Kenneth Patchen

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Kenneth Patchen (December 13, 1911 - January 8, 1972) was an American poet and novelist. Though he denied any direct connection, Patchen's work and ideas regarding the role of artists paralleled those of the Dadaists, the Beats, and Surrealists. Patchen's ambitious body of work also foreshadowed literary art-forms ranging from reading poetry to jazz accompaniment to his late experiments with visual poetry (which he called his "picture poems").[1]



Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio. His father made his living in the nearby steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio. Those mills would later be referenced in poems like "The Orange Bears" and "May I Ask You A Question, Mr. Youngstown Sheet & Tube?".[2] A major tragedy occurred in Patchen's childhood when his younger sister, Kathleen, was struck and killed by an automobile in 1926. Her death deeply affected him, and he would later pay tribute to her in a poem entitled "In Memory of Kathleen."[3]

He first began to develop his interest in literature and poetry while he was in high school, and the New York Times published his first poem while he was still in college. He attended Alexander Meiklejohn's Experimental College in Madison, Wisconsin for one year, starting in 1929. He then left school and traveled across the country, working itinerant jobs in places like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia.[4]

Next, Patchen moved to the East Coast, living in places like New York City and Boston. While he was in Boston, in 1933, he met Miriam Oikemus at a friend's Christmas party. At the time, Miriam was a college freshman at Massachusetts State College in Amherst. But the two kept in touch, and Patchen started sending her the first of many love poems. They soon fell in love and decided to get married. First Patchen took her to meet his parents in Youngstown, Ohio, then they got married on June 28, 1934 in nearby Sharon, Pennsylvania.[5]

During the 1930s the couple moved frequently between New York City's Greenwich Village and California, as Patchen struggled to make a living as a writer. However, despite his constant struggle, his strong relationship with Miriam supported him and would continue to support him through the hardships that plagued him for most of his adult life.

Indeed, a second major tragedy occurred in Patchen's life in 1937 when he suffered a permanent spinal injury while trying to fix a friend's car. This injury caused him an extreme amount of pain and required multiple surgeries. Although the first two surgeries seemed to help with some of his pain, a botched third surgery ended up leaving him in considerable pain and disabling him for life.

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