Today, we are honoring the death of two poets who died on the same day, 76 years apart. American poet Kenneth Patchen died on January 8th in 1972 of unspecified causes. French poet Paul Verlaine died on this same day in 1896 at the age of 51 and is buried in the Cimetière des Batignolles.
Paul Verlaine is remembered as the leader of the symbolist poetry movement and for his metrical innovation. To put it bluntly, at the time Verlaine was writing- he was not one to color within the lines or be kept in a box. His poetry was drenched in themes of drug addiction, sex and all the wonderful vice that Paris had to offer at that time.
For awhile, Verlaine was linked romantically with outspoken poet Arthur Rimbaud. Unfortunately, this romance would lead to Verlaine shooting and injuring the younger poet and landing Verlaine in prison for 2 years.
Our favorite works by Verlaine are most definitely a collection of poems published in 1874 called Romances sans paroles and Parallèlement, published in 1889.
Now then…Kenneth Patchen… oh Kenneth, where do we even begin?! Dadaism, Beat, Surrealism… these are all words that cold be potentially used to describe Patchen’s work but Patchen himself would not have liked such a comparison.
Over the course of his career, Kenneth Patchen wrote over forty books of poetry, prose and drama, including Bury Them in God, Testament (both in 1939), The Dark Kingdom (published in a limited edition of seventy-five copies with individually painted covers in 1942) Sleepers Awake (1946) and Poemscapes (1958).
Wonderings: Picture Poems (1971) was his last work and it is by far our favorite work by him. For thirty years Patchen lived with a severe spinal ailment that caused him to be in constant physical pain. Not unlike Frida Kahlo, Patchen used to paint while confined to his bed for great lengths of time.
"It happens that very often my writing with pen is interrupted by my writing with brush, but I think of both as writing," said Patchen. "In other words, I don’t consider myself a painter. I think of myself as someone who has used the medium of painting in an attempt to extend."
Reading Patchen’s poetry is not unlike looking at a painting. It is rough, it is smooth, and at times, you’re not sure whether what you’re seeing is really an image or a glob of paint that appears to be that image. He’s difficult to categorize and his title as “Rebel Poet” holds strong even today.
We hope today you will remember these two very different poets and the legacy of style they both pioneered and left for us - the writers of today- to find and use to our advantage. Try this on for size- read one poem by Verlaine and then one by Patchen and see if you can write something in between the two!
Write on in peace Monsieur Verlaine and Mr. Patchen!
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