The Written Image: Kenneth Patchen

From the January/February 2012 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Commemorating the centennial of poet Kenneth Patchen’s birth, the University of Rochester in New York is hosting An Astonished Eye: The Art of Kenneth Patchen, the largest-ever exhibition of the genre-defying writer’s visual work. Patchen, who died in 1972, “blurred the boundary between print and art,” says curator Richard Peek, and approached art-making from a holistic perspective, creating hundreds of painted books,

silk-screened broadsides, and “picture-poems,” such as the untitled work above, with a vivid lyricism that echoes his written work. For a brief period in the late 1950s, he also branched out into music, touring the country with performances of his poetry-jazz hybrid until he suffered debilitating spinal damage during a surgical operation. Bedridden for over a decade, Patchen continued to work on his paintings and poems through the remainder of his life, infusing his art with, as Peek puts it, “a strong moral voice driven by a wild imagination.” An Astonished Eye is open to the public through January 5 at the Rare Books and Special Collections section of Rush Rhees Library on the university’s main campus. For more information and to view selections from the exhibit, visit Outside Rochester, Patchen’s artwork is part of special collections at the library of the University of California in Santa Cruz and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, and also has been archived on film: Last February Kenneth Patchen: An Art of Engagement, highlighting the words and images of the poet, was released on DVD by Bottom Dog Press.