Biographic slice on Kenneth Patchen
“On December 13, 1911, Kenneth Patchen was born in Niles [Calif.]. A poor boy throughout his childhood, he spent his time playing football and working in a factory. He enjoyed publishing in his school newspaper, kept a diary from the age of twelve, and began reading Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and Herman Melville.
After high school, he moved to Wisconsin and attended Alexander Meiklejohn’s Experimental College for one year and then the University of Wisconsin. Around this time, Patchen published a sonnet, “Permanence,” in the New York Times. He continued his education in Arkansas and then spent years traveling. He was employed as a migrant worker in a variety of jobs in the United States and Canada.
In 1933, he fell in love with Miriam Oikemus, who he married the following year. The couple lived in Greenwich Village for a few years while Patchen finished and later published his first book of verse, Before the Brave, in 1936.
Over the course of his career, he wrote more than forty books of poetry, prose and drama, including Bury Them in God and First Will and Testament (both in 1939), The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941), The Dark Kingdom (published in a limited edition of seventy-five copies with individually painted covers) and The Teeth of the Lion (both in 1942), Sleepers Awake (1946), To Say if You Love Someone (1948), Poemscapes (1958), and But Even So: Picture Poems (1968).
Patchen was also interested in collaboration and multi-media experimentation. With the composer John Cage, he created the radio play The City Wears A Slouch Hat (broadcast in 1942), and in 1957 he performed with the Chamber Jazz Sextet, helping to further Jazz Poetry. Perhaps most notably, Patchen engaged in the visual arts, creating painted poems throughout his career.
“It happens that very often my writing with pen is interrupted by my writing with brush, but I think of both as writing,” said Patchen. “In other words, I don’t consider myself a painter. I think of myself as someone who has used the medium of painting in an attempt to extend.”
For more than thirty years, Patchen lived with a severe spinal ailment that caused him almost constant physical pain. An operation in the early 1950s, thanks to a fund set up by his fellow poets, including T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and E. E. Cummings, allowed him to regain his mobility, but the relief was short-lived: a mistake during a follow-up surgery in 1959 left him almost completely bedridden for the remaining thirteen years of his life, during which he created his most visually remarkable works.
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.
In 1967, the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities presented Patchen with an award for a “life-long contribution to American letters.” He died while living in California in 1972.”[ii]
The Rites of Darkness
**by Kenneth Patchen
- The sleds of the children
- Move down the right slope.
- To the left, hazed in the tumbling air,
- A thousand lights smudge
- Within the branches of the old forest,
- Like colored moons in a well of milk.
- The sleds of the children
- Make no sound on the hard-packed snow.
- Their bright cries are not heard
- On that strange hill.
- The youngest are wrapped
- In cloth of gold, and their scarfs
- Have been dipped in blood.
- All the others, from the son
- Of Tegos, who is the Bishop
- Of Black Church—near Tarn,
- On to the daughter of the least slut,
- Are garbed in love’s shining dress;
- Naked little eels, they flash
- Across the amazed ice.
- And behind each sled
- There trots a man with his sex
- Held like a whip in his snaking hand.
- But no one sees the giant horse
- That climbs the steps which stretch forth
- Between the calling lights and that hill
- Straight up to the throne of God.
- He is taller than the highest tree
- And his flanks steam under the cold moon.
- The beat of his heart shakes the sky
- And his reaching muzzle snuffles
- At the most ancient star.
- The innocent alone approach evil
- Without fear; in their appointed flame
- They acknowledge all living things.
- The only evil is doubt; the only good
- Is not death, but life. To be is to love.
- This I thought as I stood while the snow
- Fell in that bitter place, and the riders
- Rode their motionless sleds into a nowhere
- Of sleep. Ah, God, we can walk so easily,
- Bed with women, do every business
- That houses and roads are for, scratch
- Our shanks and lug candles through
- These caves; but, God, we can’t believe,
- We can’t believe in anything.
- Because nothing is pure enough.
- Because nothing will ever happen
- To make us good in our own sight.
- Because nothing is evil enough.
- I squat on my heels, raise my head
- To the moon, and howl.
- I dig my nails into my sides,
- And laugh when the snow turns red.
- As I bend to drink,
- I laugh at everything that anyone loves.
- All your damn horses climbing to heaven
Kenneth Patchen, “The Rites of Darkness” from Collected Poems. Copyright 1942 by Kenneth Patchen. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1957)
* for my poetic-Temperances I pRefer not to believe in ‘a gawd’ thus utilize a funk spelling and we-Boomer appertunance, altho the pre-Ancients were referred to as gAwds the human-History pertains to use-of-Words and wordages…
I do not allow ‘upper case’ spellings in my werks nor on my websites…