Tracing the Places of  Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)

Kenneth Patchen Places

Prepared by Larry Smith (c)

with excerpts from Kenneth Patchen: Rebel Poet in America by Larry Smith
((c)A Consortium of Small Presses 2000)

Note: An expanded print version of this appeared
in the Celery Flute: Kenneth Patchen magazine-newsletter

from Douglas Manson in Buffalo, NY.

Link to Rebel Poets in America page

Kenneth Patchen Silkscreens Images page


Patchen Residences in The Village

1)  21 Bank Street (1934)      
46 Perry Street
3)    361 W. 20th Street (1936, north of the map)   
81 Bleecker Street
5)    265 Ave. A (1942, northeast of map in East Village)
6)    317 W. 4th Street (1943)         
331 W. 22nd Street (1943-1944, north of map)
8)    336 W. 12th Street (1944-1947)
Other Village Meeting Places:
9)   120 Charles Street (David Ruff & Holly Beye apt.)
  4 Patchin Place (e .e. cummings apt.)  
Ye Waverly Inn (Bank & Waverly)
12) Café Reggio 119 MacDougal Street  
White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson Street)

1911-1929   Patchen Birthplace in Niles, Ohio, then Warren, Ohio, in the industrial Mahoning River Valley

        (b. 1911)                                        Warren, Ohio, of Patchen's youth (1916-1929)

1929-1930 Kenneth at University of Wisconsin at Madison 1929-1930 Alexander Meiklejoh's Experimental College

1930-1931  Kenneth  attends Commonwealth Labor College in Mena, Arkansas for one semester

1931-1934  On the Road experience for Patchen traveling U.S. and Canada writing & organizing;
ends in Boston

1934  21 Bank Street, Greenwich Village

 1934               Ye Waverly Inn, Bank & Waverly                   21 Bank Street today (top floor)

            The Patchens' first real place in Greenwich Village was this tiny apartment at 21 Bank Street which Bernie and Henry Walsh shared with them. An immediate attraction of the place was the quiet of the tree-lined, cobble stone side street near Ye Waverly Inn. Miriam, who has a vivid memory of all the places which she and Kenneth made home, recalls the apartment:
            “It was a serene building on the outside, no larger than the 3-story houses all about. The chapel was the main part of the building. On the side, almost like a secret entrance, was a door to a staircase which went up two flights to the top floor. There were three rooms. Henry was to have the large, front one which ran the full width of the building for his sculpting. There was a central hall off of which were the doors to the bathroom, a large-ish closet which now held a small gas stove for cooking, and the two other rooms. A moderately large one was to be Bernie’s and a very small one, just 6 ft. wide and about 8 ft. long, was to be ours. It had a face basin with running water. Its special charm lay in the two casement windows which took over all the wall.”

1935  Rhinebeck, New York

    1935 May to Oct. Kenneth in Rhinebeck                  Kenneth with father at Josh Billings’ cottage

        One morning soon thereafter, Kenneth and Miriam were awakened by the sound of other people in the Bank Street apartment. Suddenly a real estate agent opened the door on them and announced that Bernie and Henry Walsh, whom the Patchens seldom saw, were abandoning the place. She had renters to view it. Shocked and dismayed, immediately Kenneth and Miriam looked about for a new place. Again, relief arrived by fate or chance when friend Malcolm Cowley introduced Kenneth to established artist Josh Billings... Cowley loaned them $15 against reviews that Kenneth would be doing, and so the Patchens moved fifty miles up the Hudson River to rural Rhinebeck.

            Here they lived from May to October of 1935 in an old two-story farm house about a hundred yards from the wealthy home of the Billings. Soon out of money and food, they were forced to raid the little garden of cabbage and carrots. At one point Miriam’s parents brought food and firewood. She records in her diary, “A little food and sense of relief from the closing-in make a lot of difference” (KP Archives). Chiefly, Kenneth, thin and mustached now, wrote in a laundry room behind the kitchen completing the manuscript for Before the Brave. Taking time out to write to Amos Wilder, he told of how they were surviving somehow despite the lack of books to review and the summer drought; he provided Wilder with a vivid description of the place where...
The trees are lovely with new leaves, the sky is like a great hand flexing and unflexing, clouds are people with cities, the wind is the wonder of something unreal” (“A Poet,” 114 quoted in KP:Rebel Poet 101-102).

