University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections

Kenneth Patchen Collection

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Patchen, Kenneth
Title: Kenneth Patchen Collection,
Dates: 1934-1976
Abstract: Kenneth Patchen was a pioneer in avant-garde poetry, the picture poem, and poetry jazz. The collection contains correspondence, photographs, publicity and promotional materials, books, picture-poems, sound recordings, newspaper clippings and miscellaneous items.
Identification: 1977-004
Quantity: 2 ft. : 4 boxes and 2 oversize boxes
Repository: Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Biographical Note

Kenneth Patchen, a pioneer in avant-garde poetry, the picture poem, and poetry jazz, was born on December 13, 1911 in Niles, Ohio. Patchen seemed destined to a life of physical labor in the local steel mills before a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin took him away from the industrial Ohio valley and allowed him to take part in the Alexander Meikeljohn Experimental College. After completing a year at the University of Wisconsin and a few months at the Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas, he ended his university studies and began three years of traveling and working at odd jobs.

In December of 1933, Patchen met Miriam Oikemos, an anti-war organizer and college student from Smith College, whom he married on June 28, 1934. Miriam Patchen was an active participant in her husband's endeavors, working beside him writing bibliographies and biographical sketches under the assumed name Gail Eaton. Miriam also took care of her husband during his intervals of poor health, especially during physical the decline of his last twelve years.

Patchen's first book, Before the Brave, was published in 1936. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for this work the same year.

Patchen sought to expand the experiential element of poetry and he made two significant contributions: the picture poem and poetry-jazz. The first contribution was a fusion of painting and poetry in which he combined fanciful, colorful images with his unusual verse in his childlike hand. This form, known as the picture poem, was released in portfolios filled with silk screen printings of Patchen's original art work. In the late 50s, Patchen redirected his focus from the visual realm to the audio frontier. The result was poetry-jazz ,the reading of poetry against the backdrop of jazz music.Traveling to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Patchen appeared at night clubs such as the Black Hawk, made college appearances and recorded with the Allyn Ferguson Jazz Sextet.

Kenneth Patchen's work was produced amidst constant physical pain. The pain was the result of a back injury sustained when he was twenty-six. For the rest of his life he was haunted by surgeries, misdiagnoses, surgical mishaps and suffering, which often times limited his creative explorations. Fellow poets such as T.S Eliot, Thorton Wilder, Archibald MacLeish, W.H. Auden, e.e. cummings and others banded together to set up a surgery fund for Patchen in the early fifties. A surgery in 1956 gave Patchen some relief, but a surgical mistake in 1959 left him almost completely bedridden for the rest of his life. Patchen refused to take pain medication because he felt it would dull his creative powers.

Between 1936 and the conclusion of his writing career Patchen published 43 books of poetry, prose and picture poems. Although often associated with the Beat movement, he took great care to dissassociate himself from any form of labeling. He died on January 8, 1972 in Palo Alto, California, where he and Miriam had lived for the preceding twenty years.


Smith, Larry. "Kenneth Patchen", Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 16 Detroit, Michigan: A Bruccoli Clark Book, 1983.

Morgan, Richard G. Kenneth Patchen: A Bibliography, Mamaroneck, New York: Paul P. Appel, 1978. 3-7.

Scope and Contents

The Kenneth Patchen Collection contains items which were collected by Ronald Dunkin, a friend of Miriam and Kenneth Patchen, and a fellow resident of Palo Alto, California. The collection was purchased by the University of Houston Libraries in 1977 from William P. Wreden, a book dealer in Palo Alto. The collection contains correspondence, photographs, publicity and promotional materials, books, picture-poems, sound recordings, newspaper clippings and miscellaneous items. The collection was received with chronological item descriptions composed by Ronald Dunkin. In order to facilitate access, the items in the collection were categorized according to type of material and placed by date within category. The books, publications, and sound recordings have been cataloged and are accessible through the UH Libraries' online catalog.


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use Restrictions

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, locating copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian.

Index Terms

Terms are either Library of Congress Subject Headings or taken from local sources.
Subjects (Persons)
Patchen, Kenneth, 1911-1972
Patchen, Miriam
American poetry -- 20th century
Beat generation -- Poetry

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Kenneth Patchen Collection, Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries


These items were purchased from William Wreden, a book and manuscript dealer in Palo Alto, California, in 1977. They were originally the property of Ronald Dunkin, a friend of Miriam and Kenneth Patchen.

