Monday, August 30, 2010

Kenneth Patchen: Poet of Humor and Protest

Henry Miller turned me on to Kenneth Patchen, one of the greatest, obscure original
American artists of the twentieth century. Miller’s essay, "Patchen: Man of Anger and Light" appeared Henry Miller turned me on to Kenneth Patchen, one of the greatest obscure unsung in a sublime book of essays entitled "Stand Still Like the Hummingbird". I began haunting used book and thrift stores, searching for the name of "Patchen" on the spines of old volumes. Eventually I began finding his books, he was quite prolific, dozens of titles were published (mainly by New Directions) in his lifetime (1911-1972). Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio and died in Palo Alto, California. In his time on earth he was a poet, novelist, playwright, visual artist and jazz-poetry pioneer. His concept of "the Total Book" was best exemplified by the rare, limited editions of his poetry and prose, in which fine bindings, experimental typography and one of a kind paintings actually brushed by hand onto the book’s covers combined to make each object a unique, lively, valuable work of vital pulsating creativity. Here’s a fragment of dialogue from SLEEPERS AWAKE:
"It is time that books began to whirl and dance…"
I thought you said writing books was bad.
"I’ve changed my mind. It is time that books be allowed to open into the unknown…."
What does that mean?
"Books must be allowed to get out of hand, to wander off on their own account…."
Listen to Ferlinghetti: "The first modern poet I ever heard of was Kenneth Patchen, when I was living in Greenwich Village about 1939. He and Kenneth Rexroth were the greatest political poets of the period after the second world war, and they were great love poets too. They are kind of the fathers of our generation of poets….Along with Henry Miller they were a kind of dissident triumvirate to me and were saying things no other poets or writers were saying."
If you are interested in avant-garde American literature you need to be at least aware of Patchen and at best become well-versed with his life and work.

1 comment:

Bureau of Public Secrets said...

Of related interest: Kenneth Rexroth's essay on Kenneth Patchen (even better than Miller's IMHO):