Kenneth Patchen

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.

Related Articles

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.…
More Information

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.…
More Information

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.…
More Information

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 © 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?…
More Information

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.…
More Information

Wonderings

Poetry by Kenneth Patchen

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.…
More Information

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.…
More Information

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.…
More Information

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.…
More Information

With this particular book I attribute some degree of salvation. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not trying to tell you this is a great book. I’m not sure there is such a thing, and if there is, I’m not sure I’d argue this is one of them. But I am saying it’s a pivotal book–both for me, and, in a way, for you.

—J.C. Hallman, Tin House

This novel is quite possibly the book that made the biggest impression on me, ever.

—Michael Berger, The Rumpus
< Kenneth Rexroth Kazuko Shiraishi >