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Kenneth Patchen Collection

Identifier: 1977-004

The Kenneth Patchen Collection contains correspondence, photographs, publicity and promotional materials, books, picture-poems, sound recordings, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous items.

The collection was received with chronological item descriptions composed by Ronald Dunkin, the original collector of the materials. In order to facilitate access, the items in the collection were categorized according to type of material and placed by date within category. The books, publications, and sound recordings have been cataloged and are accessible through the UH Libraries' online catalog.


  • 1934-1976


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish from copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian. Reproduction decisions will be made by Special Collections staff on a case-by-case basis.


2.00 linear feet

Biographical Information

Poet Kenneth Patchen was born on December 13, 1911, in Niles, Ohio. Patchen received a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin which allowed him to take part in the Alexander Meikeljohn Experimental College. After completing a year at the University of Wisconsin and a few months at the Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas, he ended his university studies and began three years of traveling and working at odd jobs.

In December of 1933, Patchen met Miriam Oikemos, an anti-war organizer and Smith College student, whom he married on June 28, 1934. Miriam Patchen was an active participant in her husband's endeavors, working beside him writing bibliographies and biographical sketches under the assumed name Gail Eaton. Miriam also took care of her husband during his intervals of poor health, especially during the physical decline of his last twelve years.

Patchen's first book, Before the Brave, was published in 1936, and he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for this work the same year. Patchen sought to expand the experiential element of poetry and he made two significant contributions: the picture poem, a fusion of painting and poetry in which he combined fanciful, colorful images with his unusual verse, and poetry-jazz, the reading of poetry against the backdrop of jazz music.

Kenneth Patchen's work was produced amidst constant physical pain due to a back injury sustained when he was twenty-six. He experienced many surgeries, misdiagnoses, surgical mishaps, and suffering, which often times limited his creative explorations. Patchen refused to take pain medication because he felt it would dull his creative powers.

Over the course of his writing career, Patchen published 43 books of poetry, prose, and picture poems. Although often associated with the Beat movement, he took great care to dissassociate himself from any form of labeling. He died on January 8, 1972, in Palo Alto, California, where he and Miriam had lived for the preceding twenty years.

Acquisition Information

These items were purchased from William Wreden, a book and manuscript dealer in Palo Alto, California, in 1977. They were originally the property of Ronald Dunkin, a friend of Miriam and Kenneth Patchen.

Guide to the Kenneth Patchen Collection
Jason Deal
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021-12-16: As a part of the 2021 Special Collections reparative description project, Bethany Scott revised this finding aid’s biographical information for relevance and brevity per current best practices.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections Repository

University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
MD Anderson Library
4333 University Drive
Houston TX 77204-2000 USA