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Monday, August 11, 2014

Kenneth Patchen

"I don't consider myself to be a painter.  I think of myself as someone who has used the medium of painting in an attempt to extend — give an extra dimension to — the medium of words.  It happens very often my writing with a pen is interrupted with my writing with a brush — but I think of both as writing."

American Poet, Novelist
1911 - 1972

We define ourselves with labels.  "I am a painter.  What are you?"  "I am a poet."  We are born into this world without labels and when we die, our obituaries tell the world that we were lawyers, doctors, merchants or candlestick makers.

Kenneth Patchen
In my profile I list many of the labels that have defined me over the years:  a carpenter, street sweeper, car hop, corn detasseler, hospital orderly, radio announcer, blogger, book editor, publisher, freelance writer, bus driver, sports writer, bookkeeper, policy and procedures writer, forms designer, marketing vice-president, corporate executive, professional speaker, facilitator, salesman, trainer, poet, storyteller, organizational development consultant, ad writer and communications executive.  And that is the short list.

What labels have you given yourself?  What labels have others given you?  Do these labels define you?  Do the labels tell the world who you are?  Do your labels limit you or expand the boundaries of who you are?  Do the labels allow others to place you in a cubbyhole?  To limit your creativity?

Do you ever judge people by their labels?  "Oh, he is just a bus driver?  A street sweeper?  A garbage collector?...."

Patchen said that he is not a painter.  He is a writer who has given an added dimension to his writing.  He has extended the boundary of the label beyond how most people define it.

Kenneth Patchen
Kenneth Patchen, the son of Wayne and Eva Patchen, was born in Niles, Ohio.  His father worked in the steel mills.  He had four sisters and a brother.  His younger sister, Kathleen, was killed in an automobile accident when he was a teenager.  Patchen developed an interest in literature and writing while in high school.  He attended the University of Wisconsin for one year on a football scholarship but dropped out after a spinal injury.

After dropping out, Patchen traveled to the east coast and met his future wife, Miriam Oikemus, in Boston.  They were married in 1934 in Pennsylvania.  As Patchen attempted to make a living writing, the couple moved frequently between the east and west coasts.  He permanently injured his spine fixing a friend's car in 1937.  He underwent multiple surgical procedures and spent the rest of his life in severe pain.  In later life, Patchen created may of his painted poems while confined to bed because of his back surgeries.  
Patchen's first book of poetry, Before the Brave, was published by Random House when he was 25.  His Collected Poems was published in 1969 when he was 58.  Patchen was friends with James Laughlin, e.e. cummings,  and Kenneth Rexroth.  Patchen influenced both Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Many of Patchen's creative works blurred the lines between poetry, painting and jazz.  He collaborated with jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus.  

Here is Kenneth Patchen reading his poem, In Order To.