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50: SURE IS ONE PECULIAR WAY TO RUN A BALLGAME...

May 24, 2014

#50:  SURE IS ONE PECULIAR WAY TO RUN A BALLGAME….  In the taking and leaving department, there’s always been a good bit of Kenneth Patchen I could leave without regret; whether it’s him or me, I don’t know.  But one area of his work which strikes me as an inarguable success—books in which everything goes right in ways you can’t even begin to explain—are his three collections of picture-poems, Hallelujah Anyway (1960), But Even So (1968) and the incomparable Wonderings (1971).  Not only is the success of the form hard to describe—which, purely in the matter of welding word inseparably to image, may surpass his one obvious predecessor, William Blake—but I find it impossible to hit off the emotional tone (surreal whimsy?  post- apocalyptic good cheer? visionary giggling?) without heading towards phrases suggestive of work I wouldn’t read at gunpoint.  I’ll confess myself a beaten man and simply and happily report that New Directions has published the three books together as The Walking-Away World (2008).  The rest is up to you.  My only complaint of The Walking-Away World is that the pictures are reproduced entirely in black and white; this is remedied, to some degree, by the book What Shall We Do Without Us?: The Voice and Vision of Kenneth Patchen (Sierra Club, 1984), which reproduces three dozen of Patchen’s designs in (sometimes riotous) color, and supplements it with a helpful and lovely essay by James Laughlin.  Another omnibus, We Meet, is Patchen’s illustrated verse and prose but to my taste it’s stuff that for some reason just doesn’t work, just as The Walking-Away World wonderfully and inexplicably does.  Go to it.

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