Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Poem For Tuesday

Brave Sir Robin continues to go all poetry all the time . . (not really, it has just worked out this way, I hope to have a regular post by tonight)

Today's Poet is Kenneth Patchen.

I find much of his work to be difficult. That is one of the reasons I like him. He challenges me. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he is often quoted as the inspiration for many of the Beat Poets.

He was an avid pacifist, an anarchist, poet, painter, novelist, and champion of the union movement. I'd like him even if he never wrote a thing!

He also created many "painted poems" not unlike the engravings of William Blake. The graphic above is one of them.

As I said, he can be difficult, but I find that with each new reading, meaning and understanding flesh out, and are constantly changing. This poem, to me at least, was pretty clear the first time I read it, but over the years it has never failed to reveal a bit more of itself to me.

I like to think of his work as the beautiful but shy young woman sitting in the back of the classroom. Few take the time to notice her, or to get to know her, because of all the barriers she has put up. But if you befriend her, she will start to reveal herself to you a little at a time. Never all at once, but by the end of the semester, she is your friend and you understand her. Years later, she is still one of your dearest friends, and you never cease to marvel at the new layers she has, waiting to be discovered, and at the depth of her soul.

When We Were Here Together

when we were here together in a place we did not know, nor one
A bit of grass held between the teeth for a moment, bright hair on the
What we were we did not know, nor even the grass or the flame of
hair turning to ash on the wind.
But they lied about that. From the beginning they lied. To the child,
telling him that there was somewhere anger against him, and a
hatred against him, and the only reason for his being in the
But never did they tell him that the only evil and danger was in
themselves; that they alone were the prisoners and the betrayers;
that they - they alone - were responsible for what was being done
in the world.
And they told the child to starve and to kill the child that was within
him; for only by doing this could he become a useful and adjusted
member of the community which they had prepared for him.
And this time, alas, they did not lie.
And with the death of the child was born a thing that had neither
the character of a man nor the character of a child, but was a
horrible and monstrous parody of the two; and it is in this world
now that the flesh of man’s spirit lies twisted and despoiled under
the indifferent stars.
When we were here together in a place we did not know, nor one
O green the bit of warm grass between our teeth. O beautiful the hair
of our mortal goddess on the indifferent wind.


Jennifer said...


A close friend of mine from college was named after Kenneth Patchen. I never looked up the poetry before though.

My friend Patchen was an activist, a musician, an adventurer. He never starved or killed the child within him.

The last time I saw him (and another friend, Josh), they were in Nicaragua with Patchen's father, as international observers of the elections there - volunteers from all over the world were on hand in hopes of reducing the inevitable violence of elections during wartime; the US had offered to end the war (by ceasing to fund the Contras) if the US-favored candidate won the election, although Daniel Ortega was the clear choice of the people.

I worried about Patchen, and asked him to be careful when we said goodbye on a Managua street the night he left for the more dangerous rural polling places.

He was not hurt in Nicaragua. But that night in, one could say, the place we did not know was the last time I saw him. He was killed five years later; yes, under the indifferent stars.

The story is here. It's not light reading.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Wow Jenn.

Talk about synchronicity.

You should read Patchen. Your friend was well, well named.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I just got back from reading the article.

I'm speechless.

Jennifer said...

Wow. Didn't mean to shut down your comments with my story.

It's okay, people! You can still talk about the poem!!

Bee said...

Well, Jennifer --
although it is a beautiful, worthy poem, the heartrending story of your friend Patchen does tend to move one to respectful silence.
I admit that I had to take a few hours to digest.

The article suggests that Patchen's father found a measure of peace from meeting with his son's killers; I hope that he did. Sadly, that cliched phrase "only the good die young" comes to mind here.

I like your interpretation -- or personal window -- into this poem. I was unaware of Patchen's work . . . always good to learn new things!

Brave Sir Robin said...

I was unaware of Patchen's work . . . always good to learn new things!

I fell in love with his work in High School. I am always surprised how unknown he seems to be. There is very little of his work online.

His painted poems are amazing. They would make incredible art prints to hang on a wall in a home, but they don't seem to be available anywhere.

SaoirseDaily2 said...

Hi. I have just started reading a book titled Paws & Effect The Healing Power of Dogs. Today was library day. I got alot of new released cook books & craft books. So,what are you reading? Missed you at the phyre last night.
Have a happy go lucky Friday.