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Collecting Kenneth Patchen’s poetry

February’s top 10 most expensive sales on AbeBooks included a ultra-rare $7,500 limited edition of The Moment by American poet Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972).

The book was sold by Kim Herzinger of Left Bank Books from New York and Kim was kind enough to explain further why book collectors are fascinated with this enigmatic poet.

Kim writes:

“Kenneth Patchen’s poetry and fiction – and especially his ‘painted poems’ – are now bought and collected for many reasons.

“Like William Carlos Williams, Henry Miller, Kenneth Rexroth, and New Directions’ James Laughlin – all of whom were early champions of his work – Patchen was a kind of ‘godfather’ to the Beat writers of the 1950s and 60s. He was a visionary writer and artist, whose experiments in the ways that poetry could be presented – merged with painting and drawing, like William Blake, or merged with jazz, like Rexroth, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti – opened up new possibilities for the poets of that period. His work offered the Beats yet another way of making poetry central to the sense of unbinding energies that they were so intent upon making available to a culture they felt had become stifling, stale, and predictable in the post-war years.

“His ‘painted poems,’ of which The Moment is one of the finest and scarcest of all of his efforts (all of which were published in extremely small editions), are particularly desirable – for those interested in poetry, of course, but also for those who recognize in his gorgeous, vivid, and compelling drawings and paintings an artist whose work bears comparison with Klee, Dubuffet, American Folk Artists, and graffitists.

“The copy of Patchen’s The Moment recently sold by Left Bank Books, came out in 1955 in a printing of only 42 copies, and gathers together two of Patchen’s 1955 most important books of illustrated poems, Glory Never Guesses and A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player. It contains 36 serigraph broadsides plus two additional serigraphs on the title page and verso (a poem to his wife, Miriam) all of which are printed in various brilliant and delightful colors on rice paper. It had originally been owned by well-known poet-critic Stanley Burnshaw.

“Interest in Patchen will only continue to increase, as interest in the Beats and what they now have come to represent in the development of American life and culture, continues unabated, and also because his art work is recognizable in tendencies evident in the styles and forms of contemporary art.”

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