The Rumpus muses on Kenneth Patchen

By Harriet Staff

Over at The Rumpus, Carolyn Zaikowski has a long meditation on the necessity of Kenneth Patchen, a poet variously categorized as proletariat, experimental, proto-Beat, and visual. She writes:

He holds up the strange compass when most of us disavow it. The compass has burned our hands; at least, we think it will. We don’t know what to do. So stay, he offers. Look at the compass. It’s made of time, of death. It is made of inverted things and illegal notebooks that were thought to have been shredded. The compass is a tsunami or a wind’s wisp or both. It’s made of monotony and wonder. It’s made of awe and tender fear. Fearless true love is not just euphoric—it is also tender. It holds huge pain. It witnesses. Patchen holds these truths like a candle for all of us, invites us—sometimes implores us—to look. All at once is what eternity is. He says: Please just remember how strange, how rightfully ever-changing, how awful, how awe-filled is this thing, life. How it cannot be different than this. How our struggle against this basic truth causes so much unnecessary suffering. You can run away and fall or you can stay and learn to love and breathe. The former is what it means to unnecessarily obliterate one’s self. The latter is what it means to consciously choose to be alive.

Then Zaikowski quotes from Patchen's Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer:

Why shouldn’t you be afraid? Why shouldn’t you think it’s crazy to believe in a green deer? All your life you have been taught to believe in only what you can use—to set on the table, to put in the bank, to build a house with. What possible use would a green deer be to anyone? Who would believe in a man with a blazing bush in his cart? Then let me tell you that it is beliefs just such as these that are the only hope of the world. Let me tell you that until men are ready to believe in the green deer and the strange carter, we shall not lift our noses above the bloody mess we have made of our living.

Read the whole piece here. And see images of Patchen's painted and silkscreened poems, which he worked on in his final years before his death in 1972.

Originally Published: December 6th, 2011