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Guide to the Kenneth Patchen Papers
MS 160  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Accruals
  • Alternative Forms of Material Available
  • Biographical Note
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Contents Note
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material
  • Separated Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Kenneth Patchen papers,
    Date (bulk): 1929-1989, (bulk 1929-1972)
    Collection number: MS 160
    Creator: Patchen, Kenneth
    Extent: 35 linear feet and 151 painted poems
    Repository: University of California, Santa Cruz. University Library. Special Collections and Archives
    Santa Cruz, California 95064
    Abstract: This collection contains biographical material, correspondence, manuscripts, bound first editions, rare silkscreen and painted book editions, painted poems, works of art including illustrations, paintings, papier-mâché sculptures and decorated furniture, scrapbooks, photographs, slides, recordings, musical scores, and clippings documenting the creative work and literary spirit of Kenneth Patchen, as well as personal triumphs and struggles shared with his wife Miriam Patchen.
    Physical location: Stored in Special Collections & Archives: Advance notice is required for access to the papers.
    Language: English.


    Collection is open for research.
    Access to Series 6: Painted Poems is restricted due to physical condition. Access to Series 4: Painted Books: In Peaceable Caves is also restricted. Please consult the Head of Special Collections and Archives for more information.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the University of California. For literary rights and permission to publish or to reproduce the material, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    Kenneth Patchen papers. MS 160. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Acquisition Information

    Collection purchased from Miriam Patchen over a ten year period between 1975-1985.


    Additions to the archive acquired through various auction houses and gifts between 1980-1997;
    A generous donation from the Friends of the Library enabled a purchase of Richard Wirtz Emerson outgoing correspondence in June 1988.
    Small gifts received from Laurence Ferlinghetti , consisting of two letters from Kenneth Patchen to Laurence Ferlinghetti, and a painted book Hurrah for Anything , 1989; The Echoes, 1929, Warren G. Harding High School Yearbook from Vivian Pemberton , 1988; Framed painting from Allan and Donna Campo , 1995; Framed silkscreen print from Lynda M. Akin, 1999

    Alternative Forms of Material Available

    The Painted Poems are fragile. Researchers are required to view reproduction slide, or photo print copies. Transparencies are available for publishing purposes only.
    Restricted access to Painted Book In Peaceable Caves. Microfilm is available for research use.

    Biographical Note

    Kenneth Patchen lived in "the era of the are-nothings who have it all".
    Kenneth Patchen's life was a celebration of love of poetry and of his wife, Miriam.
    The deep-seated love of words, their rhythms and meanings, started at the early age of 12 and lasted over five decades. During these creative years, he was constantly driven to expand and challenge the boundaries of the literary landscape. The over forty volumes of prose and poetry cover expressive nuances from a grave commentary on the world's social conditions to lighthearted tales, from traditionally composed verse to illustrated poems.
    He spoke of abhorrence towards injustice and cruelty of men,
    "From my high love I look at that poor world there;

    I know that murder is the first prince in that tribe."
    of compassion towards all living things,
    "Every man is me, I am his brother.

    No man is my enemy. I am everyman and he is in and of me.

    This is my faith, my strength, my deepest hope, and my only belief."
    and of an enduring faith in the survival of beauty,
    "Who'll that be,

    Your little sleepy wren?

    Feathers as pretty as a snowfall's shirt...

