Singing for the Apocalypse

 

Awash With Roses, the Collected Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen

ed. by Larry and Laura Smith, Bottom Dogs Press,

19.95 HC, ISBN: 0-933087-19-5, SC 9.95. 1997.

Every once and a while an act of  faith in the human spirit announces itself through the prevailing gloom; Awash With Roses is such a gift in this post-Gulf War pre-apocalyptic times. Editors Larry and Laura Smith have given us an enduring gift, something that will last longer than the end of the century poetry retrospectives planned by the conglomerate publishers.

Awash With Roses, by Bottom Dogs Press, contains not only over a hundred of Kenneth Patchen’s love poems but also a chronology of quotations by and about him, a biographical essay, and a chronological bibliography. As should be obvious, the emphasis is on language and time, language pushed to the maximum through lyric intensity and direct emotional registration, time as one man's history of engaged love with one woman, Miriam, and one life lived as full as we can imagine William Blake must have lived his.

As the most murderous century of all time comes to a close, we need to keep this book near. Patchen’s life encompasses the great killing time, from 1911 to 1972, two world wars (61 million casualties), Korea and Vietnam, and we need not even count the assortment of minor skirmishes of a half million deaths or less (Southern Africa, Indonesia), which are hardly worth recording given the scale of the slaughter.

What is worth going on record for is celebrating this book, this poet, this love affair, this affirmation of the ability to write love poems as no one else in the century has written it. Patchen kept the formal inventiveness of poetic language appropriate to the emotional response of his personal pain and his awareness of this brutal century of economic exploitation and war driven by industrial profit. Patchen could write poetry with a title as direct as “I Don't Want to Startle You but they are going to kill most of us” and others with words equally as real: “This is a good world. / The war has failed. /... / The snow is beautiful on the ground./ And always the lights of heaven glow / Softly down on the hair of my beloved.”

NOTE: This review was written 20 years ago, 1997. Recently, sponsored by Bottom Dogs Press, Larry and Tom Koba work have produced a film about him : Kenneth Patchen An Art of Engagement, $16.00 http://smithdocs.net ] With readings by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, commentary by Joel Lipman, discussion by Al Young, recordings of Patchen, interviews with Miriam, rare photos of Patchen and the Ohio industrial wasteland. Patchen : Poetry & Jazz, Poetry & Art, the radical and experimental novel, Working Class poetry, William Blake, visionary poetics.