Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Nighmare Nuances: A Preference For Patchen

"I am the world crier and this is my dangerous career...
I am the one to call your bluff, and this is my climate."

The words above are that of the late Niles, Ohio-born poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen, an angst-ridden humanitarian and literary auteur who lived with the chronic pain of an incurably dislocated spinal disk, the result of an accident at age twenty-six. For Patchen, his literal Achilles Heel symbolized the microcosm of the world's continual psychic imbalance. A surgical mishap in 1959 further crippled Patchen leaving him all but bed-ridden until his death on January 8, 1972 in Palo Alto, California.

A certain fate as a steelworker in Ohio's "Industrial Valley" was circumvented by a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin where Patchen briefly entered the Alexander Meikeljohn Experimental College, followed by a short stint at the Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas.

Patchen, assisted by his wife Miriam Oikemus, an artist, anti-war activist, and Smith College graduate, whom he married on June 28, 1934, published 43 books of prose and illustrated poetry. Disavowing commercial stereotypification as a Beat Generation writer, Patchen personally focused on widening the realm of experimental poetry by creating picture-poetry, and later, poetry-jazz (orating against a background of jazz music provided by Allyn Ferguson and the Chamber Jazz Sextet). Oft-termed "4th dimensional realsim" or extra-sensory theater", Patchen himself preferred the following explanation: "The poet should resist all efforts to categorize him as a painted monkey on a stick, not for personal reasons alone, but because it does damage to poetry itself."

"In the footsteps of the walking air
Sky's prophetic chickens weave their cloth of awe..."

In Patchen's jazz-poetry recording The Murder of Two Men by a Young Kid Wearing Lemon-Colored Gloves, the title line is spoken preceding a riotous explosion of instrumentation which is in turn followed by deliberated, staccato instructions to "Wait...wait, wait..." The frenzied music score played by the Chamber Jazz Sextet undulates urgently until Patchen cries "Now!" (the obvious culmination of the act of murder, perfectly rendered in word, music, mental imagery, and emotion). The words in written context, are staggered on the page in consonance with the vocal delivery.

As an extraneous note of interest (and one that Patchen might have found stifling and denunciatory), Kenneth Patchen was born under the free-spirited astrological sign of Sagittarius on December 13, 1911. Natives of this starred-enclave are oft-noted for their refusal to be stereotyped or mainstreamed, thus we have a writer who, in the midst of grand abstraction, is one of the only poets of his generation not to abandon the idiom of twentieth-century verse.

The Artist's Duty

So it is the duty of the artist to discourage all traces of shame
To extend all boundaries
To fog them in right over the plate
To kill only what is ridiculous
To establish problem
To ignore solutions
To listen to no one
To omit nothing
To contradict everything
To generate the free brain
To bear no cross
To take part in no crucifixion
To tinkle a warning when mankind strays
To explode upon all parties
To wound deeper than the soldier
To heal this poor obstinate monkey once and for all

To verify the irrational
To exaggerate all things
To inhibit everyone
To lubricate each proportion
To experience only experience

To set a flame in the high air
To exclaim at the commonplace alone
To cause the unseen eyes to open

To admire only the absurd
To be concerned with every profession save his own
To raise a fortuitous stink on the boulevards of truth and beauty
To desire an electrifiable intercourse with a female alligator
To lift the flesh above the suffering
To forgive the beautiful its disconsolate deceit

To flash his vengeful badge at every abyss


It is the artist’s duty to be alive
To drag people into glittering occupations

To blush perpetually in gaping innocence
To drift happily through the ruined race-intelligence
To burrow beneath the subconscious
To defend the unreal at the cost of his reason
To obey each outrageous impulse
To commit his company to all enchantments