Kenneth PatchenAs National Poetry Month began this year, I had a curious experience that reconnected me with the work of a poet who was very important to me in my youth.

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/

 

 

Fallow Field face

Detail from Alastair Cook’s filmpoem of “Fallow Field.”

My friend the Scottish filmmaker and photographer, Alastair Cook, has created many beautiful filmpoems — 34 to be exact — his latest features the title poem of my collection, “Fallow Field.”

My reading of the poem comes from Kelly Writer’s House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, recorded on September 22, 2008.

As with his filmpoem of another of my poems from this collection, “Naming,” Alastair’s vision of my poem is impressionistic rather than literal.

There’s a great synergy between my words and the flow and textures of his film, especially the way the woman’s hair mimics the rye grass waving in the wind and how the occasional flash of her lips seem to kiss goodbye what the subject of my poem never could.

You can watch Alastair’s filmpoem here:

Filmpoem 34/ Fallow Field from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

And you can read the poem here or in my new book of poems, which you can purchase here.