Revisiting the Wild Mind of Kenneth Patchen

0811222055.01.LZZZZZZZJohn Wilmes at The Millions:

From the late 1930s until his death in 1972—and certainly as much of his behemoth bibliography has come to light in the decades since—Kenneth Patchen perplexed and enchanted readers with “novels” that refused to do what’s allowed on the page. A sometime collaborator of John Cage and Charles Mingus and lifelong friend of E.E. Cummings, his smashing together of the visual and written and bold negotiation with narrative landed his pacifist mysticism at a singular aesthetic—one that the whole of literature seems to have forgotten less than it has processed it.

In The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Patchen’s overwhelming and seminal 1941 literary mess recently reissued by New Directions, time, space, sequence, and subtlety don’t seem to exist. Patchen’s sprawling poetic exposition is hard after the heart of American story and microscoped in on the blurriness of the border between human love and human hate, with little regard for logic in its hunt of these themes. It’s Patchen’s ambition to make us all look like animals, and disarming the semblance of any known structure of narrative is an essential part of this dizzying quest. “What we did not know was how near madness we would be,” the titular Moonlight warns on the second page.

What follows is 313 pages that vacillate between an almost impossible to follow narrative, long detached passages about the general nature of everything, and graphic art eruptions. “Why the large, messy rebellion against form?” Moonlight at one point asks of himself. Patchen’s jumbled and relentless poetics make for an awesome authorial assault, even if he can’t always hold the line between text and reader taut throughout his unflinching frontier into the possibilities of the page.

more here.