Preface by Devendra Banhart:
I came across Kenneth Patchen the way one dreams of a tumbleweed rollin’ on by, leaving trails of luminosity from within its prismatic pit. The world is, of course, that damn tumbleweed with Patchen’s riddle wrapped around itself, now here, now gone, like the marriage between “Hi!” and “So Long.” We are left born before a new kind of page, the shit kicked out of us, and nothing is sweeter…. Blessed be this shitkicker.
This could happen to you. It happened to me and all I did was randomly pull from my little library Patchen’s book, Because It Is. It’s something I can only describe in a matter-of-fact sort of way because it was created in a matter-of-fact sort of way. This is poetry and art explored through the language of possibility, wisdom and humor. Within these pages, mystery becomes little cartoon legs with a cosmic giggle for a head, ramblin’ out the difference between sincerity and honesty, reminding us that its one thing to have the gift but it’s a whole other thing to GIVE it.
I’m nuts about Patchen, and I’ve never come across anything like his work. I live happily at the bottom of the totem pole of Patchen’s devotees. Allen Ginsberg made a point to visit Patchen during his first trip to San Francisco. Henry Miller wrote an essay entitled “Man of Anger and Light” in his honor. Patchen worked with John Cage on an experimental radio play, “The City Wears a Slouch Hat.” Charles Mingus’ quartet accompanied him during one of his few readings (a recording has never been found). Lawrence Ferlinghetti even wrote an elegy to Patchen after his death. The list grows on.
By now, if you were me, you’d be wondering who this guy was, so I’ll tell ya’ what teeny-tiny tidbits I know. Kenneth Patchen was born on December 13, 1911, in a little city in Trumbull County, Ohio, called Niles. In 1924, Niles was the setting for an 18-hour battle between The Ku Klux Klan and the anti-Klan organization, The Knights of the Flaming Circle. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s possible that the battle (which the Knights won!) had a great impact on his being an ardent pacifist. While still in college, Patchen’s poem “Permanence” was published in The New York Times. It was his first published poem. What the fuck, right? After leap froggin’ from college to college he met his true love Miriam Oikemus, to whom he would eventually dedicate every one of his 40 plus books. He was a rising star of poetry until an accident occurred while working on a friend’s car that would debilitate him for life and eventually confine him to a wheelchair till his death in Palo Alto, California, on January 8, 1972.
Like confused clouds illuminating whatever the opposite of a shadow is, Patchen’s painted-poems and written drawings highlight a rogue sensibility within our humanity. Every emotion, every joke, every creation jostles us. To experience his work is to discover a peculiar sort of divinity. Heed the wisdom of the first poem in this collection, “to understand one must begin somewhere….” Welcome!
Poem for KP
The Silver Deer has appeared,
it’s presenting itself,
its eyes are everyland,
its mouth milks a funny-kinda-heaven,
and knows the POEM can make the flame extinguish itself,
and knows the POEM is the circle surrounding all circles,
and it wants us to stop coddling the grumpy raisin,
to stop bobbing for beans in the house of “mama i can’t leave this
body! but oh…!”
to stop pumping stones out of our lava-slits,
to welcome in the welcoming red thread, the lining,
the one who is reaching out to wherever the hell you are,
to not wait, to never wait again.