Kenneth Patchen Survey

This site will include commentary on Kenneth Patchen in the future. For now, suffice it to say that he was one of North America's most complete poets, and perhaps one of its least understood. Throughout his life he kept his commitment to pacifism, anarchism, and the need for meaningful rebellion against oppression of all sorts, from literary to political. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he was excluded from the concrete poetry anthologies of the late 60s that have straight-jacketed visual poetry since, and why his largest readership is among beats and neo-beats. Like his predecessor William Blake, he fully realized the dangers of repression and the need to express rage in a coherent form. Like his successor bpNichol, he knew how to tap the child-elements in his psyche, those uncorrupted areas that demand both justice and creativity -- and as with Nichol this has lead careless readers to think of him as childlike, without noticing the darkness of the world with which both poets are familiar and against which they worked. Patchen had a unique ability to simultaneously express rage, humor, and compassion, and to work these into a thoroughly humanized personal and social sense of life's responsibilities, joys, and potentials.

The ability to overcome repression and the strictures of authority allowed Patchen to be one of the most inventive American poets of the century. This can be seen in his lexical poetry as well as the wide range of visual poetry strategies he explored during his creative life. Even his prose covered most of the avant garde bases that have been played out since.

The selections presented here center on his work as a visual poet. One of the main characteristics of the Blakean line of visual poetry is that it is not simply visual, it is also visionary.

Kenneth Patchen dedicated virtually all his books to his wife, Miriam. Since her husband's death, she has been more than generous in her assistance of his successors, toward Kaldron magazine, and in giving us permission to reproduce the work here. The editors of the present offering would like to dedicate this selection to her.

--Karl Young


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