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To experience Patchen's work is to discover a peculiar sort of divinity.

—Devendra Banhart

Kenneth Patchen

20th Century American Poet

Kenneth Patchen (1911–1972) was a poet and novelist. Born the son of a steelworker in Niles, Ohio, Patchen suffered an early tragedy when his younger sister Kathleen was struck and killed by a car in 1926. Writing in a style which, like the poetry of Langston Hughes and Kenneth Rexroth, was often referred to as "jazz poetry," Patchen struck up a publishing relationship and friendship with James Laughlin, the original publisher of New Directions, in 1936. After an automobile accident left him with a spinal injury, Patchen continued to work despite lifelong pain. He influenced younger poets like Allen Ginsberg and collaborated with the music artists John Cage and Charles Mingus.


The Journal Of Albion Moonlight

Fiction by Kenneth Patchen


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 am 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.



We Meet

Poetry by Kenneth Patchen


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).



The Walking Away World

Poetry by Kenneth Patchen

with a contribution by Jim Woodring

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." Patchen answered the riddle by painting "picture-poems." The Walking-Away World contains three of his picture-poem collections: Wonderings, Hallelujah Anyway, and But Even So. Inspired by the "illuminated printing" of William Blake, Patchen worked with a spirited fervency in watercolor, casein, inks, and other media to create absurd, compelling works. His entire process was a simultaneous fusion of painting and poetry: neither the poem nor the painting preceded the other. 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." The graphic artist and cartoonist Jim Woodring helps to capture the suspicious joys of The Walking-Away World with an effervescent introduction.



Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer

Fiction by Kenneth Patchen


“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, 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”—is sure to inspire a new generation of readers.


Available: June 01 1999


In Quest Of Candlelighters

Poetry by Kenneth Patchen


One of his most important and characteristic works, this new collection makes available two of Kenneth Patchen’s long out-of-print books: Panels for the Walls of Heaven and They Keep Riding Down All the Time. Both were published in 1946; the first by Bern Porter in Berkeley, California, the second by Padell Publishers in New York. Also included are Patchen’s only short story, "Bury Them in Cod," from New Directions 1939, and a section from an early version of Sleepers Awake, “Angel-Carver Blues.” The rich variety of prose, poetry (concrete and otherwise), and illustrations establishes In Quest of Candlelighters as one more reason why Patchen has been called "a one-man literary movement."


Available: April 01 1972


Sleepers Awake

Fiction by Kenneth Patchen


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 them if they are to have full meaning, the horror and the beauty, the joy and the suffering together.



The Collected Poems Of Kenneth Patchen

Poetry by Kenneth Patchen


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. With directness and simplicity, he has restored the exultation of romantic love to its ancient bardic place beside an awareness of God’s living presence among all men. Kenneth Patchen assembled this collection in his fifty-fourth year. Since space was the only restricting factor in his choice, readers are given a direct and first-time insight into the poet’s own estimate of his concern. Additionally, the texts of many long-unavailable poems are provided.



Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen

Poetry by Kenneth Patchen


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.