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Kenneth Patchen

Editorial in kaldron 9, winter 1978-79
by Karl Kempton

1) wide crack in concrete

mention the visual poetry of kenneth patchen and usually his picture poems are what come to mind or are discussed - the poems in the new directions books such as HURRAH FOR ANYTHING, HALLELUJAH ANYWAY, BUT EVEN SO, and WONDERINGS. how many people i wonder are aware of the earlier visual poems in his novels and an earlier volume of poems? of those aware, how many continue to ignore the strength of vision and importance of this work within the context of the world-wide revival of the visual poem? for how long are those within the so-called critical enclaves of concrete and visual poetry going to continue ignoring the fact that patchen composed texts and poems which broke the linear reading habit with typographical fragmentation issuing the unique and inherent communication of letters, phonic characters, graphic signs, words and word groupings? or that he expanded the non-linear further with list poems, pattern poems, diagram poems, number poems, repetition poems, visual poems, op poems, and picture poems? or that he composed series after series of kinetic poems and events to add multi-dimensional cross currents which dance thruout the work all the while focusing with his esthetic sensibility upon the creative arrangement by embracing the expanse offered by love? SLEEPERS AWAKE, 1946, and PANELS FOR THE WALLS OF HEAVEN, 1946. these are the two major works which are continually ignored along with even earlier works in THE JOURNAL OF ALBION MOONLIGHT and CLOTH OF THE TEMPEST.

SLEEPERS AWAKE and PANELS FOR THE WALLS OF HEAVEN were published 5 years before the founder of concrete poetry, eugene gomringer, wrote his first constellation, and 10 years before concrete poetry began flaking around the globe. SLEEPERS AWAKE was written in 1945; its visuals were either prepared in advance in the manuscript or type-composed alongside the press during the book's printing. padell book company of new york was the publisher. bern porter, a master of the found poem, published PANELS in berkley. porter wrote me that this first edition--reviewed by no one--now sells for $65 unless covered with patchen hand painting which boosts the collector's take to $250. naturally in the unnatural state neither the patchens or porters saw/see any of this coin other than in the listings. also, he says that it is his belief these 2 books are the world's greatest of their kind. i have seen nothing to contradict porter. both books mapped a vast territory using the above mentioned variety of forms later remapped by scores of concrete poets during the 50's, 60's and on into this nearly vanished decade. during the remapping, patchen, having already exhausted his creative fragmented typography by 1946, turned his attention and vision to painted books and picture poems extending the visual virtuosity of his written word. the PANELS were a continuation of his esthetic fragmentation from SLEEPERS AWAKE and the beginning of his picture poems.

these time spans between patchen and concrete poetry can easily be stretched further if the visual work in THE JOURNAL OF ALBION MOONLIGHT, its manuscript and CLOTH OF THE TEMPEST are considered. THE JOURNAL was written in 1939 and 40; self published in 41. CLOTH was written and composed in 41 and published by harper & bros in 43. of special interest to myself and others is one poem in CLOTH, "THE MURDER OF TWO MEN BY A YOUNG MAN WEARING LEMON-COLORED GLOVES," which can be found in the SELECTED and COLLECTED POEMS. there are those who have seen, read and bodily digested it and never forget it - 1941. so it sums to this: patchen the trail blazer far ahead simultaneously working several paths with a tremendous energy burst; patchen as an instrument focused with creative arrangement rejecting the worship of chaos, an instrument thru which a new and powerful vision channeled onto the page freeing language from linear constraints. far behind are the concrete poets as a survey crew or crews plodding along, some toying with chaos; so far behind that patchen's work is both ignored and forgotten. the existence of this early work i'm sure has become an embarrassment to many and this may be why only the picture poems are discussed. another possibility for this neglect - which flows over from the omission of his linear work in numerous anthologies and college courses - is that his work is based upon love, as i said earlier, his embrace of the expanse of love, and as such, the work aimed not at the head but the total individual: as the body mind and spirit digest the work it becomes part of the reader/viewer. patchen's roots are those tapping the poetic tradition of seer, visionary, a tradition held suspect in this intellectualized and fad to fad hopscotching time wherein language, stripped of its emotional and spiritual vibrations, is looked upon as mere material to manipulate.

i believe no one is in a position to correctly chart the ripple effects of patchen's visual work throughout the concrete and visual poetry scene. i am not in such a seat. however, as far as i know, no u.s. published concrete anthology printed a patchen visual work or mentioned his early or contemporaneous works (except for one slite aside) even though the triangle from which he initially drew was identical to the one from which the concrete poets later drew: apollinaire, futurism and dada. european concrete anthologies and catalogs i'v studied also include the patchen blank. non-english speaking europe can be excused up to the point where the new directions' reprints became/become available (new directions/333 sixth ave/new york ny 10014). or can they? patchen visual work appeared in the early 50's in VOU, Tokyo, and enlargements of several pages from CLOTH and THE JOURNAL appeared at shows in japan in the early 50's. jean wahl reviewed patchen in a french publication around 1950; tho the review was general in scope THE JOURNAL was mentioned. but the english speaking sector, especially those whose attitudes body language a know-it-all pose, can not be excused.

