Kenneth Patchen's work and ideas regarding the role of artists paralleled those of the Dadaists, the Beats, and Surrealists. Patchen's ambitious body of work also foreshadowed literary art-forms ranging from reading poetry to jazz accompaniment to his late experiments with visual poetry

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Kenneth Patchen, The Journal of Albion Moonlight,  New Directions, 1961. (+ 2017.)             

Kenneth Patchen sets off on an allegorical journey of his own in which the far boundaries of love and murder, madness and sex are sensually explored. His is the tale of a disordered pilgrimage to H. Roivas (Heavenly Savior) in which the deranged responses of individuals point up the outer madness from which they derive in a more imaginative way that social protest generally allows.Like Camus, Kenneth Patchen is anti-cool, anti-hip, anti-beat.

An unforgettable, apocalyptic novel from a distinctly American prophet
Inspired by one of the finest lyrics in the English language, the anonymous, pre-Shakespearean “Tom o’Bedlam” (“By a knight of ghosts and shadows / I summoned am to tourney / Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end / Methinks it is no journey…”), Kenneth Patchen sets off on an allegorical journey to the furthest limits of love and murder, madness and sex. While on this disordered pilgrimage to H. Roivas (Heavenly Savior), various characters offer deranged responses, conveying an otherworldly, imaginative madness. A chronicle of violent fury and compassion, written when Surrealism was still vigorous and doing battle with psychotic “reality,” The Journal of Albion Moonlight is an American monument to engagement.

“Carol wants me to write a novel: ‘You’ve met so many interesting people,’ she tells me.
Very good, there was a young man and he could never get his hands on enough women.  That’s a novel.
There was an idiot and he became God. That’s the same novel.  I can’t possibly think of any others.
It is rather pleasant to be the author of two such excellent novels.  The critics are divided in their opinions.  One lot believes that they should be shorter; another not, that they should be a mite longer.  I rather prefer short critics to long ones.  I like critics with tan shoes — look nicer, I think. . .”
-From The Journal Of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen, page 41.
This novel is quite possibly the book that made the biggest impression on me, ever.
Lord knows I’ve given it away to anyone who would listen. And sometimes those who wouldn’t listen, they still got a copy. So it was a wonderful surprise to read this last week a thoughtful appreciation of Patchen’s unclassifiable, angry, beautiful masterpiece on the Tin House Blog.
In his essay, J.C. Hallman talks eloquently about how a favorite, or “pivotal” book (such as, for him and for me, The Journal Of Albion Moonlight) can become a sacred, personal experience that is almost incommunicable to others, and that in fact a book’s “meaning” is largely personal:
“Of course books mean things. But it’s a mistake to think you can definitively articulate whatever that is. Every bit as important as what a book means is what it does. In fact, I think I’d like to say that what it does is what it means. The great irony of literature is that our inability to describe what happens to us when we read a book is compounded by our intense desire to do just that, to share the experience with another as soon as we’ve had it. Books are private experiences, but we never want to leave them private. Stories are the salve applied to the wound of self-consciousness, the laceration that leaves us discrete and lonely in our skins. We read to close the gap. When we’re done, we stumble after one another, inarticulate, hypnotized, hoping to spread the virus of our inspiration.”
My own introduction to Albion Moonlight came through Henry Miller whose book, The Books In My Life, is a must read if you’re interested in learning about a lineage of ecstastic, hyper-passionate, renegade writers who are often neglected today.
Like Kenneth Patchen for example. - Michael Berger

“like a sonnet whose beautiful lines are undermined by its flawed argument.”
In 1941 when New Directions’ publisher James Laughlin received the manuscript of poet Kenneth Patchen’s experimental novel The Journal of Albion Moonlight Laughlin gave it to poet and critic Delmore Schwartz who convinced Laughlin not to publish it. Following that rejection Patchen self-published the book the same year.
Schwartz had panned Patchen’s previous books, but this time his objection was not primarily aesthetic. Schwartz objected to the book’s pacifism as a response to Nazi aggression, an inadequate response reminiscent of Mahatma Ghandi’s 1939 article criticizing German Jews for emigrating instead of staying in Germany and practicing passive resistance to the Nazi regime that had stripped them of citizenship and was preparing to murder them.
Patchen’s pacifism is nearly identical to that espoused a generation earlier by Socialist Party leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs during World War One. But Nazi Germany in the fifth decade of the 20th century was exponentially more evil and a far greater threat than was militarist Germany a quarter of a century earlier.
Patchen does appear to view Adolph Hitler as the embodiment of evil, and poses Hitler and Jesus as moral opposites. But in a dialogue between the two Jesus’ side of the conversation is entirely comprised of laughter. Patchen’s narrator asserts that the best response to Hitler, who craves attention and admiration, is to ignore him. That advice was no more useful to people living under Nazi occupation than Ghandi’s.
Patchen’s title character, who is a murderer and rapist, is an unlikely prophet of pacifism. He leads a band of comrades who plot to murder him and are pursued across the country by unnamed forces. Like the resurrected Jesus of the Gospels and the characters in Neal Gaiman’s American Gods Patchen’s characters die and then continue living in subsequent pages.
The book Patchen published is a mixed media mashup of surreal verse and prose poetry, line drawings, typographical experiments in fonts of differing sizes including parallel columns of separate and distinct text side by side on the same page; novels within the novel, both visionary and snarky allegorical narrative comprising journal entries documenting a road trip across a fictional war torn dystopian United States in the spring and summer of 1940, lyrical passages such as this:
“Outside the stars were thrashing about in the heavens like live fish in a skillet. The longhorn steer was rooting up trees and crashing through houses with Moe and the bullfighter and Kelly holding fast to its tail. After a little time it dove into the sea and came up with a submarine impaled on its horns. A brace of wild duck made the design of a woman’s sex against the moon.”
And numerous quotable aphorisms, such as: “When the dying lion roars the jackal will fall to licking death’s ass, not knowing that his own will taste better in the long run.”
Those quotable sentences and lines of verse appear on nearly every other page and are strongest when read one at a time. Collectively they seem sententious and sophomoric, especially in a section toward the end where the aphorisms separated by paragraph breaks fill several consecutive pages. Likewise the book’s poetic language is best appreciated by dipping into it a little at a time; readers may find plowing through it cover to cover to be a chore.
The book anticipates the work of the Beat Generation a decade and a half later whose writers embraced it, which may have convinced New Directions to publish the book two decades after Patchen’s initial self-publication. Albion and his wife Carol’s open marriage is ahead of its time, and the book’s vagabond characters, their itinerary, and the stream of consciousness prose anticipate the work of Jack Kerouac.
“I have armed myself against their weapons. To be so indolent that the flies will bury their dead on my eyelids. To sit on a beach and let the waves comb all thought of endeavor out of me. To live in such a manner that I never make a single, blood-rotten dollar. To study history in order only to have it to forget. Books—all those big, fat-bottomed ashcans where men empty their lives.
“I like the leopard. I don’t like Benj. Franklin.”
If the book was out of step with its time on the eve of America’s entry into World War Two, its dystopian pessimism suited the Cold War with its nuclear Sword of Damocles and corporate conformity. Its jaded snarky tone might also appeal to today’s millennial hipsters, and lines like “For man is only a disease which extinction will cure” mirror the sentiments of today’s misanthropic radical ecologists. The new edition is a reprint of New Direction’s 1961 volume, but with a different cover.
How does the book hold up in 2017? The dialogue and narration sometimes feel stiff in the way speech in 1940s movies can seem stilted to 21st century ears. Likewise Albion’s predatory sexism and his disapproval of women’s basketball is dated. Patchen’s poetic language is timeless to the extent that it can be enjoyed out of its contemporary context and indefensible point of view. The Journal of Albion Moonlight is like a sonnet whose beautiful lines are undermined by its flawed argument. - David Cooper

