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Collected Poems (New Directions Books) Paperback – January 17, 1968
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From the Back Cover
From the appearance in 1936 of Kenneth Patchen's first book, the voice of this great poet has been protesting war and social injustice, satirizing the demeaning and barbarous inanities of our culture--entrancing us with an inexhaustible flow of humor and fantasy.
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Having said that, I must confess that Patchen was a poet who always wrote to the beat of his own drum. He rarely used traditional form or meter, yet in steering away from traditional schemes, he managed to create his own rhyme and forms in brilliant wordplay that have since been copied by never replicated. Plus, the raw, honest emotion (often rage) and powerful, offbeat images that Patchen constantly creates only get better with each read. It is difficult for me to describe the man's work except for the title I have given this review. Do not expect traditional poetry in any shape of the imagination. But do expect beauty and honesty in all the themes that Patchen explores, whether he is describing life for all of its beauty, darkness, or sadness.
In other reviews I have written for this site, I have felt the need to expand into lengthy prose in order to promote to work I was writing about. I do not feel the need to do that here, as Patchen is better known than the previous writers and artists who I have reviewed (indeed, if you are reading this, it probably means that you're a fan of Patchen's anyway). Having said that, it is a pity that he is not included in more anthologies and that he is not studied more in English classes. There is something here for everyone, and the questions and comments that he evokes about life and society are not to be missed.
I shall conclude with one of my favorite poems by Patchen, to demonstrate the raw emotion and themes that he creates with his unusual form and dynamic images. Thankfully, this volume includes this particular poem and others like it with similar haunting beauty.
"If We Are To Know Where We Live"
"I came to the house. It was dark.
It was hell standing there.
No one answered my knock.
WHAT ARE THEY DOING IN MY HOUSE
I tapped on the window. I banged on the door.
They pulled the shades. They threw the heavy bolt.
But I knew that they wanted
And I saw what I was not to see
And I heard what I was not to hear.
They wanted to murder the thing within the house.
I saw my own face with the knives about it.
I heard my own screams as they tortured me.
And I was everyone. We all stood there."
Hopefully, this poem has proven any point that I've tried to make. If you love poetry or are just beginning to dive into the world of literature, Patchen is an important, often overlooked writer who you simply should not miss.
I don't know if was influential; he certainly didn't care. His public, his peers sought him; never the other way around. I read once that he wrote "naked poetry." The following poem is an excellent example of his wondrous way with words, the beauty, the anger and the savagery all in a few short stanzas.
The dove walks with sticky feet
Upon the green crowns of the almond tree,
Its feathers smeared over with warmth
That drips lazily down into the shadow...
Anyone standing in that orchard,
So filled with peace and sleep,
Would hardly have noticed the hill
With its three strange wooden arms
Lifted above a throng of motionless people
---Above the helmets of Pilate's soldiers
Flashing like silver teeth in the sun.