            When fall’s cold weather came, Billings decided to move back into the city and dropped the Patchens off at a 23rd Street…boarding house…where he wrote the famous poem “23rd Street Runs into Heaven”:

1935-1936    46 Perry Street


1935 & 1936          46 Perry St.                                                                   46 Perry St.

            Their trust was answered the next day as Kenneth went to meet with Henry Alsberg at the Work Projects Administration requesting a job on the newly formed Federal Writer’s Project. Alsberg, a friend of Gladys Billings, informed him of the job requirements: he must be on government relief and he must move out of his rooming house into low income housing. Though Patchen dreaded going on relief, he agreed. By asking workers on the streets, Miriam was able to find an apartment at 46 Perry Street, near a cafe and bakery on Eighth Avenue close to Abingdon Square. Tiny, dark, and without heat, the apartment was nevertheless in their Greenwich Village community and served them well for $20 per month rent. Typically, they soon adapted its small living room with paint and books, transformed the large kitchen with bright gingham curtains, and converted the central bathtub into a day-desk for Kenneth by covering it with a boarded top.

          During the days, Patchen went to work on the Federal Writer’s Project, writing guide books on U.S. cities and regions. There he met and enjoyed working with poets, fiction writers, and unemployed journalists. The Patchen income moved up from $7 per week on relief to $20 per week on WPA. The pattern of those days had Kenneth up by eight, to be at work downtown by nine. Miriam would care for the apartment and the cat, listen to jazz on the radio, and have dinner ready when Kenneth returned at five. They would read, talk, or walk around the block to a quiet bakery in the evening. They also began to visit with Harvey and Clara Breit. Only rarely could they afford a movie or theatre performance. Miriam explains, “We made our money last and tried to live as cheaply as possible so Kenneth could have time to. . . . Kenneth worked. I believed only in that, in him. ‘Worked’ is the only comfortable word for me...It was more real, more worthy than just ‘writing.’ He was creating always—even in his sleep, I’d hear him trying out words, phrases in his sleep. A full-blown poem would often be available the following day” (Interview 1990). They were living their dreams. (KP: Rebel Poet 103-104)

1936-1938 WEST COAST HORIZONS Kenneth receives a Guggenheim Award to travel in the Southwest

1936    Phoenix, AZ  then  on to 3 Placita Rafaela Sante Fe, NM

Miriam in Phoenix, 1936

1937    They decide to try their luck by writing for films.

            2163 ½ Beechwood Terrace, Hollywood, CA

Kenneth in Hollywood 1937

1938  1414 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood, CA  / 55261/2 Virginia Ave. LA/ Figuero St. Hollywood, CA

After floundering in and around Hollywood, Kenneth signs a contract with New Directions for his second book and so take a long train across country to return to the East Coast.

1939    Acton, MA. (just outside of Concord, MA

          The Patchens return to to stay with Miriam’s folks briefly; here they meet James Laughlin and Ezra Pound.

1939  Norfolk, Connecticut


     Norfolk, Connecticut  New Directions office       Kenneth at work in Norfolk
  at James Laughlin’s place, former stablehouse,

