Home > Uncategorized > Kenneth Patchen – posted 1/13/2013

Kenneth Patchen – posted 1/13/2013

I am not sure when I first discovered the poet, Kenneth Patchen. Somehow I came across the New Directions paperback of his Collected Poems. (I also came across Kenneth Rexroth around the same time in the same way) I think I was in high school or college at the time.

Patchen is pretty much unknown these days. Poetry circles know about him but you never see any reference to him in print media or even on popular internet sites. I suppose this is the typical fate of most poets in America, especially rebel poets. Patchen has also been dead for a while. He died in 1972.

I wanted to write this blog entry to recognize him and to try, in a very small way, to rescue his poetry from oblivion. His poetry is passionate, creative, angry, and romantic.

He once described himself this way: “I speak for a generation born in one war and doomed to die in another.” Just to give a little background, Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio on December 13, 1911. His father was a steelworker. Patchen and his wife Miriam lived on both coasts, settling in California. He suffered some awful adversities during the course of his life including the death of his younger sister, a back impairment that caused him severe pain and continuing financial struggles. In the early 50’s, a group of poets including E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams raised money to finance a back surgery for Patchen. His back was never right and for much of the last part of his life, he wrote from bed.

Patchen preceded the Beat Generation and was not a part of that although he did inspire some beats. It seems reductionist to call Patchen a political poet. Besides what could be categorized as his political poems, he wrote tender love poems; he painted poems that merged drawing and poetry; and he combined poetry reading and jazz. He read with Charles Mingus playing. He was ferociously anti-war. His pacifism runs through many poems. He hated fascism and Stalinism. In his poem, “The Executions in Moscow” , he quotes Ignazio Silone. I think this statement is a good reflection of Patchen’s politics.

“I am convinced – and this is the conviction that I have tried to express in all my writings – that to arm ourselves against Fascism we do not need material means above all. To oppose Fascism, we need neither heavy armaments nor bureaucratic apparatuses. What we need above all is a different way of looking at life and at human beings. My dear friends, without this different way of looking at life and at human beings, we shall ourselves become Fascists. And I refuse to be a Fascist – even a Red Fascist.”

I did want to particularly mention Patchen’s painting poems. Some are weird. Some are cosmic. Some defy understanding. They are very imaginative. The one I have included above was a relatively tame one.

I also wanted to mention some of his “Sayings” which are reminiscent of William Blake. Here are a sampling:

“No man’s life is beautiful except in hurtless work.”

“The autumn leaf is emblazoned with spring’s belief.”

” “The real truth of the matter” is usually a lie all slicked up to do a spot of their particularly dirty work.”

“Yes they’ve dirtied the tree, and dirtied the earth around it, but somehow I feel they won’t succeed in keeping much more than the record of their own lack of spirit and humility tethered here.”

“In the love of a man and a woman is the look of God looking.”

Patchen wrote many books. I would suggest his Collected Poems is a great place to start if you are inclined to read more of his poetry. Below are a few Patchen poems I like:

The Character of Love Seen as a Search for the Lost

You, the woman; I, the man; this, the world:
And each is the work of all.

There is the muffled step in the snow; the stranger;
The crippled wren; the nun; the dancer; the Jesus-wing
Over the walkers in the village; and there are
Many beautiful arms about us and the things we know.

See how those stars tramp over heaven on their sticks
Of ancient light: with what simplicity that blue
Takes eternity into the quiet cave of God, where Caesar
And Socrates, like primitive paintings on a wall,
Look, with idiot eyes, on the world where we two are.

You, the sought for; I, the seeker; this, the search:
And each is the mission of all.

For greatness is only the drayhorse that coaxes
The built cart out; and where we go is reason.
But genius is an enormous littleness, a trickling
Of heart that covers alike the hare and the hunter.

How smoothly, like the sleep of a flower, love,
The grassy wind moves over night’s tense meadow:
See how the great wooden eyes of the forest
Stare upon the architecture of our innocence.

You, the village; I, the stranger; this, the road:
And each is the work of all.

Then, not that man do more, or stop pity; but that he be
Wider in living; that all his cities fly a clean flag…
We have been alone too long, love; it is terribly late
For the pierced feet on the water and we must not die now.

Have you wondered why all the windows in heaven were broken? Have you seen the homeless in the open grave of God’s hand?
Do you want to acquaint the larks with the fatuous music of war?

There is the muffled step in the snow; the stranger;
The crippled wren; the nun; the dancer; the Jesus-wing
Over the walkers in the village; and there are
Many desperate arms about us and the things we know.

“The Way Men Live Is A Lie”

The way men live is a lie.
I say that I get so goddamned sick
Of all these pigs rooting at each other’s asses
To get a bloodstained dollar – Why don’t
You stop this senseless horror! this meaningless
Butchery of one another! Why don’t you at least
Wash your hands of it!

There is only one truth in the world:
Until we learn to love our neighbor,
There will be no life for anyone.

The man who says, “I don’t believe in war,
But after all somebody must protect us” –
Is obviously a fool – and a liar.
Is this so hard to understand!
That who supports murder, is a murderer?
That who destroys his fellow, destroys himself?

Force cannot be overthrown by force;
To hate any man is to despair of every man;
Evil breeds evil – the rest is a lie!

There is only one power that can save the world –
And that is the power of our love for all men everywhere.

A Time to Believe!

O “fruitful and purified” – an identity in the Invisible! Nothing is ever contradicted, all remains always , unchanged and unchang- ing. Instruction never saves, it lifts but what it lifts is itself.

Ambition is the weakness of all great spirits who in acceptance wil find the joy and the despair they seek. The physician can only cure when he is willing to assume your disease. To be
shunned is to be God a little –

We cannot add to what we are, nor can we take away. The
world is One Thing.

What sort of theory can any man draw up for the human spirit! We don’t need theories – we need Love, Humility, Simplicity – new ways to give! The brightest boys have all sold out. They can’t get anyone to believe them because the only “truth” they spout is one that won’t offend. But I am exaggerating – they are quite willing not only to offend but to murder anybody their “governments” will tell them to. With all proper respect for metric nicety, let it be said. These disgusting little lice! These betrayers of Life!

Everywhere the same – the same lousy sellout! The whole kit and caboodle of them! The vicious, stupid fools! Lackies of madmen bent on butchering the world!
But I tell you that Life will be avenged
I tell you that Life will look after its own
I tell you that Life will allow nothing to be added or taken away

Aye, now is the time to believe
When there is nothing to believe in!
Aye, now is the time to believe
if it does no more than show we’re still alive!

So let us present our duties with some humility as it gets dark now. In case it all does end, the crime will not be of our doing. For I’d rather take a nothing I loved to my grave than a something I have every reason to hate.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. December 11, 2013 at 1:13 am

    That’s a nice post.

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