Processed by

Jason Deal, 1997

Detailed Description


Correspondence, 1956-1976

This series is primarily comprised of correspondence between Miriam Patchen and Ronald Dunkin. There are a few letters from Kenneth Patchen as well as some brief notes from poet contemporaries of Patchen's. The letters and notes are addressed to Ronald Dunkin.
1 Auden, W.H.; Eliot, T.S.: Macleish Archibald, undated
Wilder, Thorton to .(printed) undated
Broughton, James to Dunkin, Ronald , Dec. 19, 1960
Cohen, Marty to Dunkin, Ronald, Jan. 31, 1975
Duncan, Robert to Dunkin, Ronald, Dec. 19, 1960
Duncan, Robert to Dunkin, Ronald, Jan. 9, 1961
Dunkin, Ronald to Rexroth, Kenneth, Aug. 7, 1958
Packard, William to Dunkin, Ronald, Sept. 16, 1972
Packard, William to Dunkin, Ronald, June 13, 1975
Patchen, Kenneth to Dunkin, Ronald, Dec. 27, 1957- Mar. 4, 1971
Patchen, Kenneth to [Ferlinghetti] Lawrence, July 23, 1956
Patchen, Kenneth to [unknown], Oct. 26, 1957
Patchen, Kenneth & Miriam to Dunkin, Ronald, Dec. 28, 1964- Dec. 1967
2 Patchen, Miriam to Dunkin, Ronald, 1956-1976 and undated
Whalen, Philip to Dunkin, Ronald, Dec 14, 1960


Photographs, 1957-1972

This series includes several black and white photographs which picture Kenneth Patchen, Miriam Patchen, Richard Bowman, Ronald Dunkin and the Patchens' cat, Sitwell. Most of the photographs in the collection were taken at the Patchen residence in Palo Alto, California.
3 Seven black and white photographs each taken at the Patchen residence in Palo Alto. Photographs include Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Patchen with Ronald Dunkin, and the Patchen's black cat, Sitwell, 1957-58
Kenneth Patchen with Richard Bowman, May 23, 1959
Miriam Patchen in the living room of the Patchens' Palo Alto residence, 1972


Paintings, 1960

This series contains three original Patchen paintings.
OVS 1 Untitled painting. Portrait of a standing figure, Black and white with grey wash on antique rag paper, 1960
Untitled painting. Portrait of a kind king. Mixed media, 1960
Untitled painting. Portrait of a kind king. Mixed media, color, on antique rag paper, 1960


Art and Poetry, 1944-1976

This series contains three of Patchen's loose leaf poems, a photo montage advertisement, and two portfolios of his picture poems. The two portfolios entitled Glory Never Guesses and A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player contain silk screen reproductions of Patchen's original manuscript pages.
OVS 1 The Way men live is a lie (Poem), broadside, 1944
Photo montage advertising for An Astonished Eye Looks out of the Air, [ca.1945-46]
"To Whomever", silkscreen print, 1955
"The moment" 1955
Glory Never Guesses 1955
A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player, 1956
3 Just Outside Tombstone, print, 1957
Picture-Poems,, reproductions, 1962
Defend Life!, reproduction 1962
OVS 1 1967 Before the Bells of this Year Ring, broadside, 1966
3 Untitled card reproductions of drawings originally published in Love and War Poems , 1968
Picture-poems. Reproductions from Hallelujah Anyway , 1968
Monogram design for Miriam Patchen stationery, [1969]
Eight Drawings, black and white reproductions, ca. 1960
OVS 1 A Poem For Christmas, broadside, 1976
A Mercy-Filled and Defiant X-mas, undated


