Plays" reading, from San Francisco Magazine. Xerox of "Final City" from Oracle, no. 34, 1968. Xeroxes of San Quentin News item on Welch and Brautigan reading at prison. College of Marin reprint of article on Welch from Independent Journal (1968). Program notes for San Francisco State College Poetry Center reading, 1959
Box 6 Folder 5
Reviews Writ by Me - Drafts of reviews of Philip Whalen's On Bear's Head and Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar, including final published version from San Francisco Chronicle
Box 6 Folder 6
Reviews, ephemera, and broadsides


Scope and Content of Series

Series 4) PERSONAL AND BUSINESS RECORDS: Miscellaneous documents such as Welch's Grove Press contracts and his Pacific Coast Clerks Union book. Of particular interest is a photocopy of a "Statement of Opposition" to the Vietnam War. The statement is endorsed by Welch, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Joanne Kyger, all of whose names appear typed, but not signed. The photocopy itself is signed by Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg, and is dated 15 July 1965.

Box 6 Folder 7
Contract for Pacific Coast Clerks, subsidiary of International Long Shoreman's and Warehouseman's Union
Box 6 Folder 8
Funeral record of LW's father
Box 6 Folder 9
Greeley, Colorado - Folder containing information, correspondence, and documents pertaining to Welch's residency at Colorado State College at Greeley, Colorado
Box 6 Folder 10
Grove Press letters and contracts
Box 6 Folder 11
List of equipment purchased & page of doodles and drawings, 1962 - 1963
Box 6 Folder 12
Permission correspondence and forms
Box 6 Folder 13
UC Extension - Miscellaneous papers relating to Welch's teaching at UC Berkeley Extension. Contains poems written by students, contracts, and a letter drafted by Welch to Elspeth Smith (Director of UC Extension program) concerning his classes. Also, a letter of complaint about Welch from student and E. Smith's response
Box 6 Folder 14
Statement of opposition to Vietnam War - Welch's name appears on statement (typed), but is not signed, 1965
Box 6 Folder 15
Sturm, Rogers and Co. Guns catalog