Monday, November 5, 2007

Patchen's picture-poems

1960 was a very bad year for Kenneth Patchen. While he was hospitalized in late '59 for yet another back operation, he fell from the operating cart to the floor and severely damaged his spine. He was never really without pain from then on, and he was in pain when he was lying on his back, lying on his side, sitting up or standing. He and his wife Miriam went to see a Dr. Victor Richards in February, and this man apparently responded indifferently to Patchen's report of pain, implying that Patchen was exaggerating how he felt. A little later the Patchens initiated a lawsuit against Richards--and managed, through San Fran columnist Herb Caen, to get a call and a meeting with famed defense lawyer Melvin Belli. Not much came of this, and the Patchens were destitute. Eventually, on January 29, 1961, there was a "San Francisco Tribute to Kenneth Patchen" at the Marines' Memorial Theatre. Kenneth Rexroth was the master of ceremonies and readings were given by Philip Whalen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others. It was a fund raiser, although few funds were realized.

Here's the good part. Unable to work at this typewriter any longer, Patchen stopped writing conventional poems. He wrote letters and poems only in a large hand scrawl. He used pens and a paint brush. He developed his "picture poems." Miriam said later: "That's why the drawing poems and picture poems came, because he could do them relatively shortly [quickly]."

In 1960 Kenneth Patchen published Because It Is, poems-and-drawings.