Happy Birthday Kenneth Patchen

It’s the birthday of poet Kenneth Patchen, born in Niles, Ohio (1911). He came from a working-class family — coal mining on his mother’s side, farming on his father’s, and while he was growing up his father was a steel worker in Youngstown. His Scottish grandfather loved to read aloud Robert Burns poems. And Patchen said that in Burns’ poems and his grandpa’s stories, “there was what you would call magic.” He started keeping a diary when he was 12 years old, wrote poems throughout high school, went to a handful of colleges, and traveled around the country working as a migrant laborer.

Then he went to a friend’s Christmas party and met Miriam Oikemus, a college student at Smith and an anti-war activist. The daughter of Finnish socialist immigrants, she had joined the Communist Party at the age of seven. Kenneth and Miriam fell in love and exchanged letters for a while — Patchen wrote her love poems. They got married in 1934. A few years later, when Patchen was just 26 years old, he suffered a terrible spinal injury while he was helping a friend separate two collided cars. He spent the rest of his life in severe pain, and went through three surgeries. The first two surgeries were helpful, and increased his mobility, so he was able to tour the country and give poetry readings. He partnered with Charles Mingus and the Chamber Jazz Sextet, and he set his poetry to jazz music, for performances and recordings.

But during the last surgery, something went wrong and Patchen fell off the operating table and permanently ruined his back. He was bedridden for the rest of his life, but he continued to write and paint in bed. He said: “It happens that very often my writing with pen is interrupted by my writing with brush, but I think of both as writing. In other words, 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.”

During his career, Patchen wrote more than 40 books of poetry and prose, much of it illustrated, including The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941), The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer (1945), The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen (1960), and But Even So: Picture Poems (1968). He dedicated every book to Miriam.

In 1945, two journalists published an article called “The Most Mysterious People in the Village,” about the life of Kenneth and Miriam Patchen. Miriam told the journalists that her husband was “absolutely impossible until he’s had a whole pot of coffee in the morning.” They wrote about visiting Kenneth Patchen’s bedroom: “The bed was massive and so was the man. He wore a faded gray sweatshirt with washed-out blue cuffs and pocket. The shirt was tucked into the waistband of black woolen trousers that were frayed at the cuffs. Patchen wore blue, maroon and tan Argyle socks, but no shoes. His body seemed muscular and powerful; his face delicate and sensitive. His skin was white and his eyes were a deep blue-gray.”

Years later, Miriam described their daily routine: “I’d be up earliest, go for the paper, read it. He’d awaken later, having finally gotten to sleep, have breakfast and look at the news, then get to work. ‘Get to work’ meant writing in bed, lying down. The upright sitting position was painful for him, then. I’d read, wash clothes, house clean, take coffee to him frequently. When we had almost no money life was the same as when we had a little. At 12th Street we always had the rent and money for utilities. With an advance from Mr. Padell we bought a couple windsor-style chairs, one easy chair and a table. What elegance those pieces gave to the doll house.”

Kenneth Patchen died in 1972, at the age of 60. Miriam Patchen remained a champion of leftist causes as well as her late husband’s poetry, and collaborated on his biography Kenneth Patchen: Rebel Poet in America (2000), by Larry R. Smith. Miriam Patchen died in 2000 at the age of 85, sitting up in a chair, reading.

Kenneth Patchen said, “It’s always because we love that we are rebellious; it takes a great deal of love to give a damn one way or another what happens from now on: I still do.”

The well-curated store No. 1: Hermitage Beacon of Brooklyn

First in an occasional series, as part of a general Arthur effort to combat the ongoing, escalating de-bookshopping of our planet by bringing attention to particular exquisite stores’ existence and reason for being…


From the Hermitage Beacon website:

Hermitage is located in Beacon NY alongside the Hudson River 60 miles north of Manhattan. The actual structure is a house nearly 100 years old. It resides between a Spanish church and two coal silos no longer in use. In the near background lies a defunct railroad track and a creek which empties out into the Hudson. Mt. Beacon stands in the background of all this. This description was a signal to come here and plant seeds.

What is Hermitage?

Hermitage is a context. It was created from a lack of situations and spaces where books, art, & culture are gathered, displayed, and presented in a way that goes further than curation. The feeling is more of intention. To create a space that a specific one would choose to be a part of instead of remaining quiet for lack there of.

As a bookshop the focus is heavy on American poetry between the 1950s-60s. The small press movement that centered around the Don Allen-edited anthology “The New American Poetry” published by Grove Press in 1960 is heavily represented here. American Luminaries such as Robinson Jeffers and Kenneth Patchen who preceded these poets are represented here. American underground renegades who didn’t fit into a grouping like Wallace Berman and d.a. levy are represented here. The feeling of what has been done in America in the 20th Century that is beautiful and against restraint of conforming to conservative social, political and religious norms is present here. European writing from the early to mid 20th Century in original tongue and translations are given a space alongside in their influence and relation. Art monographs and books designed by visual artists who were tapped into poets and correspondence amongst poets and other artists are found here.

The idea behind running a bookshop like this is to hand pick every book that is chosen to a part of a collection, and made available to anyone who may walk through the door. To shed light on materials that should be seen. An area of Hermitage is designated to exhibits on specific Presses, Books, and moments in time related to the collection, and having them right alongside the bookshop. Artists working in the form and concept of the book, and making new worthy additions to this tradition are given shows here to be a part of this lineage. Close comrade and maker of books, Kensie Duffy currently working in this area, has stated his two primary principles in his book works to be “modesty & dignity”.

“Yes I’ll Buy That”

Modesty and dignity are two principles that are key to the practice of Hermitage.

– Jon Beacham. Proprietor.

Official Hermitage Beacon website: hermitagebeacon.com