no concrete, visual, language or experimental poet, artist, writer, editor or publisher wrote or visited patchen to discuss these exclusions. since his death, miriam patchen has had, until my letters and visit of last summer, no such inquiries. while talking with her i found myself shaking my head in disbelief that this situation exists. she lives a mere 30 minutes by non-traffic jammed car from san francisco, home of several visual, language and experimental poets, etc. nope. no inquiries, yet these folks claim a global view. what good is such eyesight while unknowingly their own backyard is in disrepair?

wrote to u.s. the concrete anthology maker crew membership to hear their defense of the offense. ONCE AGAIN was entirely edited in paris by bory who, as james laughlin says, didnt know patchen. considering that the number of english language poets in this anthology ruffly adds to 1/3 or that 1/6 of the poets were from the u.s. and that laughlin of new directions is patchen's publisher, i wonder why he failed to introduce bory to patchen's work? chicago is silent. mary ellen solt also remains silent. on one hand she is commended here for injecting charles olson's poetic force field into visual poetics, nevertheless the missing hand cripples her anthology and more so in the lite of the published jonathan williams' letter which pointed to patchen and others. dick higgins, publisher of the now defunct something else press, writes he can't answer for his editor, emmett williams; he doesn't consider patchen a concrete poet; and, "His stuff just doesn't hold any strong or cohesive literary gestalt for me; I forget it sooo easily." i have heard much the same from others who share this obvious difference of opinion with me. tho patchen didnt carry a concrete poetry club membership card, just how do you who claim him not to be a concrete poet categorize this early work which smoothly glides into concrete poetry definitions?: "fragmentation", "tension of things-words in space-time" or "working with language material, creating structures with it, transmitting primarily esthetic information". emmmett williams, editor of AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONCRETE POETRY, probably the most important and influential anthology of its kind, claims that his purpose was exposing the u.s. poets to the concrete poetry from europe, south america and japan, particularly those poets he felt to be unknown in the u.s.. at least an admission of conscious exclusion by reason of specific focus. but he implied in his letter that had there been an historical section, then patchen would have been included--exactly where higgins relegates the man. in this anthology i see the 1943- 48 concrete poems by carlos belloli; patchen's poems of this same time period effortlessly eclipse them. and from the introduction, "Side by side are militant social reformers, religious mystics, lyricists of love, psychedelic visionaries, engaged philosophers, disinterested philologists and poetypographers. Such diversity, reflected in the pages of this anthology, may seem to rob the label 'Concrete' of any concrete meaning whatsoever. On the other hand, it shows the extent to which the dynamic concepts of the new poetry have been accepted as a Poetics valid for our times." plenty of room existed to include the early patchen work. instead, a wide crack in the concrete.

two recent non-concrete anthologies subliminally recognized his work as well as a language art show. in the introduction to his BREAKTHROUGH FICTIONEERS, 1973, richard kostelanetz credited patchen as the american who pioneered "the mixing of physically separated words and images" period. in fact, this is only a phrase in a long colonned sentence, a rather limp finger pointing from an articulate and outspoken critic for visual poetry, language art and experimental writing. this phrase also indicates an unfamiliarity with patchen's early work by nodding towards the picture poems. as curator of LANGUAGE & STRUCTURE IN NORTH AMERICA, 1975, kostelanetz included SLEEPERS AWAKE in the book department and excluded the PANELS and a host of other patchen visual work. while printing 4 patchen visual poems, including "THE MURDER OF TWO MEN . . .", in SPEAKING PICTURES, milton klonsky failed in both the bio notes and the mishandled historical introduction to mention the bulk and wealth of the early work.

in response to my letter, jonathan williams wrote "Any ignoring came from the usual sin, abysmal ignorance."

myself, i'm still shaking my head in disbelief that such a powerful and encompassing vision went and remains ignored within the confines of concrete and visual poetry, language art and experimental writing criticism. but dont believe me; indeed compare these early works with concrete and visual poetry anthologies and with the growing number of experimental writing collections.

2) THE ARGUMENT OF INNOCENCE, A SELECTION FROM THE ARTS OF KENNETH PATCHEN. peter veres, editor. the scrimshaw press/6040 claremont ave/oakland ca 94618. 95pp. $7.50.

divided into 5 sections - written words, painted books, silkscreens, picture poems and sculptures - this publication provides a survey for those unfamiliar with the visual works of patchen. woven thruout these sections are an articulate essay by peter veres and his interview with miriam patchen who introduces this book. those familiar with the picture poems will be delighted to discover that this publication reproduces many of them in color. the printing obviously done by a craftsperson and scrimshaw is to be congratulated for its role in filling this huge gap which new directions, for some reason tho with much more capital at hand, failed to fill. patchen has been labeled by some as the blake of the 20th century. it is easy to see why upon viewing these colorful and innocent picture poems. it is summed up with the title poem: The/Argument/of/Innocence/can only be/lost/if it is/won. the foundation upon which these poems are created is that of love. patchen somehow was able, in spite of the terrific daily experience of pain (back injury), to compose work which illuminates a master's control over the collage form while bringing forth the innocence of a child's view of the world. he creates a delightful dream world populated by charming beings who immediately capture one's heart with a loving embrace.

-karl kempton
grover city, ca

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