[Currents headergraphic]

August 16, 1999

Rome is latest stopover for popular Patchen Archive

By Barbara McKenna

As home to the archive of poet Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972), Special Collections of UCSC's University Library receives visits from Patchen devotees from all corners of the globe. But in recent years, as requests to view the works increase both in the U.S. and abroad, Special Collections head Rita Bottoms has obligingly loaned select Patchen pieces to several institutions overseas.
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Miriam Patchen (left) and Rita Bottoms at the Fontana di Trevi in Rome

Most recently, Bottoms took two portfolios containing a total of 36 of Patchen's silkscreen prints to Italy. The trip took place in June. Bottoms was accompanied by Patchen's widow, Miriam Patchen. The two traveled to the Centro Studi Americani in Rome where they participated in a public program and exhibition focusing on UCSC's Kenneth Patchen Archive. Among those in attendance were professor Maria Anita Stefanelli of the Università Roma Tre, who originally proposed the visit, and two of her students whose master's work focuses on Patchen.

"Anyone who's doing Patchen research wants to come to UCSC, but it isn't always possible," Bottoms explained. "For those Italian students, our visit was an amazing opportunity to see Patchen's work firsthand and to meet Miriam, the poet's muse."

The silkscreen prints are only one part of the archive, which includes more than 150 of Patchen's "painted poems"--colorful paintings that incorporate free-verse poetry and surrealistic and whimsical creatures and images. The archive also contains the manuscripts for some three dozen books of poetry and prose published during Patchen's lifetime as well as Patchen's letters, painted books, papier-mâché creatures, and recordings of some of his poetry readings.

The silkscreen prints have had a lot of exposure in recent years. In June 1998, they were the focus of events at two major London venues--a reading at the Tate Gallery and an exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall's Poetry Library.

In 1997, when Patchen's work was the subject of a special tribute at the Naropa Institute in Boulder Colorado, both Bottoms and Miriam Patchen were invited to attend as panel members and to speak about Patchen's work and the UCSC archive. The institute used one of the archive's pieces on the cover of its 1998 edition of Bombay Gin, the esteemed literary magazine of the institute's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

While the next Patchen exhibition is not yet planned, Web users will soon be able to see some of the pieces in the archive when the California Digital Library puts them online as part of the Online Archive of California (OAC).

Patchen's works are among a few important items being selected for UCSC's inaugural contribution to the California Arts section of the OAC. The online presence is an exciting event, Bottoms says, because it will provide the public with immediate access to some of the archive's stunning images.


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