From the late 1930s until his death in 1972—and certainly as much of his behemoth bibliography has come to light in the decades since—Kenneth Patchen perplexed and enchanted readers with “novels” that refused to do what’s allowed on the page. A sometime collaborator of John Cage and Charles Mingus and lifelong friend of E.E. Cummings, his smashing together of the visual and written and bold negotiation with narrative landed his pacifist mysticism at a singular aesthetic—one that the whole of literature seems to have forgotten less than it has processed it.
In The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Patchen’s overwhelming and seminal 1941 literary mess recently reissued by New Directions, time, space, sequence, and subtlety don’t seem to exist. Patchen’s sprawling poetic exposition is hard after the heart of American story and microscoped in on the blurriness of the border between human love and human hate, with little regard for logic in its hunt of these themes. It’s Patchen’s ambition to make us all look like animals, and disarming the semblance of any known structure of narrative is an essential part of this dizzying quest. “What we did not know was how near madness we would be,” the titular Moonlight warns on the second page.
What follows is 313 pages that vacillate between an almost impossible to follow narrative, long detached passages about the general nature of everything, and graphic art eruptions. “Why the large, messy rebellion against form?” Moonlight at one point asks of himself. Patchen’s jumbled and relentless poetics make for an awesome authorial assault, even if he can’t always hold the line between text and reader taut throughout his unflinching frontier into the possibilities of the page. For every delightful Whitman diss track (“Walt Whitman did not want to touch people; he wanted to paw over them…He spent his time putting soap on the backs of schoolboys but he did not rub them clean”), direct challenge to God, declaration of extra-planetary love, and hard truism about prose (“Literature is what you write when you think you should be saying something”), there is an incoherent anecdote (“is not the desire for a logic a form of madness?”) about violence toward women and the innocent.
It’s in the the more grounded, physically imaginable scenework of his story that Patchen most leans on said violence, like a firework he needs to explode himself out of self-created frames. Moonlight’s countrywide roving and collecting of victims and lovers with increasingly fictional names (Beth, Carol, Jetter, Thomas Honey, Jackeen, and Roivas among them) is the closest thing to a traditional story here—though the realer story of course is Patchen mapping out his wild mind for us. Set against the backdrop of World War II and host to many a mention of Adolf HitlerMoonlight leans into the inhumanity of the Holocaust and erosions of large European cities and believes, as many texts then did, that from the spectacle of it all could be pulled the inspiration for hunting a Great Grand Truth. In his immersion, Patchen flashes a beautiful hubris that embodies American exceptionalism (“I am an event among men…I can refuse all your institutions…I am outside the law”) while warning of its bloody obsession with scale—“the pattern did not end with peace or love or dignity, instead it forked through the weave where there was only pain and blood-rooted fear.”
The book displays an untethered drive toward beauty better on display in Patchen’s previous “transliterary” novel Sleepers Awake, a later work much more indifferent to characters, occurrences, and plot. In Moonlight Patchen includes standard storytelling methods just often enough to show that he can, and to dismiss them (“The thread-bare and ridiculous plots aren’t enough”) as part of his sumptuous joust in the direction of all literary history. He throws so many kitchen sinks at his audience, destroys any trace of linearity or morality so often that his clearest, most consistent theme is a hostility toward analytic readings, and toward the limits of established literature. “Books,” he writes, “all those big, fat-bottomed ashcans where men empty their lives.”
coverThe leaps Patchen makes in his effort to jump beyond the confines of his chosen form, here and elsewhere, are among the most memorable, transformative shows in American letters. He is at his very best when his subject is Everything, and when his motivation is to use his powers of language to pulverize the expected methods of meaning and forging new ones. Journal predates the unadulterated exploration of Sleepers and work like the ethereal collection of poems and drawings Because It Is, holding within its streams of ecstasy a creeping doubt about the efficacy of a form it still seeks to revolutionize. Patchen hasn’t yet learned to more freely shed the audience’s expectations. In this, one of his earlier works, he still takes on the day’s standard moral-cultural challenge of the novel, wrestling with a politics he later insulates himself more away from.
Before he decided to fly fully toward apolitical love and his own rococo, mystical version of God in his work, Patchen showed scared skepticism about the possibility of our species to make something gorgeous happen without also somehow killing someone. The Journal of Albion Moonlight is a book written by a man killing his darling hope for a loving world, breaking away from and saying goodbye to its conventions of value. At a time today, when our country’s mechanics and ideologies seem even less feasible than usual—76 years after the book faced industry difficulty for its criticism of America’s involvement in the war—Patchen’s attempted exorcism-on-the-page of all our nation’s sloppiest truths, in all their messy splendor, is worth a proper second look. -

This weighty book was given in Tunbridge Wells (Royal).
At first it was unwanted, because we always judge books by their approximate mass and size.
But the back cover blurb revealed it was written with the inspiration from the song “Tom of Bedlam”, a pre-Shakespearian English song which we have just learned.
So the book fitted into our plot, and came along.
This journal is a twisting ride through a mind’s madness, its self-aware out-of-placeness, it’s miraculous inability and rigourous intention to not be at ease. Albion Moonlight is a character who refuses to be anything other than his own most difficult self, he finds his zenith and his nadir, and any truth he uncovers he ruthlessly destroys by his curious and meticulous mind.
Reading this book is like a dose of bluebell root. It is mildly narcotic, and manufactures (uncovers?) a space in the brain that does not feel as though it should be there.
This book does not help promote restful sleep, even as part of a balanced intake. No, this is not easy-reading; it is a challenge to the percieved heart of things, a javelin in the mouth of easy rationalizing.
In small snippets, this book is amazing. But to trapise through it, is hard going, a bitter digestion. Its fairest blessing  came with the turning of the last page, when it was all over.
Like the end of a fever, one can look up again, and see that this world and Albion’s are not seamlessly entwined. There is relief.
Read on for quotes:

