National Poetry Month 2015, Week One: Kenneth Patchen’s “I Went to the City”
April 3, 2015
My high school English teacher, Jack Langerak, introduced me to Kenneth Patchen’s writings and “picture poems,” which combined an abstract-cartoonish painting style with short poems of deep passion, environmental or political protest, and empathy.
Over the years I collected a number of Patchen’s books and artworks, including some rare limited edition cards, pamphlets, and reproductions of his paintings.
Then almost 30 years ago, while living in Cleveland, Ohio, I made a short film using Patchen’s poem, ‘I Went to the City.'” As a soundtrack, I used a 1959 LP of Patchen reading his poem accompanied by Allyn Ferguson and the Chamber Jazz Sextet.
The film had one screening at a small independent film event in Cleveland in 1986 and another at a party in my apartment there. Shortly after, I moved to Europe and the film, along with a handful of other films and a dozen paintings or so, went into a box for the next several decades.
I forgot about the film until a couple of years ago when Scottish photographer and filmmaker Alastair Cook produced a two “filmpoems” using my poems “Naming” and “Fallow Field.” I told Alastair about the film and he encouraged me to dig it up and submit it to his Filmpoem Festival this coming May.
Tracking down the rights to the soundtrack put me in touch with a couple of Patchen scholars, Jonathan Clark and Larry Smith, as well as the children of Allyn Ferguson, who in addition to his poetry-jazz work with Patchen, wrote the theme songs for “Barnie Miller,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and “The Rookies,” among other television shows of my youth.
Perhaps most importantly, however, I’ve reengaged with Patchen’s poetry, which although it has fallen out of favor among readers today, seems even more relevant and important for our day.
Here is Kenneth Patchen’s poem. “I Went to the City”:
I WENT TO THE CITY
And there I did weep
Men a-crowin’ like asses,
And livin’ like sheep.
Oh, can’t hold the han’ of my love!
Can’t hold her little white han’!
Yes, I went to the city,
And there I did bitterly cry,
Men out of touch with the earth,
And with never a glance at the sky.
Oh, can’t hold the han’of my love!
Can’t hold her pure little han’!
I sent the film – in its original Super 8 form – to Alastair who will digitize it, so I hope to have a link to it on line in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, here is a link to the recording of Kenneth Patchen with Allyn Ferguson and the Chamber Jazz Sextet performing the poem (actually a string of short poems together under the same title): http://www.allmusic.com/song/i-went-to-the-city-mt0026333419
For more on Kenneth Patchen and his poetry: http://www.connectotel.com/patchen/