    O, airfolk at their courtin',

    Angelwalkin' on th' sea,

    O my little honey, you wonder me."
    His final feat was the 'Painted Poems', his visually charged odes to life.
    Kenneth Frederick Patchen was born in Warren, Ohio, on Dec 13, 1911 to Wayne and Eva Patchen. He was the third child of six children. His father was a steelworker with a quiet Presbyterian demeanor and mother Eva, a devout Catholic of Scottish descent. Surrounded by the industrial milieu, Patchen became aware early on of the hardships of the American working-class families. He witnessed the violent Youngstown steel strike of 1916-1917, and experienced the death of his two sisters. Poetry became his emotional outlet.
    Patchen graduated from Warren G. Harding High School in 1929 after four active years of excellence in scholarship and competitive sport. His formal education continued for another year and a half. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Alexander Meiklejohn's Experimental College and at Commonwealth College before setting out "on a road" in 1930. He drifted around in United States and Canada working menial jobs, but always writing.
    In 1934 Patchen married Miriam Oikemus. They had met a year earlier at a Christmas party. She was 17, he was 21. The poet's love affair with his wife was enduring, lasting for 38 years. Though he dedicated all his published works to Miriam, his devotion is more evident in the numerous poems written to and about her;
    "23rd Street Runs into Heaven"
    You stand near the window as lights wink

    On along the street. Somewhere a trolley, taking

    Shop girls and clerks home, clatters through

    To find the garbage cans sealed; newsboys

    Begin their murder-into-pennies round.
    We are shut in, secure for a little, safe until