            Miriam recalls, “After the quick trip to Norfolk, J.L. [James Laughlin] spent a few hours showing us the place, telling us what we were to do, and then returned to Harvard. That evening we were called up to dinner to the ‘big house’ with the Carlisles. With scarcely time to wash our faces we went off to be examined by Aunt Leila and Uncle Lister. . . . Both were pleasant, and the house was marvelous. We were thoroughly dazed by it all. We were like newborn sheep, or even more, dolts, in any case” (Conjunctions 255)... The Patchens themselves lived about two hundred yards down the country lane in a lovely stone cottage attached to what had been a small stable. This was the publishing office of New Directions—editing, ordering, and shipping. The Carlisle’s social secretary had recently vacated the small cottage, resigning because of the social confinement of the place. To Kenneth, at least at first, it looked like his ideal writer’s cottage. For entertainment there were walks in the woods among the deer, ermine, and snowshoe rabbits that lived in the game preserve around the property. Miriam fondly remembers the cottage’s fine furnishings and kitchenware: “It was the first time I’d had a refrigerator, so it was pretty thrilling” (Interview 1990).

             Laughlin, recalls its rustic charm then, “The cottage is at the edge of the forest—birches, beeches, pine and hemlock—and across Mountain Road is the sheep meadow. There are rhododendrons and azaleas in the yard. And half a mile down the forest road is Tobey Pond. Very lovely? Well, not entirely. The cottage is a mile from the village, and the Patchens have no car. Aunt’s grumpy chauffeur, Frank, and the farmer, taciturn Joe are dragooned into driving the book packages down to the post office and bringing back the Patchens’ groceries . . . If the Patchens need something unexpectedly, they have to walk for it. And Norfolk (population 1,700) is not exactly lively. It has a very fine library which Kenneth uses; otherwise a drugstore, a hardware store, and the post office” (“Remembering” in What Will They Do Without Us, Sierra Club). Once Kenneth and Miriam were settled in, they began their work of handling the accounts and the packing and shipping of books, occasionally proofreading copy. “Oh, yes,” jokes Laughlin, “a nice quiet place for a poet to write—after eight or ten hours packing books and posting ledgers. Miriam and Kenneth have all the grubby work, including proofreading, while I have the fun of reading manuscripts and corresponding with authors. And woe betide them if there are any slip-ups. I am obsessed with making the business go…."

1940- 1941  at  81 Bleecker Street, near lower Broadway


1940-1941 81 Bleecker (Kenneth, Anais Nin,                             Café Reggio on MacDougal Street)
    unidentified person, Virginia Admiral          

Kenneth and Miriam began the new year by moving once more into their Greenwich Village world. With Harvey Breit’s help, in late January of 1940, they moved their belongings into Harvey and Clara’s apartment at the corner of 4th Street and Jones, almost above Martin’s Bookstore. The formal resignation from New Directions was done personally and amicably, for when Patchen wrote back to Laughlin, JamesLaughlin from New York, it was direct and friendly, using Walter Benton’s address on Horatio Street for forwarding. His old Ohio classmate Walter (Potashnik) and wife Lillian had been two of their rare visitors at Norfolk. Patchen’s letter gave Laughlin instructions on where to find things in the office and alerted him that New Directions’ reputation was growing,  He confided personal items with Laughlin: back pain, colds he and Miriam were fighting, and the fact that “Miriam found a place for us yesterday [81 Bleecker Street]—quiet, roomy, clean, unheated—at 35 dollars a month; absolutely the best we can do in the way of living quarters” (January 1940, NDA). He was back with his fellow rebels in the heart of the Village, two blocks from Washington Square.   
           In the midst of all this, the Patchens had relocated into a long, sunny apartment which Miriam had found on Bleecker Street. It was located near lower Broadway along a street of warehouses, and an immediate attraction of the place for Kenneth was the fact that Melville Herman Melville had once lived there. Beneath their apartment was a small kosher restaurant and a metal repair shop. The apartment had just been painted and had fine wooden floors, a gas stove, and a water heater. The only heat came from a central fireplace. Features particularly attractive to them were the large built-in bookcases beside the fireplace, the French doors between rooms, and the low windows all along the front.  With a happy anticipation the Patchens agreed to the $35 a month rent. Later Henry Miller would christen their home as “the only place in the U.S. that had the good look and feel of Paris (Notes 139). Kenneth and friend Elmer Brashear moved up their daybed and books stored at the Bronx Brotherhood House. Other suitable furnishings emerged in the time honored manner, from the discards found along the Village streets. A central piece was a huge oak table which Miriam painted black with golden lion heads on its feet.
           81Bleecker Street proved ideal for Kenneth’s writing, as its remote location among warehouses and small business offices remained quiet during the nights and weekends. Yet it was only a few blocks from the fruit and vegetable stands and the 4th Street bookstores and cafes. One tavern nearby, which Patchen nicknamed “The Bucket of Blood,” brought occasional visits from old friends Maxwell Bodenheim and Little Joe Gould who would call from the street outside the window, “Patchen... Patchen... May we come up?” (Notes 192). In the apartment beside theirs lived photographer Robin Carson, who befriended them and later took some fine photographs of the young couple. (KP: Rebel Poet 140).


