We Meet

We Meet collects five hard to find volumes by Kenneth Patchen, an oft-cited but woefully under-discussed poet and one of the masters of post-war verse; in the words of Ron Silliman, Patchen was "one of the most important of the neglectorinos of the last century." His work was also something of a singular event—;eccentric, funny, ruthlessly inquisitive both in form and content, it has no obvious antecedent. Yet from Patchen—for all that he might have been an anachronism during his lifetime—we can trace the beginnings of jazz poetry, the Beats, soft surrealism, Bob Dylan, and today’s visual poets. (A companion volume to We Meet, titled The Walking-Away World, collects Patchen’s "painted poems" and is also available from New Directions.) Singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart delivers a cheerfully quixotic introduction, neatly summing up Patchen’s charm: "This is poetry and art explored through the language of possibility, wisdom and humor. Within these pages, mystery becomes little cartoon legs with a cosmic giggle for a head." Patchen could move from boundless humor (from I Am the Chicken: "but do I have to look like a cow / just because I like everybody?") to fervent imagining (the magnificent Letter to God: "the wing is burning wing is burning O burn the wing for the wing is burning / My heart is not in the things here") with grace. His ardent pacifism and "agonized pity," as well as his distrust of the rich and bewilderment at consumerism, inform much of the work, though it never seems aged.

An accident in his twenties left Patchen immobile and bedridden until his death at sixty-one; most of the poems in this volume were composed within those confines, though one hardly recognizes that fact, so immense is his imagination. We Meet restores to us the essential Patchen, profoundly sane and possessed of acute compassion and vast knowing. From the end of "Because Going Nowhere Takes a Long Time":

Ah, alas, dear Toppilo, what then is this realm
 that seems
So like a cell, without jailer or judge, or witness
And that we love! is that not proof of something!
No, I admit-not necessarily of heaven...

This book review originally appeared in American Poets.