    Tomorrow. You slip your dress off, roll down

    Your stockings, carful against runs. Naked now,

    With soft light on soft flesh, you pause

    For a moment; turn and face me-

    Smile in a way that only women know

    Who have lain long with their lover

    And are made more virginal.
    Our supper is plain but we are very wonderful.
    The first years of their marriage, from the mid 1930's until 1947, were spent in an avant-garde setting of Greenwich Village, New York. There the world saw the publication of Patchen's most renowned work, The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941), an antiwar novel, in which he plainly declared his pacifistic beliefs, condemning all war efforts of the time. Patchen remembers "I was the only poet of reputation who took an unequivocal position against the war". Even though his pacifist tone during the WW II earned him the hostility of many, he regained his popularity among the youth in the 1960's, who were openly rising up against the war in Vietnam.
    Patchen's early writings were shaped by the European modern literary movements. Influenced by poets Guillaume Apollinaire and F. T. Marinetti, his writing became rich with nonlinear representations of words stimulated with visual accents, varied typefaces, lettering and imagery. The departure from the traditional typesetting techniques appeared already in his second book First Will and Testament (1939). Throughout the 1940's, Patchen continued to develop the spatial orientation and combination of pictorial elements in his works, as seen in The Cloth of Tempest (1941), Pictures of Life and Death (1946), and Sleepers Awake (1945).
    During the 1950's Patchen's writing became less oppressive and filled with angst. The change of tone is first seen with the publishing of Fables (1953). Miriam and Kenneth had just recently moved to San Francisco, and the new location appears to have played a role in Patchen's more humorous and optimistic writing style. Also, color appears in his works in the form of painted book and silkscreen editions, and the painted poems. Their artistry was later recognized by many prestigious museums including The Oakland Museum, Oakland, California; Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC; Dokumenta of Modern Art, Kassel, Germany, which exhibited these works between 1970-1990.
    The Painted Book series initially began out of economical necessity in 1942. Unable to publish an expensive fine print edition of The Dark Kingdom, Patchen's aesthetic concerns propelled him to create individually designed and hand-painted book covers. There were a total of nine titles, ranging from 50 to 108 copies each, made of these handsome one of a kind covers.
    The silkscreen portfolio editions, Glory Never Guesses (1955), and A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player (1956) represent Patchen's creative midpoint, illustrated poems that stretch the boundaries of a traditional book format. The unbound editions were produced from the original manuscript pages screened onto handmade Japanese paper in a variety of textures and colors. A total of 200 copies were hand printed by Patchen's friend printer Frank Bacher in San Francisco.
    Patchen's most visually stunning work, the Painted Poems, surfaced during his most physically trying time in the 1960's. In these streamlined poems populated with imaginative creatures, Patchen spoke increasingly of beauty, humor and fun. A mood of anger and despair at human cruelty is present but doesn't dominate the material. The poems incorporate a wide array of colors, heavy with tempera and paper pasted laid onto an old handmade rag paper. The sheets, dating back to Napoleonic France, were originally used to press botanical specimens. Patchen received the rag paper from John Tate, a botanist at Stanford, who had rescued them from being thrown away. Miriam recalls that the painting format of the poems grew out of Kenneth's pure awe towards the beauty of the paper itself. He finished approximately 200 individual manuscript pages of the painted poems during his life. Even left over paper was utilized. Patchen molded the scraps into papier-mâché creatures, or "an-imals", as the couple called them.
    Kenneth Patchen's medical history was a nightmare. He spend most of his life in severe back pain which resulted from a spinal injury in 1937 when he tried to help separate two collided cars. The injury was first wrongly diagnosed as arthritis. Later he found out that the pain was caused by a slipped disc. He underwent spinal surgery in the 1950's, which finally brought relief for a period of three years, from 1956-1959. During these pain-free years he toured in the United States and Canada doing poetry readings to jazz, an art form he pioneered back in 1938. Allyn Ferguson, a musician and a bandleader, had discovered Patchen's early experimentations of poetry to jazz music in 1957. Ferguson remembers, "When I finally met Patchen at Stanford, I suggested that his poems and our sounds might make interesting recordings. We opened at the Black Hawk as a tryout for an album, and wowed the audience." The two men recorded "Kenneth Patchen Reads His Poetry With the Chamber Jazz Sextet" under Cadence Records in 1958.
    After a corrective surgery gone wrong in 1959, Patchen was confined to bed for the last thirteen years of his life. The couple had moved to Palo Alto, California, where their lives became a constant battle against physical pain and isolation. In spite of the struggles, Patchen continued to write and paint until his final days. On January 8, 1972, Kenneth Patchen died of heart failure leaving behind a rich legacy of a poet-artist, pacifist-proletarian values. He was the champion of anti-novels, concrete poetry, tales and verses, as well as a pioneer of painted poems, and poetry with jazz.
    Further reading:
    • Smith, Larry R. Kenneth Patchen. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978. (Twayne's United States Authors Series Number 292.) Critical biographical study with bibliography.
    • Morgan, Richard G. Kenneth Patchen: A Bibliography. Mamroneck, New York: Paul P. Appel, 1978.
    • Morgan, Richard G., editor. Kenneth Patchen: A Collection of Essays. New York: AMS Press Inc., 1977.
    • Veres, Peter. The Argument of Innocence: A Selection from the Arts of Kenneth Patchen. Oakland, California: The Scrimshaw Press, 1976.
    • Detro, Gene. Patchen: The Last Interview. Santa Barbara, California: Capra Press, 1976 (Capra Chapbook Series Number 40)
    • Patchenobelia: from the Archives of Kenneth Patchen at UCSC.   Web Exhibit.



    1911 Born December 13th in Niles, Ohio to Wayne and Eva Patchen, third of six children. His father, Wayne Patchen, was a steelworker and Protestant; mother Eva McQuade Patchen raised children as Catholic. Ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland, and France.
    1926-1929 Attends Warren G. Harding High School; Active in football and track team, debate club, orchestra, and part of yearbook and school newspaper staff.
    1929 Worked in a steel mill to earn money for college.

    Poem Permanence accepted for New York Times.

    Attends University of Wisconsin in Alexander Meilejohn's Experimental College for one year.
    1930 Attends a semester at Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas.
    1930-1933 Patchen set "on the road", traveling in U.S. and Canada writing, reading, and working odd jobs as migrant field worker, janitor, and caretaker.
    1932 Poem Lenin published in magazine Rebel Poet.

    Worked in a rubber factory in Boston where befriended writers Conrad Aiken, John Wheelwright, and Malcolm Cowley
    1934 Married Miriam Oikemus on June 28th. Moved to Greenwich Village where they live in a small apartment while he writes poetry, reviews for New Republic and works on the WPA's writer's project on the New York Guide Book.
    1935 Patchens moved to artist cottage in Rhinebeck, New York.
    1936 Before the Brave , first book of poems published by Random House.

