Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, ed., Books and Culture. / New at patreon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The 3 Kenneths and the Little Match Girl of Poetry

Could we please get this straight?

There are three poets from approximately the same era named Kenneth. Kenneth Koch, Kenneth Rexroth, and Kenneth Patchen. (You may be interested to know that I am permanently mortified over having become uncontrollable with laughter during a Koch reading in Providence, R. I. back in 1975-ish, back when I was a silly sprat of a girl.)

It was Kenneth Patchen, not one of the others (as I have seen claimed on the internet here and there), who said that "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a pack of cheap sons-of-bitches." Other versions are floating around--particularly "a bunch of cheap sons-of-bitches"--and I've seen them attributed to a Wrong Kenneth as well. But you may check out the book Sleepers Awake by Patchen and find out the truth. Alas, I'm not incredibly well read but have merely looked it up on Google; New Directions calls the book "novelistic fantasy." Think I will have to try it, sooner or later.

The narrator meets poet Fitzmichael Kell in "a bar on 3rd" and proceeds to buy three of Kell's books "which he was good enough to sign." He does this because he is not one of those "People who say they love poetry and never buy any."

Now you know.

Spread no more internet rumors! Manure not the field of pixels!

And this sterling bit of wisdom reminds me that I have new 2012 (and one 2011) poetry books, namely The Foliate Head and Thaliad (and The Throne of Psyche.) It would make me very happy if you were like the narrator of Sleepers Awake and bought three copies of each. I'm sure that I'm as fine a poet as Fitzmichael Kell. Not to mention the fact that I can go home to the wretched White Camellia Orphanage and snuggle in my raggedy bed instead of standing out here in my match-girl coat, selling wee poetry books and matches to passers-by (and may have to burn the poetry books to keep warm before I can go home.) I may, in fact, freeze to death on this Yankee stoop.

Either that or be overcome by an attack of whimsy.

Three Kenneths and one Kell...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.