Kenneth Patchen

I am the world crier, and this is my dangerous career…I am the one to call your bluff, and this is my climate.

Born: Niles, Ohio, 1911
Died: 1972

My apologies for have written so little about Kenneth Patchen until now. I just didn’t know that much about him, nor are there many sources around in the most common beat books. However, a biography about Patchen came out in March 2000, and is written by Larry Smith of Bottom Dog Press.

A description and some kudos:

An Authorized Biography by Larry Smith; Bottom Dog Press, with A Consortium of Small Presses. Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) emerges as a rebel poet who created stunning work for five decades. As poet, novelist, artist, performer, he becomes a model of an engaged artist. His and wife Miriam’s life becomes one of the great love stories in American literature… It has taken more than 25 years for this poet’s life to finally see the light of day in this rich, thorough, compelling biography…Hallelujah anyway!

-Norbert Blei

He represents all that a poet should, whether expressing himself in verse, in prose, in paint, or in action. -Henry Miller. Kenneth Patchen was a poet; he was that all the time. He is that still. That is what is meant by Poet. The poetry never stops working if it is real.

-Miriam Patchen

At age 11, Kenneth Patchen was keeping a diary and reading some heavy stuff by Homer, Donner, and Shakespeare. After attending an experimental college, he went to the University of Wisconsin. Most his life, he had a spinal ailment, but as much as he suffered through that, he wrote poetry and prose, publishing 21 books of poems between 1936 and 1972, and 5 prose books during the 1940s (including Journal of Albion Moonlight). His “lost plays” were also published in 1977. Besides writing, Patchen worked with jazz great Charles Mingus, doing improvisational poetry behind Mingus’s playing.

Patchen’s connections with other beats (example): In The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats, John Swenson says, “We went back to meet in North Beach at The Place or the Coffee Gallery or City Lights Books. The streets began to fill with tour buses of people watching the ‘beatniks’ playing bongo drums in front of the open-air cafes. About the same time, Poetry and Jazz opened in the basement jazz club the Cellar. David Meltzer worked at the scene deeply, writing new poems for every night’s performance. Ruth Weiss, an originator [sic] of the scene, made herself heard as a performing jazz poet. The stars of the new art form were Rexroth, Ferlinghetti and the visionary, musically sensitive Kenneth Patchen, who cut an album with Charles Mingus.”

Updated news (March 9, 2000): Miriam Patchen passed away yesterday.

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