Kenneth Patchen

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Kenneth Patchen (December 13 1911January 8 1972) was an American poet and painter. Though he denied any direct connection, Patchen's work and ideas regarding the role of artists paralleled those of the dadaists and surrealists. Patchen also helped pioneer an art form known as picture poems.



Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio. He attended Alexander Meiklejohn's Experimental College for one year, and then the University of Wisconsin. For much of his life Patchen suffered from a spinal disorder which caused him extreme pain. Patchen espoused anarchism and pacifism, and much of his work opposes war. He was against U.S. involvement in World War II, believing that the high ideals of protecting democracy were betrayed by political machinations and senseless violence.


In 1942 Patchen collaborated with the composer John Cage on the radio play The City Wears A Slouch Hat. In the early fifties he pioneered an artform which combined spoken poetry and jazz. Charles Mingus was one of his better-known collaborators. This was alluded to in Mingus' book, Beneath the Underdog, and the original liner notes from the Columbia LP, Mingus Ah Um. No known recordings of this particular collaboration are in existence.

Moe Ash of Folkways Records made some recordings of Patchen reading his poetry and excerpts from one of his novels. These recordings were released as "Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada" (1959), "Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen" (1960), and "Kenneth Patchen Reads His Love Poems" (released 1961). "From Albion Moonlight" was recorded later at Patchen's home but not released until 1972 by Folkways. Many of his poems have been set to music by David Bedford. Composer Kyle Gann has set his voice reading a text to music (see below) and violinist Carla Kihlstedt set a text on the "Patchen" track of her solo Tzadik release Two Foot Yard. He was an influence on the beat movement.


  • Before the Brave, 1936
  • First Will and Testament, 1939
  • The Journal of Albion Moonlight, 1941
  • The Dark Kingdom, 1942
  • Cloth of the Tempest, 1943
  • The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, 1945
  • An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air, 1946
  • Outlaw of the Lowest Planet, 1946
  • The Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen, 1946
  • Sleepers Awake, 1946
  • Panels for the Walls of Heaven,1946
  • Pictures of Life and Death, 1946
  • They Keep Riding Down All the Time, 1946
  • CCCLXXIV Poems, 1948
  • Red Wine and Yellow Hair, 1949
  • Fables and Other Little Tales, 1953
  • Poems of Humor and Protest, 1954
  • Hurrah for Anything, 1957
  • When We Were Here Together, 1957
  • The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen, 1960
  • Hallelujah Anyway, 1966
  • But Even So, 1968
  • Wonderings, 1971
  • In Quest of Candlelighters, 1972
  • The Argument of Innocence, 1976
  • Patchen's Lost Plays, 1977
  • Still Another Pelican in the Breadbox, 1980

External links