Here are quotes:
“The question is not: do we believe in God? but rather: does God believe in us? And the answer is: only an unbeliever could have created our image of God, and only a false God could be satisfied with it.”
“Man has been corrupted by his symbols. Language has killed his animal.”
“What are values? Is what happens in a grasshopper’s head a ‘value’?
“We believe in you. There is no danger. It is not getting dark. We love you.”
“My tree is a green tree. My father’s ghost sings in its branches’
“Do not liberate the poor: destroy them – and with them all the jackal-Stlains that feast on their hideous, shrunken bodies. How the Church and the false revolutionaries draw together: love the poor, for they are humble. I say hate the poor for the humility which keeps their faces pressed into the mud. The poor are the product of a false and cruel society; but they are also the corner-stone of that society.”
“The Son of Man – my son, and yours, not God’s; because we made God and we are Gods.”
“I believe that man is God. It is yourself that you must worship.”
“I get up angrily and cross to the dead clerk. “Got a match?” i say. I hald expect that he will give me one. Instead, with a beautiful, slow movement, he opens his eys and says: “I haven’t one. Will this do?” and as he reaches out his hand, a blast of hell-fire shoots out and burns off my eyebrows.”
“Women always watch your pimples when you try and talk as though your animal were as old and wise as theirs.”
“He made the word a knife.”
“In this world where only our organs are sane.”
“May you live to die in love and rest.”
“How kind you are to lie to me”
“None born kows the dark meaning in the fish’s eye.”
“We never admire a man; we admire our admiration for him”
“The ocean asks nothing of the rain”
“illusion is the suitcase in which we carry our proper hearts.”
“In future, men and women will write as though writing were their only dull tool – which is quite true.”
“Our only plight is that we are alive”
“The stupid say, “would that i had lived then”, but they mean: “it would be better to be dead now”
“It is clearly my duty to come just at the right time, saying exactly the right thing.”
“The spirit’s life is profoundly and organcally a part of the world’s. The mind borrows from the affairs of the greatest men, the colour and theme of the spirit derives from him who is most degraded and brutish on the whole earth. The mind can take flight into the world, because it is not purely of the world; the spirit cannot escape, because it is the world – it is, in fact, the only world which the mind can know.”
“We believe in men who have been pictured to us, but never in the men about us – and especially do not believe in ourselves.”
“in our cities we have tolerated noise and dirt that would sicken a half-witted ape.”
“We have pushed the nose of our culture into the shit of our self-interest.”
“Our artists have only one desire: and that is, that their works may not live. There is somehting old-fashioned and uncouth in writing for posterity. How can they send us cheques when we’re dead?”
“swiftly flies the arrow that has a heart to house in”
“young men share themselves; old men their houses”
“many people never live in all of themselves”
“no man who ever stood up to authorit but did so with a sense of guilt. How they have trapped us! That’s the secret of their power, for deep in us all is a sense that they must be right. How else account for the defensive attitude of political martyrs? Why do revolutionists make a case for themselves? through wht propulsion? Surely they know that the State will not recognize the truth in their plea, will not honour the arguments which they advance. Why is it not possible for one man to say to the State: there is no need for me to offer a defence – it is you who are on trial; what have you to say for yourself?”
“Men say we are American. Men say we are English, French, Dutch. That is a lie, There are only human beings. WE are not motor-cars or chunks of soap that we need labels.”
“the poem of her walk…the sprung rhythm of her swaying buttocks…what a pavillion of rapture”
“Great art must possess an absolute flaw at its very core; otherwise it would be an abuse of the imperishable frailty of all things that exist, and we could say with complete truth that the apple is the most beutiful object under the sun. Art must add to the mystery.”
“That which is not daring is nothing.”
“Very good hanging weather”
“Surely four is not two and two: there is no way of slipping the twos into each other so fast that you can get rid of that little ‘and’. But where di d we get the two? One (and) one? we tried that. There can only be one thing in the world. Each is its own part of all.”
“nothing quite happens like ramming a woman happens”
“without the despondancy of the garlic rose for the nun’s cat”
“without the nightmare as the rag is wiped the thighs along”
“without the boast of the cyclone to the butterfly and the wren”
“what gorgeous monkeys we are”
“and that intensity of wakefulness from which there is no recovery”
“the word is the thing the wind says to the dead”
“the word is the white candle at the foot of the throne”
“the word is the way something floats that cannot be seen”
“and a merry go-to-hell goodnight to all of you”
“The slaves have been sold to themselves”
“There is no poison so fatal as breath”
“There is no joy so profound as the just-dead’s”
“there is no desire but for the good. But there is no hatred but for the lie. But there is no spirit which all of us may not be housed in”
“So it is the duty of the artist:to discourage all traces of shame; to extend all boundaries; to establish problems; to ignore solutions; to omit nothing;l to contradict everything; to tinkle a warning when mankind strays; to wound deeper than the soldier; to heal this poor obstinate monkey once and for all; to laugh at every situation; to besiege all their cities; to follow every false track; to verify the irrational; to exaggerate all things; to inhabit everyone; to experience only experience; to deviate at every point; to offer no examples; to dismiss all support; to multiply all opinions; to masquerade as the author of every platitude; to expose himself to every ridicule; to contrive always to be caught with his pants down; to attach no importance whatsoever to his activity; to return always to the renewing stranger; to be treacherous when nothing is to be gained; to reel in an exquisite sobriety; to defend the unreal at the cost of his reason; to obey each outrageous impulse.”
“Night’s hair tickles the bright forehead of the city”
“There is no crisis in the banquet hall of the soul”
“Crush their toes with the jawbones of a sonnet”
“Girls. I thank you God for having made them. The pure fruit of all that is beautiful.”
“The great writer will heal the hurt where God’s hand pressed too hard in His zeal to make us more than animals”
“The hunter always has the face of the thing he tracks”
“The Guilt is God’s”
“The automorphistic cataclysm”
“Strong is the male for his lassie, strong to get and go to sleep”
“There is no darkness anywhere. There are only sick little men who have turned away from the light.”
And those are quotes.
Enjoy, please.
And consider reading the book yourself…

So it is the duty of the artist to discourage all traces of shame
To extend all boundaries
To fog them in right over the plate

A Trip Around With Kenneth Patchen's Mind


Kenneth Patchen, Sleepers Awake, New Directions, 1996. [1946.]

Sleepers Awake, first published in 1946, is one of Kenneth Patchen’s major prose books. A work of extraordinary imaginative invention, it might be described as “novelistic fantasy”—a pioneering new direction in fiction which created its own protean form as it was written. Patchen mingled narrative with dream visions, surrealism with satire, poetry with statements of principle, and explored the then almost uncharted territory of visual word structures twenty years before “Concrete Poetry” became a popular international movement.
Sleepers Awake is a rallying cry to young and old, as Patchen advances his long struggle against inhumanity, oppression, war and hypocrisy. Now brutal, now lyrical, he gives us life and the world as we must take these if they are to have full meaning; the horror and the beauty, the joy and the suffering together.

Sleepers Awake could be considered Kenneth Patchen's most important novel. As always, he fully explores his ability to express rage, humor, and compassion, his profound pacifist commitments, and his Anarchist base. In this instance, the novel's fantasies, praises, curses, prophesies, and aspirations unfold in great variety and splendor, without losing their sharp edge or focus. I think of the visual poetry in this book as visual arias, passages where the narrative breaks into a sort of visual song. In addition, this is one of the instances where he used the limitations of the branch of visual poetry that gets called concrete more fully than virtually all of its anthologized proponents -- but in 1945, a decade in advance of the movement. Several types of visual aria appear in the book: the most frequent come in boxes in a type face that looks something like gill sans. These square arias work their way at intervals through the text. The more extended arias run continuously, and it's sometimes difficult to tell exactly where they begin. The one presented here has a definite beginning and conclusion. - Karl Young

Knowing nothing about this book, I dove into it expecting nothing.
What I got out of it was confusing, but ultimately just a reflection of my own beliefs.

This isn’t a story. It isn’t a narrative, or at least not a cohesive one. Time doesn’t flow like we might think it should in Sleepers Awake. People and places change without notice.
More than once, the book refers to William Blake, and it seems to want to associate itself with his perspective. On the whole, I think it does a satisfactory job.
Published in 1946, the most obvious message of Sleepers Awake is an anti-war message. The book directly addresses me more than once, and while I usually don’t like this kind of ‘meta-literature’, it works just fine here. Patchen can’t make it any clearer – stop killing each other, you fucking idiots. Yeah, I can dig it.
I can’t tell you about the plot. There isn’t one. This book is about people and life, and how they should live it, and why they don’t. I can’t tell you about the characters, because they aren’t important.
This isn’t an easy read. I might return to it next year. It needs careful attention. However, in the end, I didn’t get the sense that this was comparable to anything Blake did. This novel tries a little bit too hard, and suffers for it.
Still, I didn’t feel like my time was wasted, but that may be because my core values really resonated with the messages in Sleepers Awake – time isn’t what we think it is, people are complex, good and evil are definitive and both are terrifying, and peace – and love – is what we need.
Still, I can’t recommend this to everyone. If you love Blake, or have been institutionalized, you might like this, but it’s still hard to read. Very confusing. -

Kenneth Patchen, The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer: An Amusement, New Directions, 1999.

