Patchen’s “Nobody is a Long Time”

I’ve finally finished Patchen’s Selected Poems. The poems in the last third of the book generally seem less strident than many of the earlier poems. My favorite poems actually seem to have been written to be read with jazz music, which may explain why I’m fond of them.

I was a little surprised to discover that my two favorites from this section follow exactly the same format, though they seem to represent two opposite sides of Patchen’s personality.

Many critics insist on comparing Patchen to Walt Whitman, though I personally see few similarities. This poem, however, does convey some of the same optimism that permeates most of Whitman’s poetry:


In this my green world
Flowers birds are hands
They hold me
I am loved all day

All this pleases me

I am amused
I have to laugh from crying
Trees mountains are arms
I am loved all day

Children grass are tears

I cry
I am loved all day
Pompous makes me laugh
I am amused often enough
In this
My beautiful green world

There’s love all day

Of course, I like this because it’s often how I feel when I’m out enjoying nature and avoiding problems that otherwise might confront me. Though I don’t really feel like “I am loved all day” when I’m out walking, I do feel like I love most of what I behold out there, and loving something doesn’t seem too awfully different from being loved.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the whole collection is this one:


Oh nobody’s a long time
Nowhere’s a big pocket
To put little
Pieces of nice things that

Have never really happened

To anyone except
Those people who were lucky enough
Not to get born
Oh lonesome’s a bad place

To get crowded into

With only
Yourself riding back and forth
A blind white horse
Along an empty road meeting
All your
Pals face to face

Nobody’s a long time

I guess I’ll have to see if there’s a recording of this out there somewhere. These are some of the best blues lyrics I’ve ever heard, and I’ve listened to a lot of blues in my time, though the lack of rhyme would probably suggest a jazz song rather than a traditional blues song.

Nobody is, indeed, a long time.

6 thoughts on “Patchen’s “Nobody is a Long Time””

  1. You can find his recordings at the Smithsonian Folkways site.

    He did often read to jazz, and sometimes performed with Charlie Mingus, who was an admirer (and also a difficult and strong willed artist).

    The jazz recording on folkways is interesting with its occasional beatnik phrasings (“heat city buster” “spooky scene”), and the recording has some great spots, especially the slower, softer love poems. Still, I found the record of his reading selected poems generally to be more satisfying.

    He didn’t like to be regarded as a beat poet. If I remember, Smith’s biography explained that he was repulsed by the aspect of free love/hedonism associated with that term.

    Which is not to say that he condemned pleasure. I don’t remember the line breaks, but he wrote:

    I am the joy of the desiring flesh.
    The days of my living are summer days.
    The nights of my glory
    Outshine the blazing wavecaps of the heavens
    At their floodtide.
    Mine is the confident hand that shapes this world.

  2. Patchen often seems to me to indulge in raw sentiment. Makes it tough to like all his poems, because even when I like one I have trouble resolving that when I see other, less careful work. It would be like seeing a crappy cartoon done by Degas. So I’m thinking, after seeing your comments, that these poems come from the same wellspring, which Patchen trusted in himself. Sor of a “doodah” impulse he didn’t disdain. Often it gave him the rich poems you’ve picked. Other times he seems maudlin. You didn’t mention (so far) any of the ones I was drawn to 35 years ago, “The animal I wanted/couldn’t get into the world…” and one whose lead character “Hunry Fencwaver Walkins” stuck in my brain beyond the memory of the poem. I think I liked that one, too. They’re in one of the tiny books he produced that had a handmade charm and a wonderful independence. I believe Ferlinghetti sold alot of them in City Lights store. I also think Patchen stayed true to himself, no mean feat.

  3. I’m not postive but I don’t think any of the poems you mention here were in the Selected Poems, Mike, a surprisingly slim volume.

  4. Loren, up too darn early and wandering through pixels and connections…found you through Old Girls’ blog, and thanks for the Patchen.

    It’s been years since I read him, and these were a nice gift to come across unexpectedly.

    (Re: Mikes’ “…seems maudlin.” Not to me, but then again my schtuff isn’t always others’ cup o’ tea.)

  5. First, I love your site. I find it very inspiring and I really need inspiration right now. I will also leave a comment about The Jesus Sutras but I just want to say how delighted I am to find Kenneth Patchen here. He’s been one of my favourite poets for many years, although I agree he is uneven. I’m not sure what you meant by his worst poems reminding you of the worst of Blake (I may be paraphrasing here..please forgive me)? Which of Blake’s poems do you mean? I suppose ‘Songs of Innocence’ can appear a little insipid but that’s just on first meeting them. When taken in the context of the epic quality of Blake’s life-work, for me, they gain some power. Anyway, we were talking about Patchen. A marvellous, ‘fantastic’ artist. Have you seen his paintings?


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