Saturday, June 17, 2006

Kenneth Patchen

"Now is then’s only tomorrow."

The Hangman's Great Hands

And all that is this day. . .
The boy with cap slung over what had been a face. ..

Somehow the cop will sleep tonight, will make love to his
Anger won't help. I was born angry. Angry that my father was
being burnt alive in the mills; Angry that none of us knew
anything but filth, and poverty. Angry because I was that very
one somebody was supposed To be fighting for
Turn him over; take a good look at his face...
Somebody is going to see that face for a long time.
I wash his hands that in the brightness they will shine.
We have a parent called the earth.
To be these buds and trees; this tameless bird Within the
ground; this season's act upon the fields of Man.
To be equal to the littlest thing alive,
While all the swarming stars move silent through The merest
. .. but the fog of guns.
The face with all the draining future left blank. . . Those smug
saints, whether of church or Stalin, Can get off the back of
my people, and stay off. Somebody is supposed to be fighting
for somebody. . . And Lenin is terribly silent, terribly silent
and dead. November 1937

Kenneth Patchen was and is an underrated American poet, a surrealist, an anarchist, a founder of the Beat movement, a painter and illustrator. I came across his works when we ran Erewhon Books, the Anarchist Bookstore in Edmonton in the seventies and eighties.

His stream of conciousness novel The Journal of Albion Moonlight has many memorable mise et scenes. Like Jesus and Hitler arguing about capital punishment, murder and war on a train. Hitler wins the argument.

Or the tale of the little light bulb that hides in the impoverished home of a poor working class family, keeping them in light to live and learn, hiding from the nameless electrical company which wants to kill this lightbulb because unlike its mates, it is eternal. It can provide light forever, but the evil corporation that makes light bulbs has created all the other bulbs to die out, planned obselecence.

He was anti-war, a true anarchist pacifist
. He spoke out against WWII when it was far from popular to do so, even amongst the left. His wife Miriam was his muse and his most ardent advocate.

For more than thirty years, Patchen lived with a severe spinal ailment that caused him almost constant physical pain. The weight of this personal battle was compounded by his sensitivity to greater issues of humanity, and his poetry paid special attention to the horrors of war. With his work he tried to create a kind of sanctuary for the reader, apart from reality, where larger-than-life characters were motivated by their loving and benevolent natures. Kenneth Patchen died in 1972.

There is a Canadian connection with Patchen. Both Vancouver and Edmonton. His poetry reading accompanied by Jazz music was recorded for Smithsonian, and is both in their Folkways collection in the U.S. and at the University of Alberta.

He was the first avante garde poet to mix avante garde jazz with the spoken word.
Patchen was a man out of time, ahead of his time, always in the here and now. He is still influencing modern music; New Redlemon Song 'Truly,' from StarSearch Winner Turned Lawyer, Features Beat Poet Kenneth Patchen; Flash Anime Video to Follow

Patchen is relevant today as an antitode to the era of the Security State whose politics of fear exudes the paranoia of the endless aimless war against terror, which is terror itself . "There are so many little dyings that it doesn't matter which of them is death."

Kenneth Patchen - Reads with Jazz in Canada (locust 60)

"Comic, surreal, compassionate, fierce, wild, angry, joyous, cantankerous, alive, visionary, and divinely human." - george parsons, dream magazine

“This modern-day minstrel is as fascinating and interesting as any swing or blues singer…phrases and thoughts so beautifully woven into the jazz background, and so expertly phrased and timed, that it is a revelation to the ear and mind.” – Los Angeles Examiner

On a single October evening in 1959, fabled people’s poet Kenneth Patchen and Vancouver’s Alan Neil Quartet made a little bit of history. Together, they cut one of the first jazz-and poetry recordings to disc – fiery, spontaneous and free of pretensions, where hard bop playing wailed neck-and-neck with Patchen’s scathing, slurred, rabid vocalizations. Today, many see Jazz In Canada as among the very first truly beatific documents on record – preceding efforts by Kerouac, Ferlinghetti & Ginsberg. This new edition features original notes by Alan Neil & new retrospective notes by rock’n’roll poet of the San Francisco renaissance David Meltzer.

