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Kenneth Patchen

category international | culture | other libertarian press author Monday June 26, 2006 11:00author by Eugene Plawiuk - Le Revue Gauche Report this post to the editors

"Now is then’s only tomorrow."

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.

"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."

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author by Patchen fan - nonepublication date Fri Jul 15, 2011 11:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Kenneth Patchen from what I understand was more communist than anarchist. Anyway, whatever his politics he had a revolutionary and humane spirit. He drifted away from political themes and was disgusted by stalinism, and the failure of stalins opponents to oppose stalinism. He was one of the few "proletarian" poets who actually was proletarian. His work Sleepers Awake was one of the few books to oppose WWII from a classically revolutionary defeatist perspective, which he blends with a humanistic outlook. It is a massive prose poem and is worth reading, as is the Journal of Albion Moonlight. He was extremely prolific. He was also a painter of picture poems. Sadly his audience has for decades been mostly American lefties, which makes for a small audience. My high school math teacher introduced me to his poetry during a poetry reading assignment in my class long ago. It was the Patchen poem "I don't mean to startle you but they are going to kill most of us". The poem floored me. It gave me a love of poetry and revolution. He was the son of an Ohio steel worker and a Scottish immigrant. He even worked in a mill himself for a time. When he died his wife Miriam, to whom his poems were often dedicated, couldn't afford the burial. I met a man who helped pay for the burial and he was given one of Kenneth's paintings as a gift, which I had the privilege of seeing. I recommend reading Kenneth Patchen.

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