Can you imagine why a pornographer would be shy? Are you satisfied with the state of (a) World Society (b) your soul (c) American writing? Are you in the habit of reading books that could have been written by anybody? Do you really want the truth? Do you know how angels learn to fly? What would you feed a green deer? Do you think a profound social message can be conveyed by a book that is comic in character? When Kenneth Patchen's comic masterpiece, The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer first appeared in 1945, these questions were asked on the dust jacket. They have never seemed more relevant. The hilarious saga of Alfred Budd of Bivalve, New Jersey-a Candide-like innocent and part-time pornographer, written with what Diane DiPrima called Patchen's "tender silliness," should inspire a new generation of readers

Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer reveals an American humorist more daring than [S .J.] Perelman and as original as Thurber.Selden Rodman

We expend a lot of energy trying to create order and stability in our lives. It is important to us to find patterns and understand why things happen or how things work. We brush our teeth in the morning, eat our three meals a day and fill our spare time with one pursuit or another.
With our daily comfort relying on finding patterns and being surrounded by the recognizable, it's no wonder that confrontation with something new and unclassifiable makes such a strong impression on our minds and in our lives.
I remember my first encounter with the late-night TV show "Night Flight." The format of this show was unlike anything I had previously experienced. No host announced what was coming up; it was simply a montage of cartoon clips, music videos, experimental films and foreign shorts. Because of its departure from my normal experience, "Night Flight" took on a mystical aspect. Similar instances that have produced the same sort of effect include my first use of the Web, my first reading of "On the Road," my first exposure to Electronica and the new music styles that accompanied it, as well as my first close encounter with a member of the opposite sex (listed in no particular order).
It was just over a year ago that a friend recommended Henry Miller to me. I was at the tail end of a reading frenzy, churning through everything put into my hands, when I ran up against Miller's The Tropic of Cancer. Momentum kept me from pulling away from this work in confusion. But once I found myself in the thick of it, I recognized that Miller was actually saying something I was ready to hear.
Complacency and the desire to be lulled into inaction by creature comforts and a false sense of plenty were the 20th century norms that Miller railed against. He flaunted his whoring, degeneracy, and insolvency. He was an expatriate (anti-patriot) living in France for nearly a decade and decrying the destruction of the human soul by the forces of Consumerism and Commercialism in the United States.
Being a late bloomer when it comes to social and philosophical discourse, I found that many of my friends had read Miller in college, along side Ayn Rand, and were prepared to dismiss his works as dark, angry and tiresome. But most of them agreed that immediately after reading Miller they had been filled with a sense of outrage at the state of Western culture.
It's an indication of the overwhelming strength of the very forces Miller tries to alert us to that this indignation and resolve so quickly drains out of us after reading such rousing words.
While still under the influence of Miller I picked up his "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare," which is a biographical account of his return to the United States after his decade abroad. In the introduction, Miller explains that he had hoped to return in order to, as he puts it, "effect a reconciliation with my native land."
The reconciliation was a failure, and Miller had difficulty finding any kind words to use in the descriptions of his travels.
It's not all gloom, of course. His visit to Ohio revealed that although that state has given little to the world aside from "weak, characterless men" (former presidents McKinley, Hayes, Garfield, Grant and Harding), there are two artist of high regard who came from its wastes. These two, both writers, are Sherwood Anderson and Kenneth Patchen.
I'd read some of Anderson's shorter stories, but I'd never heard of Kenneth Patchen, who Miller describes as, "almost driven mad by the evil and ugliness stricken with pain and chagrin by what he sees that he recreates the cosmos in terms of blood and tears, stands it upside down and walks out on it in loathing and disgust." Strong words, and difficult to decipher.
Searching around I found that Patchen was better known as a poet than a prose author. Among his prose works, the most notable seems to be "the Journal of Albion Moonlight." But in 1999, New Directions republished his Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer and that was the only Patchen title waiting for me on the shelf in my nearest bookstore.
I picked up Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer knowing nothing about it except that it was written by someone who Miller held in high esteem. The back cover promised a "profound social message," as well as "tender silliness" and hilarity.
All of these elements might very well exist in Memoirs but from the start, I was struck by the empeheralness purposely create by the auther. Here is a break from the standard pattern of narrative, erplaced by something really original and almost unsettling. No, not almost. I found this book to be quite unsettling.
The shy pornographer is a man named Alfred Budd. That is one of the few concrete facts to remain more or less constant throughoutMemoirs. Budd begins as a factory worker, living in the home of his sister. He is mentally simple, which makes him an innocent, like Steinbeck's Lennie from Of Mice and Men. Before deciding to write a book, he passes his time collecting mud from the fenders of cars so to build his collection of dirt from all the states in the Union.
Budd's book, The Spool of Destiny is published by a man he meets in the library, Skujellifeddy McGranehan. This pocket-picking publisher takes certain liberties with Budd's work. He leaves out a great number of the words and sends it overseas to be printed under the title The Spill of Desire. Thus is born a pornographer in the eyes of the public. One who can't even bring himself to write out "hell" in his own memoirs, using "h--l" instead.
I would be very surprised if anyone reading this book today didn't find themselves thinking of Bob Dylan. Songs like "Desolation Row" seem to have been inspired by Patchen's work. Characters materialize all around Budd who are nothing more than names and outrageous caricatures, lending them an almost mythical power of representation, much like Dylan's Romeo or Blind Commissioner. These characters frequently threaten Budd or even accost him violently or sexually. Generally unfazed after such incidents, he wanders off to the next encounter.
Patchen himself may have been inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, which, like Memoirs, is regarded as light hearted, but which always filled me with a sense of dread and anxiety. It occurs to me that to this point I've said little about Memoirs to give the impression that it holds any value except to some literary masochists who gladly dive into works like Ulysses. I simply felt that some sort of warning was in order before I entreated everyone to rush out and obtain a copy to read. Consider yourself warned: This is not your typical prose narrative. 
That said, I stress that Memoirs is an astounding work. Begin it with an open mind and delight in Patchen's use of the language. Perhaps this is what was meant by "tender silliness," that is, the way Patchen constructs meandering sentences and then snaps them back at the reader like a whip with a single phrase. He moves from prose to poetry and back with fluidity, and speaks through characters in many voices. Often he approaches the edge of corniness, but pulls back just in time. Miller said that Patchen was a voracious reader who, "exposes himself to every influence, even the worst." It is easy to see, in reading this book, that Patchen used a little of everything he could get his hands on in order to create the world Budd experiences.
Most important for me was the realization, upon finishing the book, that there are still boundaries to be pushed. In fact, Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer was published in 1945 and I know of few books released since that time that have so blatantly disregarded the formula for successful publication.
Sadly, it seems that the arguments of protestors like Miller and Patchen are being drowned out over the intervening decades by the drone of the very powers they struggled to free us from. I don't know what sort of reception MemoirsM received went it was first printed, but I doubt it could meet with any less indifference than it enjoys today.
Do yourself a service. Read Patchen's works and let them shake you up a bit. You can only profit when you let the commonplace, comfortable patterns be broken. - From Words Words Words, issue #2

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Kenneth Patchen, The Walking-Away World, New Directions, 2008.

The wonderful picture-poems of Kenneth Patchen, long out of print, are being brought back into one generous volume―cryptic creatures quipping quirky quotes and all.
The singular work of Kenneth Patchen has influenced poets, artists and political activists for decades. New Directions is proud to launch a Patchen revival beginning with omnibus editions of his unique compositions.

Kenneth Patchen's last words to New Directions founder James Laughlin were "When you find out which came first, the chicken or the egg, you write and tell me." Answering his own question comes Patchen's "picture-poem." The Walking-Away World reissues three of his picture-poem classics: Wonderings, But Even So, and Hallelujah Anyway. Inspired by the "illuminated printing" of William Blake, Patchen worked in a spirited fervency with watercolor, casein, inks, and other media to create absurdly compelling works. His entire process was a simultaneous fusion of painting and poetry: neither the poem nor the painting preceded one another. Each picture-poem is inhabited by strange beings uttering everything from poignant poetic adages to cheeky satire. One confides, "I have a funny feeling / that some very peculiar-looking creatures out there are watching us," which sums up the suspicious joys of The Walking-Away World.