Larry Smith

Kenneth Patchen — Poetry and Jazz days, 1957–1959

This is an excerpt from chapter fourteen of Kenneth Patchen: Rebel Poet in America by Larry Smith, A Consortium of Small Presses & Bottom Dog Press, 2000, ISBN 0-933087-59-4

Yes, I went to the city,
And there I did bitterly cry,
Men out of touch with the earth,
And with never a glance at the sky.

(Doubleheader 41)
KENNETH PATCHEN met the end of the 1950s like a wounded lion, healing and rising in a loud and rhythmic roar. At the beginning of 1957, while still recovering from the back operation, he and Miriam were told by the director of the Palo Alto Clinic that their house on Bryant Street was scheduled for demolition. Just out of his body cast and into a metal brace, Patchen still lacked mobility and so began to look around for a house nearby. A young fan and graduate student from Stanford University came to the rescue. William Packard (who would later help organize benefit readings for Patchen and would edit New York Quarterly) had visited them at their place on Bryant Street. In February, he drove them to the end of Palo Alto’s residential Sierra Court, to the little house where Kenneth and Miriam would live the rest of their lives together. For two people who had made homes out of the more than twenty apartments during their twenty-three years of married life, this was as close as they would ever come to the ‘little cottage’ of their dreams. Here Kenneth Patchen would launch his poetry-jazz tours and achieve his ultimate writing-visual synthesis in the original picture-poem form. Here also he and Miriam would suffer and endure the tragic debilitation of his last fifteen years. [. . . .]
It was soon after their moving into their Sierra Court home that he told Miriam, ‘I think people need a little joy and humor as well as commitment in their lives’ (Interview 1990). He was preparing to give them both through a new medium, his poetry-jazz.

Perfect Sound Forever: Kenneth Patchen- jazzy poet

Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz
by Mike Wood
Ignored both by the academy and by the street, Kenneth Patchen's rebellion against and challenge to conformity continues even in death. His black mark seems to be that he truly believed in freedom, which put him outside hip fads, outside any political groups left or right that demanded his loyalty, and where no critics' asses would be kissed. He followed his own vision to the end, with little recognition or financial success. His poems, paintings, "painted books" and novels, make him to the 20th century what Whitman was to the 19th, and a close to a true Dadaist, minus the nihilism, of any American. His novel, The Journal of Albion Moonlight, is one of the greatest written by an American; its absence from official critical conversation is a further disgrace to academia. While tenured professors fawn over any literary theory that floats over from France, American writers who do not fit into neat post-modern paradigms, or who challenge whatever canon is currently hip, are ignored. Language is distancing enough as it is; the obsession with linguistic pretension further distances one from an actual cultural discourse that all can participate in. Patchen risked ridicule and poverty to speak both to the powerful and to the powerless. Henry Miller called Patchen "the living symbol of protest" in his essay "Kenneth Patchen: Man of Anger & Light." It was his compassion for communicating eternal truths that made his connection to music authentic. His hope, for art and for the country, rivaled what Toqueville saw when he first hopped off the boat in Newport. His was a voice unafraid to be hopeful, accusatory, sentimental, alone.

CAGE, JOHN / KENNETH PATCHEN: The City Wears a Slouch Hat: ReR .

Kenneth Patchen at the Blue Neon Alley

Kenneth Patchen (The Lied and Art Song Texts Page: Texts and ...

Kenneth Patchen - Free Music Downloads, Videos, CDs, MP3s, Bio ...

Allyn Ferguson : Allyn Ferguson and Kenneth Patchen with the ...

Kenneth Patchen reading with the Charles Mingus Band.

From Beneath the Underdog, His World as Composed by Mingus by Charles Mingus: "Not long before I worked with a poet named Patchen. He was wearing his scarlet jacket and sitting on a stool on a little stage in a theatre you walk upstairs to down on fourteenth street.