    Receives a Guggenheim Fellowship.

    Moves to Phoenix, then Santa Fe.
    1937 Patchens in Los Angeles working on film scripts and WPA writer's project.

    First serious back trouble after helping to release cars in an accident.
    1938 Patchens returned to Concord, Mass.

    Met James Laughlin and Ezra Pound
    1939 Moved to Laughlin's place in Norfolk, Conn., where he did accounting and Miriam shipping for New Directions Publishers.

    First Will and Testament , and story Bury Them in God published by New Directions
    1940 Returned to Greenwich Village. Befriends with e.e. cummings, Henry Miller, Robert Duncan, Maxwell Bodenheim, and Kenneth Rexroth.

    Throughout the 1940's Patchen's writings appear in anarchist-pacifist publication such as Illuminati, Ark, Retort, Now, Contour, Experimental Review
    1941 The Journal of Albion Moonlight , Patchen's pacifist anti-novel published through subscription sales with Walpole Printing; book launched at Gotham Book Mart, New York.
    1942 The Dark Kingdom , first of 'painted book' series with individually painted covers by the author.

    The Teeth of The Lion , collection of poems published by New Directions in Poet of the Month Series.

    Collaborated with John Cage on a radio play City Wears a Slouch Hat; first airing May 31st.
    1943 Cloth of the Tempest , a book of poems and drawings published by Harper Brothers.

    Won Ohioana Award.

    Back injury kept Patchen out of war, and remained a loud conscientious objector.
    1945 Memoir of a Shy Pornographer , an anti-novel published by New Directions.
    1946 An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air , poems published by Walport C.O. Camp.

    Outlaw of the Lowest Planet , poems published by Grey Walls Press, London.

    Sleepers Awake, anti-novel published by Padell.

    Pictures of Life and Death , poems published by Padell.

    They Keep Riding Down All the Time , prose published by Padell.

    Henry Miller's Patchen: Man of Anger and Light, the first substantial literary criticism of Patchen.
    1947 To Say If You Love Someone , selected love poems published by Decker Press.

    Patchens lived at Old Lyme, Conn.
    1948 See You in the Morning , prose published by Padell.

    CCLXXIV Poems, published by Padell.
    1949 Red Wine and Yellow Hair , poems published by New Directions.
    1950 Writers Committee (T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, Marianne Moore etc.) raised funds for Patchen's first major spinal operation.

    Jonathan Williams transcribed Fables at Old Lyme.
    1951 Moved to San Francisco's North Beach area.
    1952 Orchards, Thrones, and Caravans , poems published by The Print Workshop, San Francisco.
    1953 Fables and Other Little Tales , prose published by Jonathan Williams.
    1954 Receives Shelley Memorial Award.

    Poems of Humor and Protest published by City Lights Pocket Poets series with a poet-friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

    The Famous Boating Party , prose poems published by New Directions.
    1955 Glory Never Guesses , silkscreen portfolio of poems and drawings reproduced by Frank Bacher.
    1956 Moved to Palo Alto, California.

    Spinal fusion at Palo Alto Clinic.

    Surprise for the Bagpipe Player , silkscreen portfolio reproduced by Frank Bacher.
    1957 Poetry-jazz movement launched, reading with jazz groups up and down the West Coast until 1959.

    Hurrah For Anything , drawings-and-poems published by Jonathan Williams.

    We Were Here Together , poems published by New Directions.

    The Selected Poems , enlarged edition published by New Directions.

    Kenneth Patchen Reads With The Chamber Jazz Sextet , recording released by Cadence Records.
    1958 Poemscapes, prose poems published by Jonathan Williams.
    1959 Kenneth Patchen Reads With Jazz in Canada , recording with Alan Neil Quartet released by Folkways Records.

