Kenneth Patchen Patchen, Kenneth (Vol. 18)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Patchen, Kenneth 1911–1972

Patchen was an American poet, novelist, and playwright. For many years he battled against a spinal illness which eventually claimed his life. Despite his affliction, Patchen published over forty books, produced countless drawings and paintings, and was a major innovator of the poetry-jazz reading movement. Patchen's prose and poetry lashes out at the destructive nature of humanity. However, there is optimism in his work, in his poems of love and in his poems declaring the strength and potential of youth. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)

William Carlos Williams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Whether or not [The Journal of Albion Moonlight] is a good [book] (let's not talk prematurely of genius) I believe it to be a right one, a well directed one and a hopeful one. It is the sort of book that must be attempted from time to time, a book to violate all the taboos, a racial necessity as it is a paradisiacal one, a purge in the best sense—suggesting a return to health and to the craft itself after the little word-and-thought pansies have got through their nibbling. (p. 7)

Patchen lets himself go. Such a book will rest heavily on the character, ability and learning of the man who writes it. If it is a failure, not clear or powerful enough to deserve the concept of it I am suggesting, that is his hard luck. But the book should be written, a book that had better perhaps have been postponed to a maturer period of the man's career—but which had after all to be written now.

That's precisely it. Even though it acknowledges itself to be a foregone failure—the book must still have been made as it is, the work of a young man, a new man—finding himself unprepared, though vocal, in the world. He voices the world of the young—as he finds it, screaming against what we, older, have given him. This precisely is the book's prime validity.

Though Patchen is still young, still not ready, shall he be silent for that? That is the significance and reason for all his passion, that he is young, the seriousness and poignancy of it. And it does, whatever its failings, find a crack in the armament of the killing suppression which is driving the world to the only relief it knows, murder! today. It is itself evidence, as a thing in itself, of our perversity and failure. (pp. 7-8)

For once a writer insists on the maddening facts of our plight in plain terms; we grow afraid, we dare not pretend that we know or can know anything, straight out, in our own right. We have to be "correctly" educated first. But here and there, confronting Christ with Hitler—you won't believe it can be done—there are passages in this book where the mind threatens to open and a vivid reality of the spirit to burst forth and bloom in terrifying destructfulness—the destroying of all that we think we know in our time. It threatens to break out through the writing into a fact of the spirit even though it may not often be quite powerful enough to do so. I cannot specify these knots of understanding, of candor that—are the book's high places. The feeling that is experienced at those best moments is of an impending purity that might be. This is the order that I speak of….

I say all this in approbation—but writing is also a craft and we have to look well at that in this book. Florid and uncontrolled as Patchen's imagination may be, his images foetid, the passions of his Honeys and Claras funnelled into the socket of sex, compressed as a bomb to explode in colored lights—the writing must not be florid in any loose sense. And I should say, tangential as the thought may be, the writing is, in general well muscled, the word often brilliantly clear.

Many devices are used at times successfully, but not always so. There are lapses, disheartening lapses, and though I have said that in this sort of writing a man cannot stop for corrections yet, as readers, we have a right to object. (p. 8)

However we face it, one must still hold to the...

(The entire section is 4,936 words.)