In 1957, Henry Miller wrote: "Kenneth Patchen is now and will remain one of the outstanding figures in American letters." A lot of writers championed Patchen in his time - including TS Eliot, ee cummings and WH Auden. But since his death in 1972, his name has started to slide into oblivion. In a life rendered an agony by a spinal injury in his youth, he published over 40 books of verse and prose, was a pioneer in the poetry and jazz movement of the 1950s and fused his skills as a wordsmith and painter, creating what has been rather leadenly described as the Picture Poem. An exhibition of these at the Poetry Library (Royal Festival Hall, SE1, to 28 June) will reveal a complex vision - enchanted landscapes offering sanctuary from the violence he saw all around him. A talk tonight at the Tate Gallery, featuring the San Franciscan poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, should serve as a valuable, if belated, introduction to this remarkable individual.
Dominic CavendishReuse content