Out of this may come
something nobody
quite figured on!
New Directions has released two companion volumes by poet, novelist, and artist Kenneth Patchen: We Meet (appropriately titled for strangers to his work), a collection of five hard-to-find volumes of poetry, and The Walking-Away World, which consists of his brilliant picture-poems. The poems in We Meet are typeset and often complemented by drawings above or opposite them, similar in look and relationship to a bilingual printing. The picture-poems of The Walking-Away World integrate text and drawing; the creatures, colors, shapes -- even the loops of his cursive, by turns regal and childlike -- and words can exist without each other, but only as fragments and not without substantial loss of their combined effect.
As in the poem above; the text is funny, and sounds cheerful, but if you take a look into the eyes of the animals around the words -- a donkey wearing a donkey mask, a penguin in a boat on a pond, a trumpeting elephant -- you wonder if these creatures are welcoming us. Could it be a trick? Is this a party or a surprise attack? In Patchen’s world anything’s possible.
Patchen was born in 1911 in Niles, Ohio, and between growing up near the Youngstown Steel Mills (“To bake a cake or have a baby / with the taste of tar in your mouth”) and working an assortment of factory and odd jobs, he observed the twentieth century with an uncompromising eye (“My program? Let us all weep together”) and acquired his staunch and furious pacifism, distrust of government and the upper class, and indignation at consumerism. His genius stems from his uncanny ability to exist in and write through contradictions -- his anger, despair, and resignation, are matched by jubilance, a goofy sense of humor, and stubborn hope. Because of the proximity of these extremes, reading him can be a physically jolting experience.
We Meet starts with Because It Is (1946); these poems have beginnings such as “The lanterneater’s daughter went to a banquet / Dressed as the phone number of an elm tree,” and endings like
            They were a little disappointed to find
            Only a great white blind lion seated
            On the very edge of air.
            These are days nobody gets a break.

            —“Because She Felt Bashful with Palm Trees”
Patchen seats the reader on the very edge of his imagination, and the poems succeed on the strength of the coherence, however unseemly, of their environment. The various tones he can take are present and powerful here, such as his quiet lyric mode -- “And we are but the shadows of still more shadowy things”; his epiphanic contrarian style -- “And that we love! is this not a proof of something? / No -- I admit, not necessarily of heaven...”; and his ferocious anti-war stance, shown here in the thoughts of a decapitated green blackbird, “those poor unfortunates who still have heads left / to think about what’s going to happen to them.”
When Patchen moved, he moved in circles. The Patchen fan club included Charlie Parker, e. e. cummings, Anaïs Nin, André Breton, Marianne Moore, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Henry Miller... the list goes on. He collaborated with Charles Mingus and John Cage. But he was prevented from moving often -- a back injury at the age of 26 immobilized him often until a botched surgery rendered him unable to leave his bed. Considering this, his determination to constantly create is all the more stirring.
Next in We Meet is Poemscapes (1957), a sequence of 168 prose poems that accumulate effect by referring back to each other with repeating characters, landscapes, and titles. Patchen can be most stunning at his most brief. Here is “Golden Plum Beds”:
She loosens her hair. Out in the garden the flowers try on new colors.
Or the first “More Fabulous Animals”:
When sunlight hits a green leaf just right, that makes him! Abundant in children.
What abundance in 14 words! He sometimes allows himself to be too didactic and prosaic, but Poemscapes is well worth reading despite occasional platitudes. Letter to God (1958) is inspiringly without such weaknesses. As a string of dissonant sections of poetry and prose -- childhood memories, dated events, prayers, invectives, questions -- it is not comprehensible except as scraps of letters, clips of silent conversation.
Yesterday I tried to remember the first time I ever tasted an apple. Then I thought of this letter to you and it seemed an unimportant thing to know...
Why don’t you come down and carry on your fight?

There are several sequences of isolated descriptions of light or darkness -- “the wing is burning the wing is burning,” “In runaway order / out of the green life / O ALL IN FIRE,” “STAR” -- these addresses to God describe Him to Himself, with the most primal images of a divine experience. Another Patchen fan, Ronald Johnson, used a similar technique in Radi os (1977), a poem he “wrote” by crossing out sections of Paradise Lost, leaving no narrative but only fragmented symbols, often of light. In Johnson’s essay “Hurrah for Euphony” (possibly an echo of Patchen’s collection Hurrah for Anything), he calls Patchen “a homegrown Blake.” Besides the similarities between his picture-poems and Blake’s illuminated manuscripts, Patchen also writes with visionary authority.  
The Walking Away World gathers three collections of picture-poems he created in the last 13 bed-ridden years of his life, and their fervency emanates off the page. A terribly striking picture-poem contains a background of barely legible words in crooked lines around bug-eyed birds; most prominent is a box of black written over in white cursive, “This room, this battlefield.” Henry Miller rightly remarked in his essay, “Patchen: Man of Anger and Light,” “One is no longer looking at a dead, printed book but at something alive and breathing, something which looks back at you with equal astonishment.”
And this book has many eyes -- the creatures surrounding the text of the picture-poems can be multi-legged and impossibly shaped, clearly recognizable as lions or owls, or patchwork creations of several animals. Yet their eyes are their most fascinating aspect, as they can be tickling or terrifying, depending. Some are altered by their black and white reproduction here, which is this edition’s only drawback. Patchen composed many of these picture poems with inks, watercolors, casein, and other chromatic media. After looking at What Shall We Do Without Us (Yolla Bolly Press, 1984), a full color printing of selected picture-poems, the poorer transfers in The Walking Away World are lamentable -- like arriving in a black and white Oz.
But that we landed, with what adventures ahead, is what matters. One picture-poem reads, “I have a funny feeling that some very peculiar creatures out there are watching us.” The creatures can comfort, “Of course there is a beautiful world what do you think we’re looking out of?” or the creatures can leer, “Come now, my child if we were planning to harm you, do you think we’d be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest park of the forest?” Whose world is beautiful, and where to seek refuge, are open questions.
Apart from the wonders of the creatures, Patchen is a poet of Orphic profundity in the picture-poems. In his later years, he gravitated towards the role of prophet, brandishing ultimatums: “Peace now for all men or amen to all things.” His jazzy colloquialisms can evoke a sax-slinging enlightened grandpa grumbling, “It’s really lousy taste to live in a world like this.” The last collection, But Even So, exemplifies his unique power of balancing contradictions, both in the title and in the layout: the picture-poems appear on the right pages, while on each left page, in identical large script, is the phrase “But Even So” -- each poem refutes and builds from the other. In their lyric tone and swell, it’s debatable whether the picture-poems are more like psalms or Proverbs of Hell -- “Any who live stand alone in one place together.”
We Meet and The Walking Away World are books to pore over and delight in and be moved by again and again, and convincing invitations to his Collected Poems and experimental prose. These companion volumes, much like two critters in a Patchen drawing, highlight the achievement of his work and hint at what else is out there. - Katie Hartsock
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Kenneth Patchen, We MeetNew Directions, 2008.               

Meet Kenneth Patchen, a prolific, ground-breaking proletarian poet/painter whose most eclectic and wildly eccentric works are re-launched in a single startling volume―We Meet.
The singular work of Kenneth Patchen has influenced poets, artists and political activists for decades. New Directions is proud to launch a Patchen revival beginning with omnibus editions of his unique compositions.
We Meet highlights Patchen's more outlandish side and includes, like fabrics stitched into a crazy quilt, Because It Is, A Letter to God, Poemscapes, Hurrah For Anything, and Aflame & Afun of Walking Faces. "Because to understand one must begin somewhere," opens Patchen's fabulous book of poems Because It Is: perhaps the most ideal reason for such a melting pot of poetry. Open any page at random and find Patchen protesting the Second World War (A Letter to God), or telling the tale of how hot water first came to be tracked onto bedroom floors (Aflame and Afun of Walking Faces), or informing the reader what happened when the nervous vine wouldn't twine (Because It Is), or why he loathes those who act as if a cherry were something they personally thought up (Hurrah For Anything), or answering what he wants out of life: "let's say―no matter" (Poemscapes).

