Hallelujah Anyway

from Selected Poems by Kenneth Patchen
"I don’t consider myself a painter. I think of myself as someone who has used the medium of painting in an attempt to extend."
In the late 1950's, after a series of back surgeries dating to a 1937 spinal injury, the poet Kenneth Patchen suffered a botched and unnecessary operation. As a result, Patchen spent the remainder of his life in constant pain, incapacitated for the most part, and destitute.

Because of this condition, he took to writing his poems in a long hand scrawl, accompanied by ink drawings.

Because Going Nowhere Takes A Long Time
from Because I Is

Because It Is is a collection of poems with drawings. Published in 1960, this New Directions book marks the beginning of what would eventually become his "Picture Poems."

Kenneth Patchen's Picture Poems were revolutionary, whacky, and spiritually transformational. Foreshadowing what's now become more common place in visual arts — writing on paper or canvas with drawn or painted images, Patchen's work was born of necessity. He only had so much energy, time and freedom of movement to express the flood of his mighty soul.

Bedridden for years, Kenneth Patchen blazed trails that others have continued to fumble forward upon.  Patchen helped to create the poetry reading performance and was the first to read poetry accompanied by jazz musicians.

His novel, SLEEPERS AWAKE on the precipice profoundly changed my understanding of life and art when I read it at 19.

If you are not familiar with Kenneth Patchen, start exploring now.  His universe of work is wondrous and brutal and true. If his work doesn't blow your mind, it may expand it if you let it.

Follow the links embedded in this post. Check Kenneth Patchen books out of your local library orbuy them at Amazon. Special thanks to New Directions for publishing Patchen's work throughout the years.

Visit an Online exhibit of selections from Patchen's Picture Poems and read about the 2009-2010 Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum exhibit of his painted books and picture poems.