    Don't Look Now, jazz-play premiered by The Troupe Theater in Palo Alto.

    "Surgical Mishap" leaves Patchen in pain and almost completely bedridden for the rest of his life.
    1960 Because It Is, poems-and drawings published by New Directions.

    The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen , published by City Lights.

    Inspired by an ancient rag paper given by Stanford biologist Norman Thomas; began new work on picture-poems.
    1961 Kenneth Patchen Reads His Love Poems , recording released by Folkways Records.

    Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen, recording released by Folkways Records.
    1966 Hallelujah Anyway , picture poems published by New Directions.

    Doubleheader, published by New Directions. [Compilation of "Hurrah for Anything", "Poemscapes",and "A Letter to God"]
    1967 Receives $10,000 award from the National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities for "life-long contribution to American letters"
    1968 But Even So, picture-poems published by New Directions.

    Collected Poems, published by New Directions.
    1969 One man art show at Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C.

    "Homage to Kenneth Patchen", an article in The Outsider (1968-1969).
    1970 Aflame And Afun Of Walking Faces , selection from Fables with drawings, published by New Directions.
    1971 Wonderings, picture-poems and drawing poems published by New Directions.
    1972 Dies of heart attack on January 8 in Palo Alto home.

    Memorial Reading at City Lights Poets Theatre, February 2nd with Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Al Young, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Morton Marcus, etc.

    In Quest Of Candlelighters containing two prose works, Panels for the Walls of Heaven and They Keep Riding Down All the Time, published by New Directions.

    The Journal Of Albion Moonlight, recording released by Folkways Records.

    Posthumous Years:

    1975 University of California, Santa Cruz purchases Kenneth Patchen papers.
    1976 The Argument of Innocence: A Selection from the Graphic Arts of Kenneth Patchen , ed. Peter Veres; foreword by Miriam Patchen, published by Scrimshaw Press.

    Patchen: The Last Interview with Gene Detro; an afterword by Henry Miller, published by Capra Press.
    1977 Patchen's Lost Plays ( Don't Look Now and The City Wears a Slouch Hat) published by Capra Press.

    Kenneth Patchen: A Collection of Critical Essays , ed. Richard Morgan.

    Tribute to Kenneth Patchen, Enithatmon Press, England.
    1978 Kenneth Patchen, first critical biography by Larry Smith.
    1980 Still Another Pelican in the Breadbox ; early writings, Pig Iron Press, Youngstown.
    1984 What Shall We Do Without Us , picture-poems in full color published by Sierra Club Books.
    1987 Kenneth Patchen exhibitions in Warren, Ohio, and Kassel, Germany.
    1997 Patchen tribute at the Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
    1998 Exhibition of pictures at Poetry Library, London; and Event at the Tate Gallery, London.
    1999 Exhibition of silkscreen prints at Centro Studi Americani in Rome.
    2000 Kenneth Patchen : Rebel Poet in America , authorised biography by Larry Smith, published by Bottom Dog Press.