IV. Promotional/Publicity Materials, 1941-1968

This series includes promotional and publicity material such as publishers prospecti, brochures, and advertisements. This portion is further subdivided into sections dealing with Patchen's books, checklists, the play Don't Look Now, jazz-poetry, poetry reading and art. The subdivision designated books is arranged according to title. The sections are in chronological order at the item level.
3 But Even So,Publisher's prospectus for advance subscriptions, 1965
Glory Never Guesses and Other Pages, prospectus, 1955
Hurrah For Anything, announcement, 1957
The Journal of Albion Moonlight,
3 Publisher's announcement [ca. 1946]
Prospectus for the regular first edition. [ca. 1941]
3 Poem-Scapes, Prospectus for the regular edition, 1958
Sleepers Awake, Advertising leaflet, 1946
A Surprise For the Bagpipe Player and Other pages. Prospectus, 1956
OVS 1 When We Were Here Together, Hurrah For Anything, Poemscapes. Broadside prospectus, 1958
3 Kenneth Patchen.A brochure and checklist of Patchen's works. 1947
Two new books by Kenneth Patchen. Brochure, ca. 1947
Kenneth Patchen Books from Padell. Brochure, 1948
Kenneth Patchen A First Bibliography, 1948
For Sale 2 New Painted Edition Patchen Books,Prospectus, 1957
The Famous Painted Edition Patchen Books, Prospectus, 1958
Kenneth Patchen announcement, 1957-58
Don't Look Now, 1959
Background information
Press release
Broadside color poster for Don't Look Now
Jazz Poetry:
Clippings, 1958-1959
"Kenneth Patchen reads with the Chamber Jazz Sextet", brochure, 1958
Broadside cardboard poster advertising Patchen performance with The Chamber Jazz Sextet, 1959
Poetry Reading:
Patchen poetry reading at San Francisco State College, Program, 1957
KPFK, The Human Winter and the Heavenly Spring: A Homage to Kenneth Patchen, 1959
3 Radio program guide, December, 1972
Radio program guide, January, 1973
Exhibit announcement by The Gotham Book Mart Gallery. The sale included painted books and paintings by Kenneth Patchen. Mar. 30, [1969]
San Francisco Art Institute postcard announcement. Works by Kenneth Patchen. Jan.1973


V. Activities, 1957-1961

This series includes pamphlets and brochures relating to events which Patchen took part in, or were held in his behalf.
3 Line of appreciation by Kenneth Patchen on the art of Patricia Northwat Harris, 1957
Bay Print Makers Society, Third National Exhibition Catalog. Kenneth Patchen was the juror for the competition, 1957
A collection of five pieces concerning various benefit activities to raise money for the Patchen surgery fund, 1961
Program for San Francisco tribute of Kenneth Patchen, 1961


VI. News Clippings/Magazine Clippings, 1957-1975

This series contains newspaper clippings which are primarily from Palo Alto publications. The clippings address Patchen's jazz poetry various fund raising efforts to for his back surgeries, interviews with the Patchens and articles published upon and after his death. This section is organized alphabetically according to the publication name and subdivided by date.
OVS 2 "A Bay Area Poet's Fight Against Pain.",Alameda County Weekender Special Edition , 1967
The Dakota Student. Articles about University of North Dakota exhibit and City Lights Writers Conference, March 1974
The Palo Alto Times concerning Kenneth Patchen, 1957-1975
3 A collection of 12 clippings from The Palo Alto Times concerning Kenneth Patchen. 1958-1975
A collection of 46 clippings from various newspapers and magazines, 1948-1972
OVS 2 News Clippings about Kenneth Patchen after his death. Various newspapers, 1972-1973


VII. Reviews, 1958-1967

This series contains assessments of Kenneth Patchen's poetry. The reviews are from publications such as the New York Times and Saturday Review. These items are arranged alphabetically by publication name.
3 Review of Kenneth Patchen's poetry in Arts and Architecture , May 1958
Kenneth Patchen and the Prose Forms of Morality.College paper written by Raymond Nelson, 1967
Kenneth Patchen, by Margaret Rigg. Reprinted from Motive. Jan. 2, 1964
Broadside reprint of New York Times book review by John Holmes, Feb. 2, 1958
Review of Poemscapes by John Ciardi. Saturday Review, Sept. 27, 1958
Review of Selected Poems by Richard Eberhart.Saturday Review, July 12, 1958


VIII. Miscellaneous, 1955-1975

This series contains miscellaneous items such as endorsed checks, grocery lists, and holographic notes. There is also a tape recording of Miriam Patchen reading Kenneth Patchen's poetry. These items are arranged in chronological order.
4 Selected passages taken from The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams . A copy by Ronald Dunkin of passages referring to Kenneth Patchen, ca. 1955
Shopping lists for Ronald Dunkin written by Kenneth Patchen, 1956-1969
Patchen written example of a palindrome, [1956]
Patchen recommendations for a professional name for Ronald Dunkin, [1956]
Patchen Family Reunion pamphlet, ca. 1957-58
Cashed checks from Ronald Dunkin endorsed by Kenneth Patchen, 1958-1959
Motive Magazine, Dec. 1964
Supplement to Eye, September [1968]
Program for Miriam Patchen, reading Kenneth Patchen at the Palo Alto Library, 1975
Cassette tape of Miriam Patchen reading poetry by Kenneth Patchen and discussing Patchen, March 7, 1975
Photocopy of Little Magazineindex, undated
A collection of holographic notes of conversations with Kenneth Patchen. Notes are handwritten by Ronald Dunkin, undated
Copy of "Reflections on The Journal of Albion Moonlight" taken from Transformation, undated
OVS 2 One sheet of antique rag paper, 16 1/4 x 10