Philip Glenn Whalen was born in Portland, Oregon on October 20, 1923. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943–46 and attended Reed College on the G.I. Bill. While at Reed, Whalen developed interests in Asian philosophy and poetry. He also befriended fellow students and future poets Gary Snyder and Lew Welch. Whalen graduated with a BA in 1951.
Whalen attended the Six Gallery Reading, an event that heralded the birth of the Beat movement, alongside Welch and Snyder, as well as poets Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, and Kenneth Rexroth. Whalen published poems in Evergreen Review and The New American Poetry, 1945–1960 (University of California Press, 1960), edited by Donald Allen. Whalen was the author of ten books of poetry: Canoeing Up Cabarga Creek: Buddhist Poems, 1955–1986 (Parallax Press, 1996); Heavy Breathing: Poems, 1967–1980 (Four Seasons Foundation, 1980); Enough Said: Poems, 1974–1976 (Grey Fox Press, 1980); Decompressions (Grey Fox Press, 1977); The Kindness of Strangers: Poems, 1969–1974 (Four Seasons Foundation, 1976); Severance Pay: Poems, 1967–1969 (Four Seasons Foundation, 1970); On Bear’s Head (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969); Every Day (Coyote’s Journal, 1965); Like I Say: Poems (Totem Press, 1960); and Memoirs of an Interglacial Age (Auerhahn Press, 1960). He also published two novels—Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head (Black Sparrow Press, 1972) and You Didn’t Even Try (Coyote, 1967), which were later rereleased as Two Novels (Zephyr Press, 1985).
In 1973, Whalen became an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, serving in both San Francisco and New Mexico. He died in San Francisco on June 26, 2002.