New Directions publishing is re-releasing the works of Kenneth Patchen in a new collection entitled We Meet at the end of July this year. It is a collection of Patchen books including Because It Is, Poemscapes, Hurrah for Anything, and A flame and Afun of Walking Faces.
    One striking element of this book is its relevance to the current poetry scenes. Patchen’s combinations of phanopoetic ideas, like “chairabbit,” “beduck,” “lilacat” and “goosetoothdawn,” are similar to those used by contemporary poets like Rodrigo Toscano although Patchen keeps them significantly more nonsensical. Patchen’s integration of image into, or placing next to, the text is becoming more and more common in recent poet’s work. Patchen’s images offer little to no clarification in his work. This shows Patchen’s will to be cryptic in the same way Ashbery is in his work.
    Patchen’s use of words that combine ideas and integration of image with text contribute to his child-like crypticism. Most things he has to say are hard to spot under the surface of faux-innocence, ignorance, conversational text, and strange and silly images inside and outside the text. This collection opens a window to peer in upon one of the most seemingly contemporaneous poets from the first half of the 20th century. -

The first line of jacket copy on the back cover of We Meet betrays a grim truth: "Meet Kenneth Patchen, a prolific, ground-breaking proletarian poet/painter whose most eclectic and wildly eccentric works are re-launched in a single startling volume."
For 90% of browsers who pick up this new compilation in a bookstore, it will be their first encounter with Patchen, who has been relegated to the margin of the literature canon for decades. And for 100% of these new readers who actually follow through and make the purchase, their vision of Patchen will be incomplete. 
Henry Miller put it best when he characterized Patchen as "a man of anger and light." Perhaps more than any author in American Letters, he was the most binary. In We Meet, we see his light. But the celebration loses much of its power when divorced from the darkness that gives his writing its dimension.
Although Patchen conducts a two-sided dialogue throughout most of his work - between the destructive and creative forces at work within the human condition - the voices are, at times, indistinguishable. It is clear that both his joy and his despair are amplified by one another, and are thus intimately correlated. When he speaks of war, the sense of tragedy is derived from an imagining of war's opposite: the virginal beauty of nature, the healing properties of love, the ecstasy of spiritual communion. When he rejoices in these sensations, it is in a spirit of violent disavowal of ugliness.
What is collected in We Meet are his most surreal expressions of this dialectic, with a heavy emphasis on celebration. The vocabulary is wholly unique - his characters operate in a continuum whose outlandish parameters blur with our own, perhaps even coincide seamlessly. We see manifestations of ourselves, troubled creatures attempting to cultivate virtue, to connect. Like us, they do not always succeed. But the thread that binds their stories together is the possibility of consummation. Through the tribulations of Patchen's bizarre gallery we glimpse the end of a trajectory – a landscape of unmitigated togetherness. It is the faltering, the abandonment of that trajectory that sends him plummeting into rage.
Part of the umbrage seeps through in a few spots throughout the book, especially in the "Anything for Hurrah" section. Tones of fury and weariness underlie much of the "eccentricity," though the depth of that fury is obscured to anyone who is not familiar with Patchen's more confrontational work. Consequently, the selections here may come across as mere wordplay, whimsy, fancy. What gives Patchen's work its frequently overwhelming power is his anger, which, in this instance, is mostly implied. At his best (which is his most bellicose), his writing is more potent than 100 Howls compressed to the point of fission, exploding directly into one's heart and mind with the force of a dying star. What we see here is not really Patchen at his best.
It is unclear whether or not New Directions intends for this new volume to be an introduction for the uninitiated. If so, We Meet as a vehicle for popular revival may ultimately suffer from its lack of supernovas. Its great success is in encapsulating one very important element of his work. The book is a joy to read – engaging, funny, fascinating. But it represents the least seductive of the elements: in Patchen’s reality, the phantasmagoric picnic is the reward at the end of a very long, very unsettling journey through the valley of the shadow. And without the hike, the meal loses some of its flavor. -

