Largely a self-taught writer, Kenneth Patchen never appeared to win widespread recognition from the professors at universities or many literary critics. As the New York Times Book Review noted, "While some critics tended to dismiss his work as naive, romantic, capricious and concerned often with the social problems of the 1930's, others found him a major voice in American poetry.... Even the most generous praise was usually grudging, as if Patchen had somehow won his place through sheer wrongheaded persistence."
The bulk of Patchen's followers were and still are young people. Kenneth Rexroth once pointed out that "during the Second World War and the dark days of reaction afterwards [Patchen] was the most popular poet on college campuses." One reason for the attraction of generations of college-age readers to Patchen may be the quality of timelessness of his beliefs and ideas. An article in the New York Times explained that Patchen's antiwar poetry—written in response to atrocities of World War II—was embraced by students protesting the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.
A writer for the New York Times Book Review once wrote that "there is the voice of anger—outspoken rage against the forces of hypocrisy and injustice in our world. Patchen sees man as a creature of crime and violence, a fallen angel who is haunted by all the horrors of the natural world, and who still continues to kill his own kind: 'Humanity is a good thing. Perhaps we can arrange the murder of a sizable number of people to save it.'"
In the 1950s Patchen became famous in poetry circles for reading his poetry to the accompaniment of jazz music.
Writer of prose and of poetry. Held many jobs in his youth, including working in a steel mill and migratory work in the United States and Canada; made poetry-jazz appearances across the United States and in Canada, and poetry recordings for Cadence and Folkways albums; has worked as a graphic artist, originating his own limited editions books, more than eight hundred issued with individually painted covers. Exhibited paintings in various cities and at universities.
- Before the Brave, Random House, 1936.
- First Will and Testament, New Directions, 1939.
- Teeth of the Lion, New Directions, 1942.
- The Dark Kingdom, Harriss & Givens, 1942.
- Cloth of the Tempest, Harper, 1943.
- An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air, Untide Press, 1945.
- Outlaw of the Lowest Planet, Grey Walls Press, 1946.
- Selected Poems, New Directions, 1946.
- Pictures of Life and Death, Max Padell, 1947.
- They Keep Riding Down All the Time, Max Padell, 1947.
- Panels for the Walls of Heaven, Bern Porter, 1947.
- CCCLXXIV Poems, Max Padell, 1948.
- Red Wine and Yellow Hair, New Directions, 1949.
- Orchards, Thrones and Caravans, Print Workshop, 1952.
- Fables and Other Little Tales, Jonathan Williams, 1953.
- The Famous Boating Party and Other Poems in Prose, New Directions, 1954.
- Glory Never Guesses, privately printed, 1955.
- Surprise for the Bagpipe Player, privately printed, 1956.
- When We Were Here Together, New Directions, 1957.
- Hurrah for Anything: Poems and Drawings (also see below), Jonathan Williams, 1957.
- Poemscapes (also see below), Jonathan Williams, 1958.
- To Say If You Love Someone, Decker Press, 1959.
- Because It Is (also see below), New Directions, 1960.
- Love Poems, City Lights, 1960, published as The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen, Kraus Reprint, 1973.
- Poems of Humor and Protest, City Lights, 1960.
- Selected Love Poems, Jargon, 1965.
- Like Fun I'll Tell You, Jonathan Williams, 1966.
- Hallelujah Anyway (also see below), New Directions, 1966.
- But Even So (also see below), New Directions, 1968.
- Love and War Poems, Whisper & Shout, 1968.
- The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen, New Directions, 1969.
- Aflame and Afun of Walking Faces, New Directions, 1970.
- Wonderings, New Directions, 1971.
- In Quest of Candlelighters, New Directions, 1972.
- A Poem for Christmas, Artichoke, 1976.
- The Argument of Innocence, Scrimshaw Press, 1977.
- Still Another Pelican in the Breadbox, edited by Richard Morgan, Pig Iron Press, 1980.
- What Shall We Do Without Us? The Voice and Vision of Kenneth Patchen, Sierra Book Club, 1984.
- The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Max Padell, 1941.
- The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer: An Amusement, New Directions, 1945.
- Sleepers Awake, Max Padell, 1946.
- See You in the Morning, Max Padell, 1948.
- Now You See It (Don't Look Now), produced Off-Off-Broadway at Thresholds Theatre, December, 1966.
- Patchen's Lost Plays, edited by Richard Morgan, Capra, 1977.
- Doubleheader (contains Poemscapes, Hurrah for Anything, and A Letter to God), New Directions, 1966.
- Out of the World of Patchen, New Directions, 1970, Volume 1: Because It Is, Volume 2: But Even So, Volume 3: Doubleheader, Volume 4: Hallelujah Anyway.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 18, 1981.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, 1983, Volume 48: American Poets, 1880-1945, First Series, 1986.
- Rexroth, Kenneth, Assays, New Directions, 1961.
- Rexroth, Kenneth, American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Herder, 1971.
- Walsh, Chad, Today's Poets, Scribner, 1964.
- Wilder, Amos N., Spiritual Aspects of the New Poetry, Harper, 1940.
- New York Times Book Review, February 2, 1958; June 22, 1958; October 20, 1968.
- Poetry, September, 1958; February, 1965.
- Saturday Review, July 12, 1958.
- Yale Review, June, 1958.
- Newsweek, January 24, 1972.
- New York Times, January 9, 1972; January 10, 1972.
- Publishers Weekly, January 24, 1972.
- Time, January 24, 1972.
- Washington Post, January 10, 1972.
Poems By KENNETH PATCHEN
- "So When She Lay Beside Me"
- “As We Are So Wonderfully Done with Each Other”
- ‘Be Music, Night’
- All Is Safe...
- At the New Year
More poems by Kenneth Patchen (27 poems)
- Beautiful You Are
- But of Life?
- Empty Dwelling Places
- Eve of St. Agony or The Middleclass Was Sitting on Its Fat
- First Came the Lion-Rider
- In Order To
- My Generation Reading the Newspapers
- O Now the Drenched Land Wakes
- O She Is as Lovely-Often
- Parting Coney Island
- The Cloth of the Tempest
- The Deer and the Snake
- The Great Birds
- The Murder of Two Men by a Young Kid Wearing Lemon-colored Gloves
- The Rites of Darkness
- The Snow Is Deep on the Ground
- The Unanswering Correspondences
- Under a Tree
- Wide, Wide in the Rose's Side
Audio & PodcastsPoetry Off the Shelf
All That Poetry
Kenneth Patchen’s poems have been set to music by The Claudia Quintet.