COLLECTED POEMS by Kenneth Patchen


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Patchen is in his mid-fifties and has been turning out poems since the Thirties, that decade of strikes, dirty deals, tough guy lyricism, war clouds, surrealist hi-jinks, the Marx Brothers, and Clifford Odets. One could extend the catalogue to include Auden and the rise of the New Criticism, but that would have nothing to do with the style or interests of Kenneth Patchen. No, this is a poet who found his music in the pugnacious, paranoid restlessness of street corner dialogue, whose dramatic sense was sharpened by the newspaper headline and the offhand misery in the human interest columns, who mistook sentimentality for irony and irony for prophetic thunder, who externalized his sense of pain and rejection into the plight of the common man, who covered up his tenderness with screwball comedy and his passion with hallucinatory fantasy, who never became a Blakean visionary nor a Whitmanesque spokesman of the everyday. But he produced, in the course of an enormously prolific career, a handful of small sorrowing vignettes of himself and the world, one or two authentic shouts of joy or terror, and a great deal of botched, tinny, preachy, fragmented, dated, self-indulgent, long-winded serenades to the tears and laughter of Kenneth Patchen, dragon slayer of the powers that be and defender of the democratic dream. It is said that Patchen is a father of the Beats, which is true, and that he is one of our fine neglected poets, which, alas, is only half true. The fineness that artistry demands escapes him, though certain fine moments do not.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1968
Publisher: New Directions