Kenneth Patchen exhibition

Kenneth Patchen exhibition

Controversial 20th-century poet-painter
September 22, 2011

On September 22nd, the University of Rochester opens the largest-ever exhibition of the graphic art of Kenneth Patchen, the controversial 20th-century poet-painter who pioneered the anti-novel, concrete poetry,  poetry-jazz, and picture-poems.

Held during the centennial of Patchen’s birth, the exhibit  presents a striking collection of more than 200 painted books, silk-screen broadsides, picture poems, paintings, photographs and inscribed first editions. The show pays tribute to a prolific artist whose work gained widespread attention and whose readings of poetry  accompanied with jazz were a phenomenon in the 1950s.  Published from the  1930s through 1972, Patchen writings have been labeled as Romantic,  Proletarian, Socialist, Surrealist, Dadaist, and Beat, but ultimately defy easy  categorization.

Infuriating to critics and largely ignored by academics,  Patchen nevertheless has been lauded as “the best poet American literary  expressionism can show” by Poet Laureate James Dickey and as “all that a poet should represent” by novelist and painter Henry Miller. His boosters, including James Laughlin, Kenneth Rexroth, and e.e..cummings,  "would constitute a  Who’s Who in 20th century American letters,” writes exhibit curator  Richard Peek, director of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University  of Rochester.

Patchen’s was an unconventional life, one committed to art,  social justice, pacifism, and to his wife and muse Miriam, to whom he dedicated  all of his books and love poems. But it was also marred by a back injury at age  26, complications of which eventually left him bed-ridden and poverty-stricken  during the last dozen years of his life.


The exhibit is open through January 5, 2012, and can be viewed in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department on the 2nd floor of Rush Rhees Library, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.



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