    Scope and Contents Note

    The Kenneth Patchen Papers contains biographical material, including obituaries, awards, legal documents, papers relating to poetry-jazz and exhibit activities, and various printed material written about Patchen; a substantial collection of outgoing and incoming correspondence covering 1930-1970; manuscripts, including incomplete and complete holographs and typescripts to most of his published works, as well as some printer and galley proofs, notebooks and miscellany notes; published works including first editions, limited painted book and silkscreen print editions; some 150 painted poems; collection of art work, including drawings, illustrations, watercolor and mix media paintings, as well as sculptures and decorative furniture; scrapbooks filled with book reviews and book advertisements of Patchen's early works, and clippings of the poetry-jazz movement; some 80 black & white photographs; music scores written to Patchen's text; sound recordings in cassette, record and reel-to-reel format; and artifacts. Bulk of the material ranges from 1929-1972.
    Of particular interest is a sizeable set of correspondence from James Laughlin of New Directions covering over five decades of publisher-author relationship with the Patchens from the 1940's through 1984; Incoming correspondence from Patchen's poet friend e.e. cummings and his wife Marion dating from 1952 until cummings' death in 1962; Henry Miller's letters of support to Kenneth during his early literary endeavors in 1940's; Holograph manuscript pages and galley proofs to Patchen's most renown prose works The Journal of Albion Moonlight and Sleepers Awake; the only known copy of In Peaceable Caves; Some 150 colorful and one-of-a kind Painted Poems, which were created during the latter part of the poet's life summarizing Patchen's artistic and philosophical vision.
    Also noteworthy is the material documenting the poetry-jazz movement in the late 1950's, which includes personal correspondence from Kenneth to his wife Miriam while touring with Chamber Jazz Sextet in Los Angeles and in Canada, and Harry Redl's photographs that capture the performance atmosphere at Black Hawk. Included also are rare recorded releases of Patchen reading his poetry with Chamber Jazz Sextet and Alan Neil Quartet.
    The material is organized into nineteen series.
    • Series 1. Biographical Material, 1929-1989.
    • Series 2. Correspondence, ca. 1929-1984.
    • Series 3. Manuscripts, ca. 1940-1971.
    • Series 4. Painted Books, 1942-1958.
    • Series 5. Silkscreen Prints, 1955-1956.
    • Series 6. Painted Poems, 1961-1971.
    • Series 7. Works of Art, undated.
    • Series 8. Postcards, 1958-1968.
    • Series 9. Published works, 1935-1977.
    • Series 10. Scrapbooks, 1935-1965.
    • Series 11. Publicity, 1939-1974.
    • Series 12. Photographs, ca. 1946-1980.
    • Series 13. Transparencies, 1965-1970, ca 1980.
    • Series 14. Negatives, ca. 1946-1970.
    • Series 15. Music Scores, 1947-1985.
    • Series 16. Sound Recordings, 1957-1978
    • Series 17. Microfilm, 1965.
    • Series 18. Artifacts, undated.
    • Series 19. Miscellany, ca. 1940
    Correspondence, manuscripts and painted poems series represent the largest portion of the primary material. Additional descriptive details are included within each series.
    The Kenneth Patchen Papers is the primary collection of the Kenneth Patchen Archive, which also includes the Chester Kessler Papers, James Boyer May Correspondence, Alan and Beatrice Collection, William Plumley Collection, William M. Roth Correspondence, Kathryn Winslow Collection, Johnny Wittwer Papers, and the Fred Wright Correspondence. Additional collections are being processed and will be added as finished.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Patchen, Kenneth Papers.
    Authors, American--20th century
    Poets, American--20th century
    Poets, American--20th century--Correspondence
    Painting, American--20th century
    American poetry--20th century--Readings with music.

    Other Index Terms Related to this Collection

    Patchen, Kenneth,1911-1972--Kenneth Patchen archive
    Patchen, Miriam.
    Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962.
    Cummings, Marion M.
    Ferlinghetti, Lawrence.
    Ferguson, Allyn.
    Laughlin, James, 1914-.
    Miller, Henry, 1891-.
    Pfeffer, Max.
    Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972.
    Redl, Harry.
    Russell, Bertrand, 1872-1970.
    Russell, Sanders.
    Williams, Jonathan, 1929-.
    New Directions Publishing Corp.

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Biography files.
    Works of Art.
    Sound Recordings.

    Related Material

    In addition to the Kenneth Patchen Papers, the Kenneth Patchen Archive includes the following related collections.

    Additional Kenneth Patchen Archive collections

    Additional information can be found in these related collections held by other repositories

    Separated Material

    Books have been cataloged separately.

    Cassettes and Reel-to-reel tapes have been re-formatted and cataloged separately.

    Microfilm has been transferred to Microfilm Collection in Special Collections and Archives.

    Fragile documents have been separated; photocopies have been made available for research use.