Kenneth Patchen is an iconoclast. In the annals of American poetry, he is a true heretic. And if there are any religious images left standing in the realm of poetry, he has sought to topple them, to fragment them and to set them ablaze beneath his laser-like poetic gaze. In the process, he has influenced a great many who have sought to incorporate his unique style–a cross between Lewis Carroll and André Breton with a little bit of the showmanship of Fellini thrown in for good measure.
A brief bio: Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio, on December 13, 1911. Shortly after high school, he moved to Wisconsin. During this time, he sent a sonnet, “Permanence,” to the New York Times, who published it. In 1933, he married Miriam Oikemus who became his lift-long companion, helping him through the very difficult periods to follow. They lived in Greenwich Village for a while. In 1936, he published his first book Before The Brave. In 1937, during his stay in New York City, while helping a friend repair his car, Patchen suffered a spinal injury resulting in his experiencing severe pain for the rest of his adult life. This was compounded when, several years later, he was being taken for surgery when the orderlies dropped him from the stretcher resulting in his being bed-ridden for the rest of his life. He and Miriam moved to San Francisco where he became involved with Laurence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth in the development of jazz poetry. He performed on several occasions with Charlie Mingus. During his lifetime, he published over 40 books before he passed away on January 8, 1972.
Patchen was a pacifist and a strong advocate of social consciousness. As Larry R. Smith states, at p. 22 of his book Kenneth Patchen, “Thus initiated [through his involvement with unions and strikes at the steel mills of Ohio] to the accepted violence of human destruction, Patchen’s proletarian protest, which soon widened from this regional stance to include people impoverished anywhere by political and economic controls, remained one continuing facet of his varied art.” Smith goes on, at p. 33, to list “three pervading and felt principles” which “underl[ay] his world view and control[ed] his art,” these being “1) ‘man’s madness’ – the estrangement of man from his true life through the corruptions of violence, state, and materialistic controls, the inhumanity of man, and an insane conditioning by society; 2) ‘engagement’ – commitment to life through love, brotherhood, and a belief in the unity of life; 3) ‘wonder’ – an innocent, free, and imaginative response to the world’s beauty as the ideal approach to life.”
It is the latter, in the form of Dadaist and surrealist techniques, that will predominately inform the two books under review. We Meet opens with a brief and pitiful excuse for an introduction written by Devendra Banhart which is best ignored so that the reader can get right to the meat (pun intended) of Patchen’s later years. Contained within the pages of We Meet are several books from Patchen’s career: Because It Is (1960), Poemscapes (1958), A Letter To God (1946 – first published in Retort), Hurrah For Anything (1957), Aflame And Afun of Walking Faces (1970). The Walking-Away World, which opens with a vastly superior introduction, one that is well worth reading, by Jim Woodring, contains several more: Wonderings (1971), Hallelujah Anyway (1967) and But Even So (1968). Once this schemata is laid out, the dates of publication having been omitted in the published edition, one has to wonder why chronology was not followed–but that, and the introduction to We Meet, are minor irritants in an otherwise excellent offering.
Venturing bravely into these two books, the reader is immediately confronted with confusion for these are books unlike any others. Most poems in We Meet are accompanied by Patchen’s line drawings and are set in unusual typeface. This is no accident. Patchen was intimately involved with all stages of the production of his books, from writing the poems to selecting the typeface. As Smith states, at p. 65-6: “One of the primary unexplored relationships between Patchen and William Blake is their shared vision of the ‘total book.’…Following Blake’s model of the artist who maintains the purity of his vision, Patchen is thus involved in all aspects of creating and producing his art. For Blake and Patchen, a ‘beautiful’ or ‘total’ book is above all a model of engagement and wonder, capturing both artistic involvement and the personal sense of marvel necessary for the creative act.” Smith denies that Patchen is a surrealist, although he does have much in common with their movement. At. p. 67, he states: “Both believe in purging violence by expressing it; anger and joy are the predominant moods; both draw on the subconscious for imagery, often engaging in automatic writing; both mix abstract and concrete in their attempt to reconcile seeming opposites: sublime and trivial, universal and individual, sacred and profane. Both include the use of associative and rationally incongruent structure, as well as the characteristic use of titles for separate and ironic comment. But a fundamental and the paramount affinity is their shared ideal of the master creator of life and art–the ‘total artist.’”
We Meet opens with the poem “BECAUSE To Understand One Must Begin Somewhere.” Patchen wastes no time in letting the reader know what type of ride they are in for. And if the title were not enough, the poem begins with the lines: “John Edgar Dawdle married a little chicken/And went to live in a hatbox.” The title of each of the poems of Because It Is begins with the word BECAUSE. For example, “BECAUSE The Zebra-Plant Bore Spotted Cubs,” “BECAUSE Going Nowhere Takes A Long Time” and “BECAUSE There Are Roses, Swans, And Herbugazelles,” the latter demonstrating one of Patchen’s favorite devices: the combination of words or the adding on of nonce words to actual words.
The next book to be included in We Meet is Poemscapes, a radically different turn from Because It Is. Here we find fractured prose pieces each consecutively numbered up to 168. The only problem is that the pieces making up Poemscapes are not in consecutive order. For example, ‘THE LITTLE ESSAYS,” which begins at 9 with the question “Why have hands?” continues at 14, then 38, etc. “KINDNESS OF CLOWNS” begins at 42, then 43, then 44 luring the reader to expect that perhaps the next one is to be found on the next page at 45. The reader would be wrong, for the next insertion does not occur until 56 and proceeds by jumping all over the place. The writing style is similar to Because It Is, only in prose form. For example, in “THE PICKLED CHAFFINCH,” at p. 102, we read: “Destiny unmakes strange bedfellows. There was once a great number of people hastening to an inn. ‘Plenty Rooms’ they kept saying. Actually there were only three. Moreover, the inn was closed for seasonal repairs and refurbishments.”
A Letter To God is in chapbook format, and consists of a mixture of writing styles. For example, at p. 134: “Water is cruel water is cold kind water deep sweet water O then let me be quiet and quiet and still. For stranger stronger art thou.” ”Do you hate me?” ”I know thee not – not even in fear.”
In Hurrah For Anything, we come to Patchen’s jazz poetry. Regarding the Poetry-And-Jazz Movement, Smith states, at p. 129: “The chief motivation for the movement as expressed by Ferlinghetti and Rexroth was to give poetry a wider audience…Patchen varies here in the degree of his motivational direction. Although all three sought a larger audience for poetry, Patchen’s primary motivation was with the creation of the new art form.” As to Hurrah’s relation to this movement, Smith, at p. 132 states: “Also of note is that Patchen had developed in the selections from Hurrah his own poetry-jazz form. Carolyn See points out that this ‘book of peripheral jazz experiments’ is a collection of humorous, almost limerick pieces to be ‘read to a jazz riff that was written especially for it and for other humorous poems of the same length and mood.’” Hurrah opens with “Where?,” which was accompanied by a Charlie Parker piece titled “There’s A Place” on the recording Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada: “There’s a place the man always say/Come in here, child/No cause you should weep/Wolf never catch the rabbit”(147). You can hear the saxophone wailing in the background and Patchen outlined in the klieg lights as he stands and delivers his words. Another example, “A Word To The Sufficient”: “Won’t do you no good, Mr. Rabbit/Either you pays the rent/Or I perch my fist/On top your carrot-crusher”(176).
The last book included in We Meet is Aflame And Afun Of Walking Faces. Here Patchen imitates Aesop or perhaps La Fontaine with his own brand of fable. But these are definitely stamped with Patchen’s own brand of humour. For example, “How The Problem Of What To Hold Cream In Was Eventually Solved” begins, at p. 200, with the words: “Once upon a time a lovely little All-Blue-Pitcher fell sound asleep in the ram’s-wool shop, and so was left the whole night there.” Or “The Three Visitors,” at p. 224, where “an insouciant little Pelagic Breeze, finding himself in somewhat elegiacal surroundings with the declension of night, stealthway penetrated into the shanty of a certain unjocund Cup-fashioner, where, dismayed by the powdery glabosity of his host, he bagan, ebulliently, to cozen some exiticial catholicon.” There is no mistaking these for anyone else.
That draws us to the close of We Meet where we are very glad we did. And now we find ourselves introduced to The Walking-Away World where we discover his picture-poems. The three books contained here were written during the latter part of Patchen’s life when he was bedridden and, due to continuous pain, was unable to write poems of any significant length. This is not to dismiss these books as in any way inferior to those he had already written. As Smith says, at p. 27: “As Patchen so candidly confesses, the pain had a crucial influence on his writing, but what may not come across is that this pain could both limit and broaden the expression of his art. As an intimate with suffering, Patchen’s reservoir of pain could also serve to amplify his writer’s voice.” These picture-poems followed a natural progression from the line drawings which accompanied his earlier work. Miriam Patchen has described the “growing fusion of painting and writing as a progression from an ‘understanding’ in the ‘painted books,’ through an ‘engagement’ in the ‘drawings and poems,’ reaching a ‘marriage’ in the total synthesis of the ‘picture-poem’ form” (Smith, p. 153) which Smith describes as “an ultimate synthesis of painting and poem and a culminating achievement of [Patchen’s] ideals of the ‘total artist’ and the ‘total book”’(at p.160). It is unfortunately impossible to provide quotes from these picture-poems as one cannot quote a picture particularly when the picture and the poem are integral to each other and blend into each other on the page. And although the poems themselves are short, they are pithy, an example being the opening one which reads: “But if your precious illusion should turn out not to be real where then will you leap, my little flea.” Many, but not all, of the poems are handwritten. Those that are not may often be a combination of handwriting and various printing fonts. The fusion of poetry and painting found here is incredible particularly having been done by one languishing in severe pain. His body may have been affected but his mind remained sharp as the beak of a periwinkle groundsnapper.
Thank you, New Directions, for providing us with the incredible output from the last twenty years of Patchen’s life. These two books are an incredible read. And both are a visual feast. Kenneth Patchen is an iconoclast, but of the finest order. And if he didn’t have many in the way of predecessors, he left a heritage which many writers have subsequently sought refuge in. - John Cunningham

Kenneth Patchen, Selected Poems, New Directions, 2015./1957.
read it at Google Books

This selection is drawn from ten earlier volumes by the poet who has been called "the most compelling force in American poetry since Whitman."
The late Kenneth Patchen was unique among contemporary poets for his direct and passionate concern with the most essential elements in the tragic, comic, blundering and at rare moments glorious world around us. He wrote about the things we can feel; with our whole being—the senselessness of war, the need for love among men on earth, the presence of God in man, the love for a beloved woman, social injustice and the continual resurgence of the beautiful in life.

Kenneth Patchen, What Shall We Do Without Us?: The Voice and Vision of Kenneth Patchen, Sierra Club Books, 1984.

Gathers picture poems by the Ohio-born writer and artist and offers a brief appreciation of Patchen and his work
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Kenneth Patchen, The Argument of Innocence: A Selection From the Arts of Kenneth Patchen, Scrimshaw Press, 1976.    
download it
read/watch it here

These are the cave drawings that future historians will study when looking back on that time known to some as the “twentieth century”, and known to others as that time before Nuclear War nearly wiped out all life on earth.