We improvised behind him while he read his poems, which I read ahead of time 'It's dark out, Jack-' this was one of his poems-'It's dark out, Jack, the stations out there don't identify themselves, we're in it raw-blind like burned rats, it's running out all around us, the footprints of the beast, one nobody has any notion of. The white and vacant eyes of something above there, something that doesn't know we exist. I smell heartbreak up there, Jack, a heartbreak at the center of things, and in which we don't figure at all.' Patchen's a real artist, you'd dig him, doctor. 'I believe in truth' he said, 'I believe that every good thought I have, all men shall have. I believe that the perfect shape of everything has been prepared.'" [p.330] - Charles Mingus

His most famous art book of concrete poetry that used creative typescripting is Sleepers Awake.

A Box Aria from

Sleepers Awake

by Kenneth Patchen

A sample collection of his poems can be found here:Poet: Kenneth Patchen

Well ahead of his time his illustrations remind one of those created by Peter Max for the Beatles Yellow Submarine movie.

An Elegy on the Death of Kenneth Patchen - Lawrence Ferlinghetti ...

Kenneth Patchen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kenneth Patchen, Naturalist of the Public Nightmare (Rexroth)

Patchen is the only widely published poet of my generation in the United States who has not abandoned the international idiom of twentieth-century verse. He is the only one we have, to take these two books as examples, to compare with Henri Michaux or Paul Éluard. Twenty-five ago no one would have prophesied such a comeuppance for what we then thought, and I still think, was the only significant tendency in American literature. What happened to the Revolution of the Word? Why is Patchen still there? Why did everybody else “sell out” or sink, like Louis Zukofsky, Parker Tyler, Walter Lowenfels, into undeserved obscurity? Why did American poetry, a part of world literature in 1920, become a pale, provincial imitation of British verse in 1957? We are back, two generations behind Australia.

Man thrives where angels die of ecstasy and pigs die of disgust. The contemporary situation is like a long-standing, fatal disease. It is impossible to recall what life was like without it. We seem always to have had cancer of the heart.

The first twenty-five years of the century were the years of revolutionary hope. Immediately after the First War, this hope became almost universal among educated people. There was a time when most men expected that soon, very soon, life was going to change; a new, splendid creature was going to emerge from its ancient chrysalis of ignorance, brutality, and exploitation. Everything was going to be different. Even the commonest, most accepted routines of life would be glorified. Education, art, sex, science, invention, everything from clothing to chess would be liberated. All the soilure and distortion of ages of slavery would fall away. Every detail of life would be harmoniously, functionally related in a whole which would be the realization of those absolutes of the philosophers, the Beloved Community wedded to the Idea of Beauty.

We who were born in the early years of the century accepted that hope implicitly. It was impossible that any feeble hands could halt the whole tendency of the universe. This was not the Idea of Progress, of indefinite human perfectibility, now the whipping boy of reactionary publicists and theologians. The nineteenth century had believed that the world was going to go on becoming more and more middle class until the suburbs of London stretched from Pole to Pole. We believed that man’s constant potential for a decent, simple, graceful life was bound to realize itself within a very few years, that the forces of wealth, barbarism, and superstition were too weak to resist much longer.

On August 29, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed with the connivance of the leading descendants of the New England libertarians. A cheap politician and a judge with the mind of a debauched turnkey were able to carry through this public murder in the face of a world of protest of unbelievable intensity, mass, and duration. When the sirens of all the factories in the iron ring around Paris howled in the early dawn, and the myriad torches of the demonstrators were hurled through the midnight air in Buenos Aires, the generation of revolutionary hope was over. The conscience of mankind went to school to learn methods of compromising itself. The Moscow trials, the Kuo Min Tang street executions, the betrayal of Spain, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the extermination of whole nations, Hiroshima, Algiers — no protest has stopped the monster jaws from closing. As the years go on, fewer and fewer protests are heard. The spokesmen, the intellects of the world, have blackmailed themselves and are silent. The common man dreams of security. Every day life grows more insecure, and, outside America, more nasty, brutish, and short. The lights that went out over Europe were never relit. Now the darkness is absolute. In the blackness, well-fed, cultured, carefully shaven gentlemen sit before microphones at mahogany tables and push the planet inch by inch towards extinction. We have come to the generation of revolutionary hopelessness. Men throw themselves under the wheels of the monsters, Russia and America, out of despair, for identical reasons.