1940    Visits at  4 Patchin Place…                                      White Horse Tavern today

            e.e. cummings place

            On that first meeting, as on many thereafter, e. e. cummings would do most of the talking, often rambling in that ironic yet purposeful and allusive way he did in his Harvard Nonlectures (Interview 1990). When Patchen visited Cummings again later that week, he learned that Marion, who also suffered from back pain, was ill in bed. Kenneth rushed home and askedMiriam Miriam to make a lamb roast to take to them. When the Patchens returned, Miriam was shown to the bedroom where she helped Marion to eat. The two women hit it off; Miriam was moved by Marion’s composure and alertness—"Her strength, cool, sharp mind, ease in moving into all areas awed me” (Miriam's Notes 152). The Patchens and the Cummings became good friends and lasting supporters in a close bond that endured beyond Cummings’ death in 1962. Typically when the Patchens would visit, e.e. would be on the third floor of their narrow apartment writing and would emerge and sit in a straight wooden chair; then they would talk “nonstop” of literature and each other’s lives.Though Kenneth was very much in awe of Cummings as an independent and provocative artist, Cummings refused to pose as heroic for the young writer and would always sign his letters to Kenneth, “your nonhero.”(KP: Rebel Poet 146)

1942   265 Ave. A   Sixth floor Village tenement where Patchen writes “The City Wears a Slouch Hat” radio play with John Cage music for CBS radio; Patchens had been forced to leave 81 Bleecker Street apartment by a landlord who refused to fix a leaky gas line.


1943  317 W. 4th Street


1943                               317 W 4th Street                                           Kenneth in the Village

            This time it was Frances Steloff who came to their rescue with $40 rent money for a little place at 317 W. 4th Street, between Bank and 12th Street, near Abingdon Square. For convenience the apartment was on the first floor, front, and had a living room, closet-kitchen, alcove, and bedroom. They could shop at Irving’s or the nearby deli. A pharmacy around the corner  provided Kenneth with medication for what they still thought was arthritis.

1943-1946    Mt. Pleasant, NY near Phoenicia, NY Annie Rupp’s retreat in the summers

        During the summer months of June to September, Patchen finished no less than six books. Miriam comments, “There, in Mt. Pleasant were the peace, freedom, opportunity for an artist to work. After the first meeting our friendship [with Annie Ruff] was indestructible. Through the years it continued (continues) unabated” (GEGENSCHEIN).

      The quiet cabin and mountain air, the respite from the stress of making ends almost meet, and the warmth and companionship of the other families all nurtured the Patchens’ trust in the world. Besides the Ruff families, other writers and artists were part of the little community which often gathered in the central building.

            During that first summer of 1943, Patchen was able to finish The Cloth of the Tempest for Harpers and to begin an interesting new experiment, a comic-philosophic detective novel with a catchy title, “Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer.”

Sept. 1943  331 W 22nd St. Village

        Kenenth’s Cloth of the Tempest was released and getting mixed reviews. Miriam took a job as a   store clerk at Macy’s Department Store until she was ‘let go’ for protesting the war and refusing to buy war bonds.

