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Visual Arias from

Sleepers Awake

by Kenneth Patchen

Sleepers Awake could be considered Kenneth Patchen's most important novel. As always, he fully explores his ability to express rage, humor, and compassion, his profound pacifist commitments, and his Anarchist base. In this instance, the novel's fantasies, praises, curses, prophesies, and aspirations unfold in great variety and splendor, without losing their sharp edge or focus. I think of the visual poetry in this book as visual arias, passages where the narrative breaks into a sort of visual song. In addition, this is one of the instances where he used the limitations of the branch of visual poetry that gets called concrete more fully than virtually all of its anthologized proponents -- but in 1945, a decade in advance of the movement. Several types of visual aria appear in the book: the most frequent come in boxes in a type face that looks something like gill sans. These square arias work their way at intervals through the text. The more extended arias run continuously, and it's sometimes difficult to tell exactly where they begin. The one presented here has a definite beginning and conclusion.

--Karl Young

Go to a box aria.

Go to an extended aria.

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