With almost no exceptions, the silentiaries of American literature pretend that such a state of affairs does not exist. In fact, most of them do not need to pretend. They have ceased to be able to tell good from evil. One of the few exceptions is Kenneth Patchen. His voice is the voice of a conscience which is forgotten. He speaks from the moral viewpoint of the new century, the century of assured hope, before the dawn of the world-in-concentration-camp. But he speaks of the world as it is. Imagine if suddenly the men of 1900 — H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Peter Kropotkin, Romain Rolland, Martin Nexo, Maxim Gorky, Jack London — had been caught up, unprepared and uncompromised, fifty years into the terrible future. Patchen speaks as they would have spoken, in terms of unqualified horror and rejection. He speaks as Émile Zola spoke once — “A moment in the conscience of mankind.” Critics have said of him, “After all, you can’t be Jeremiah all the time.” Indeed? Why not? As far as we know, all Jeremiah ever wrote was The Book of Jeremiah and the world of his day was a Chautauqua picnic in comparison with this.

There Are Not Many Kingdoms Left

I write the lips of the moon upon her shoulders. In a
temple of silvery farawayness I guard her to rest.

For her bed I write a stillness over all the swans of the
world. With the morning breath of the snow leopard I
cover her against any hurt.

Using the pen of rivers and mountaintops I store her
pillow with singing.

Upon her hair I write the looking of the heavens at
early morning.

-- Away from this kingdom, from this last undefiled
place, I would keep our governments, our civilization, and
all other spirit-forsaken and corrupt institutions.

O cold beautiful blossoms of the moon moving upon
her shoulders . . . the lips of the moon moving there . . .
where the touch of any other lips would be a profanation.

"Patchen: Man of Anger & Light" by Henry Miller and "A Letter to God" by Kenneth Patchen

THE first thing one would remark on meeting Kenneth Patchen is that he is the living symbol of protest. I remember distinctly my first impression of him when we met in New York: it was that of a powerful, sensitive being who moved on velvet pads. A sort of sincere assassin, I thought to myself, as we shook hands. This impression has never left me. True or not, I feel that it would give him supreme joy to destroy with his own hands all the tyrants and sadists of this earth together with the art, the institutions and all the machinery of every day life which sustain and glorify them. He is a fizzing human bomb ever threatening to explode in our midst. Tender and ruthless at the same time, he has the faculty of estranging the very ones who wish to help him. He is inexorable: he has no manners, no tact, no grace. He gives no quarter. Like the gangster, he follows a code of his own. He gives you the chance to put up your hands before shooting you down. Most people however, are too terrified to throw up their hands. They get mowed down.

This is the monstrous side of him, which makes him appear ruthless and rapacious. Within the snorting dragon, however, there is a gentle prince who suffers at the mention of the slightest cruelty or injustice. A tender soul, who soon learned to envelope himself in a mantle of brim-fire in order to protect his sensitive skin. No American poet is as merciless in his invective as Patchen. There is almost an insanity to his fury and rebellion.

Kenneth Patchen Calendar 1996

Last updated 14 February 1997


Fall of the Evening Star

Kenneth Patchen

Speak softly; sun going down
Out of sight. Come near me now.

Dear dying fall of wings as birds
complain against the gathering dark . . .

Exaggerate the green blood in grass;
the music of leaves scraping space;

Multiply the stillness by one sound;
by one syllable of your name . . .

And all that is little is soon giant,
all that is rare grows in common beauty

To rest with my mouth on your mouth
as somewhere a star falls

And the earth takes it softly, in natural love . . .
Exactly as we take each other . . .
and go to sleep . . .

David and Ida Berner Endowment for the Kenneth Patchen Archive

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco -
Kenneth Patchen, Untitled, circa 1950 - 1970

Kenneth Patchen - Poems, Biography, Quotes

fucking lies: kenneth patchen newsletter fund-raiser

I am the joy of the desiring flesh

The days of my living

are summer days

The nights of my glory

outshine the blazing wavecaps of the heavens

at their floodtide

Mine is the confident hand shaping this world.

— Kenneth Patchen

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