The great poet, novelist and artist Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) created a number of wonderful “picture poems” like the one above, which also served as the title of my source for this image: The Argument of Innocence – A Selection from the Arts of Kenneth Patchen, by Peter Veres, The Scrimshaw Press, 1976. The painted text reads,
The Argument of Innocence
can only be lost
if it is won
Veres describes the evolution of the picture poems, and includes an elucidation of their genesis by the artist’s wife, Miriam Patchen (p. 53-60):
Although Patchen’s drawings of beasties and critters dated back to the 1950s, appearing on the handwritten pages of poetry in his silkscreen folios, it was only in the picture poems of the sixties (published by New Directions in black and white in Hallelujah Anyway, 1966, and But Even So, 1968), that the images and words achieved a truly integrated union, a symbiosis.
Patchen’s picture poems are magical, or, perhaps more properly, “fantastic.” They are messages from other lands, spoken in our vernacular by vaguely familiar creatures. Figures and words share a continuum of visual presence and form a counterpoint of meaning, an interchange of energies. Words as images, images as concepts, co-existing without subservience to each other, are combined to create a richer whole.
Patchen made nearly two hundred of these picture poems, all on very old off-white handmade paper, with uneven, uncut edges, all about eleven and a half by seventeen inches, which gives the impression of found, ancient manuscripts. Present in each of them is the spirit of the intensely personal and the intensely direct gift.
Miriam Patchen: It’s like so many things — inventors work all their lives on trying to do something. The thing they’re doing doesn’t happen and yet accidentally something else happens, and they discover or create something they hadn’t planned on.
In a way, this is almost what happened with Kenneth’s picture poems and painting poems. When he was very uncomfortable in Palo Alto [Patchen had an extremely painful, debilitating chronic spinal injury], bedfast and trying to do things, John Thomas, who is now and was then in the Department of Botany at Stanford, brought us, almost accidentally, some very strange old papers.
Kenneth always loved beautiful paper, lovely types, good books. But these very strange old papers were handmade, of great, great age. They were at Stanford and were used to press, or had been holding, botanical specimens that had come from France many, many years ago. Some of the papers literally went back to the days of Napoleon’s army, and John Thomas was rather shocked when he discovered that the paper was being thrown away and burned when they were reclassifying their botanical specimens. So he, too, was interested in paper and had a little press, and he and Kenneth decided that they might do a couple of Christmas cards on the paper or something like that. But he brought the paper to Kenneth, and Kenneth was just really so fascinated by the paper he would pore over it and pet it and look at it night after night when he couldn’t do anything else. Gradually he began to think that it would be a terrible waste not to do something desirable with the paper. Fine to do the Christmas cards and some printing, yes, but this paper should exist, and continue to exist, because it could; since it was pure rag paper, it could continue to exist for some purpose other than just being around.
He experimented a little with this and a little with that and gradually tested it with color, and that began to intrigue him more and more. And began to make him think of painting on the paper and doing color. Then color began to open up his mind to putting color in a sense visually into his poetry. That led to painting on the papers.
He did some black drawing pages on some of the paper, but still that wasn’t satisfactory enough for the paper’s honor. So gradually the painting forms evolved because of these papers.
My copy of The Argument of Innocence has a wonderful ring stain on the top right of the title page that seems to shine like a gray sun down upon on the title farther down the page. I liked this stained page so much I worked a copy of it into a painting a number of years back, also titled The Argument of Innocence. You can only lose it by winning. - Jay

Kenneth Patchen, Collected Poems, New Directions, 1969.
read it at Google Books

From the appearance in 1936 of Kenneth Patchen's first book, the voice of this great poet has been protesting war and social injustice, satirizing the demeaning and barbarous inanities of our culture--entrancing us with an inexhaustible flow of humor and fantasy.

Patchen is in his mid-fifties and has been turning out poems since the Thirties, that decade of strikes, dirty deals, tough guy lyricism, war clouds, surrealist hi-jinks, the Marx Brothers, and Clifford Odets. One could extend the catalogue to include Auden and the rise of the New Criticism, but that would have nothing to do with the style or interests of Kenneth Patchen. No, this is a poet who found his music in the pugnacious, paranoid restlessness of street corner dialogue, whose dramatic sense was sharpened by the newspaper headline and the offhand misery in the human interest columns, who mistook sentimentality for irony and irony for prophetic thunder, who externalized his sense of pain and rejection into the plight of the common man, who covered up his tenderness with screwball comedy and his passion with hallucinatory fantasy, who never became a Blakean visionary nor a Whitmanesque spokesman of the everyday. But he produced, in the course of an enormously prolific career, a handful of small sorrowing vignettes of himself and the world, one or two authentic shouts of joy or terror, and a great deal of botched, tinny, preachy, fragmented, dated, self-indulgent, long-winded serenades to the tears and laughter of Kenneth Patchen, dragon slayer of the powers that be and defender of the democratic dream. It is said that Patchen is a father of the Beats, which is true, and that he is one of our fine neglected poets, which, alas, is only half true. The fineness that artistry demands escapes him, though certain fine moments do not. - Kirkus Reviews


Kenneth Patchen, Hallelujah Anyway, New Directions, 1967.

This is a book to delight the mind and the eye - the first collection of the poet Kenneth Patchen's unique and remarkable "picture-poems." As a creative form, the Patchen picture-poem is descended from the "illuminated printing" of William Blake. Blake devised an etching process for his pages of hand-lettered poems; but Patchen works more freely with watercolor, casein, inks, and other media, as he blends word and image in intricate but always visually compelling patterns of shape, color, and meaning. The fusion of two arts in Hallelujah Anyway gives us an intensification and an enlargement of the poetic process - an extra dimension - not in the limited sense of an "illustrated" poem (Patchen does not write a poem and then simply draw a picture to go with it), but as a new kind of simultaneous creativity.

This is a book to delight the mind and the eye - the first collection of the poet Kenneth Patchen's unique and remarkable "picture-poems." As a creative form, the Patchen picture-poem is descended from the "illuminated printing" of William Blake. Blake devised an etching process for his pages of hand-lettered poems; but Patchen works more freely with watercolor, casein, inks, and other media, as he blends word and image in intricate but always visually compelling patterns of shape, color, and meaning. The fusion of two arts in Hallelujah Anyway gives us an intensification and an enlargement of the poetic process - an extra dimension - not in the limited sense of an "illustrated" poem (Patchen does not write a poem and then simply draw a picture to go with it), but as a new kind of simultaneous creativity.



Kenneth Patchen, Wonderings, New Directions, 1971.

Here in these pages the extraordinary rage and power of Patchen's imagination, and the virtuosity of his technique, were never more striking-their impact is indeed breathtaking. His new universe is exciting and spirit-cleansing. the light streaming from the hand and heart of this poet-artist illuminates the darkness, the sordid and confused pettiness of our day-to-day existence.

Years ago the English critic and novelist Alex Comfort said of Kenneth Patchen’s work that its impact was so immediate and overwhelming as to render analysis and evaluation of it nearly impossible. That judgment bears up very well—particularly for anyone attempting a description of Wonderings! Here in these pages the extraordinary range and power of Patchen’s imagination, and the virtuosity of his technique, were never more striking—their impact is indeed breathtaking. His new universe is exciting and spirit-cleansing. The light streaming from the hand and heart of this poet-artist illuminates the darkness, the sordid and confused pettiness of our day-to-day existence. Wonderings may defy classification, but we believe it is Kenneth Patchen’s masterpiece in an art form which he originated.

Kenneth Rexroth: Kenneth Patchen,  Naturalist of the Public Nightmare

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Largely a self-taught writer, Kenneth Patchen never appeared to win widespread recognition from the professors at universities or many literary critics. As the New York Times Book Review noted, "While some critics tended to dismiss his work as naive, romantic, capricious and concerned often with the social problems of the 1930's, others found him a major voice in American poetry.... Even the most generous praise was usually grudging, as if Patchen had somehow won his place through sheer wrongheaded persistence."
The bulk of Patchen's followers were and still are young people. Kenneth Rexroth once pointed out that "during the Second World War and the dark days of reaction afterwards [Patchen] was the most popular poet on college campuses." One reason for the attraction of generations of college-age readers to Patchen may be the quality of timelessness of his beliefs and ideas. An article in the New York Times explained that Patchen's antiwar poetry—written in response to atrocities of World War II—was embraced by students protesting the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.
A writer for the New York Times Book Review once wrote that "there is the voice of anger—outspoken rage against the forces of hypocrisy and injustice in our world. Patchen sees man as a creature of crime and violence, a fallen angel who is haunted by all the horrors of the natural world, and who still continues to kill his own kind: 'Humanity is a good thing. Perhaps we can arrange the murder of a sizable number of people to save it.'"
In the 1950s Patchen became famous in poetry circles for reading his poetry to the accompaniment of jazz music.

Poems at Poetry Foundation

and at PoemHunter
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