Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy 99th Birthday, Kennth Patchen

Born in 1911 on December 13 in Youngstown, Ohio.

Kenneth, you are an old soul. I think of you not at all dead in 1972, but still here, three years older than my grandmother (who died this past August at age 96), continuing to make picture poems for social causes and protests across the globe.

I'm sure you continue to draw new word-animals across all the bounding walls of heaven, and William Blake stops by now and then--to comment, approve, criticize or applaud.

Your heavenward drawings peep out, wiggle to life, sit down with you and all the assembled company to share big plates of tumbling, saucy spaghetti.

The poem below is the concluding section of "Childhood of the Hero" from Patchen's book Orchards, Thrones and Caravans. Patchen published this book with his friend, and brief roommate, David Ruff in 1952. Ruff was Holly Beye's partner, and they had just recently moved from Greenwich Village to San Francisco, and encouraged the Patchens to move there as well. He lived at this time in the North Beach section the city, where he met and mentored Lawrence Ferlinghetti, convincing the young poet to use his full name on all his work (and not "Lawrence Ferling"), and gave him two big books of types to use with his soon-to-be City Lights press (did Patchen get these from Laughlin's New Directions shed in Old Lyme, CT?). It was the dark age of McCarthyism, then. The picture poem above is from the famous portfolio Glory Never Guesses silk screened by Frank Bacher and colored by Patchen in 1955, also called "Handwritings for the Wall"



Childhood's days passed in their headlong sparsity, like hundredforapenny balloons.

Yes, childhood! Opinions might divide around it, like scoffing ancient water around a new-made boulder, still would it be necessary to remember the bit-of-thisness, -thatness of it.

When things are going unblemishedly, much can be borne. On the nightstand beside his little bunk, festooned by the shadow-ribboned hair of first one candle then by its replacement's, reposed, in a battered, fly-embroidered frame, a photograph casually torn from a newspaper. Every evening the hero addressed himself to the monastic countenance of the gaunt, ink-faded horse therein depicted:

"Morning, Senator. How be ye this day, eh?" It is true that the answering voice was almost totally lacking in modulation and resonance; but nevertheless it did manage to convey a certain underlying heartiness as it replied: "Get me out of here! Get me the hell out of here!"

(Collected Poems, 436)


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