March 1944—1946   336 W. 12th Street 


    Front gate passageway to carriage house;                              View of garden area inside

    torn down today for new structure)

           By March of 1944 the Patchens had moved to their final place in the Village, a rearhouse off 12th Street in West Greenwich Village. It was near The White Horse Tavern where they sometimes met with friends.  Miriam recalls, “The house was like something from a European fairy story, 19 ft. long, 9 ft. wide, two stories, windows, casement on one wall overlooking what could become a charming garden. One enters along the side of the 3-story apartment in front walking through a covered sidewalk” (Notes 194) . . . . (KP: Rebel Poet 176)


Kenneth and Miriam at 336 W. 12th St.                                Robin Carsons’ photo of Kenneth & Miriam   


            Patchen’s idea of an article on their life as a Village couple did come about through the work of two journalist friends, Holly Beye and William McCleery. An interview in the Patchen’s 12th Street apartment in 1945 led to “The Most Mysterious People in the Village,” in PM magazine. It provides an intimate and rare view of the Patchens’ life together. Their home is presented as “a little two-room house, one room on top of the other. The house was built in a back yard. The entrance is a metal-grill gateway that opens into a long, narrow passage between two brick buildings; this opens into a back yard.” Crossing the cobbled courtyard the authors knock at the wooden doors of the small building and are greeted by Miriam “the poet’s wife, a chubby, girlish little person with long brownish hair and friendly blue eyes.” Inside they find book shelves and a fireplace brightened with flower-painted dishes (from 12th StreetSanta Fe) displayed on the shelves and the walls. 

            Upstairs they find Kenneth propped up in bed. “The bed was massive and so was the man. He wore a faded gray sweatshirt with washed-out blue cuffs and pocket. The shirt was tucked into the waistband of black woolen trousers that were frayed at the cuffs. Patchen wore blue, maroon and tan Argyle socks, but no shoes. His body seemed muscular and powerful; his face delicate and sensitive. His skin was white and his eyes were a deep blue-gray.” As Kenneth shakes hands, Miriam returns with a pot of coffee. “Kenneth loves coffee . . . He’s absolutely impossible until he’s had a whole pot of coffee in the morning—and I make him coffee all day long.” Characteristically Miriam and Kenneth lightly joke with each other throughout the interview, and she chides him about a bad temper, “‘But when he suppresses his temper,’ his wife put in, ‘he looks absolutely black’” . . .

            Following this rare interview, Holly Beye became a close friend. Through the Patchens she met and was romanced by two friends, first Arthur Sturcke and then David Ruff, who had come from Mt. Pleasant and who subsequently would marry Beye and move with her to San Francisco. When the Patchens made their big move to San Francisco in 1951, it was Beye and Ruff who took them in. 

            Miriam describes their life routine: “I’d be up earliest, go for the paper, read it. He’d  [Kenneth] awaken later, having finally gotten to sleep, have breakfast and look at the news, then get to work. ‘Get to work’ meant writing in bed, lying down. The upright sitting position was painful for him, then. I’d read, wash clothes, house clean, take coffee to him frequently. When we had almost no money life was the same as when we had a little. At 12th Street we always had the rent and money for utilities. With an advance from Mr. Padell we bought a couple windsor-style chairs, one easy chair and a table. What elegance those pieces gave to the doll house.”  (Notes 202-203) (KP: Rebel Poet 181-184)

1946-1951  Old Lyme, Connecticut

   Old Lyme, CT  Kenneth & Miriam;        Old Lyme visit by Holly Beye & David Ruff

            “Old Lyme was a charming old town, the sort of thing that is almost—well, it was—a picture postcard,” Miriam recalls. “Only trouble was, it was dominated by the right wing, upper class ideas—anti-semitic, anti-poor, anti-artist, except fashionable artists—so there was a very closed atmosphere there. The storekeepers, the farmers were friendly; the animals were friendly. As I say, a lovely atmosphere; you had no sense of the tightness of the thinking there....the sort of thing I should have fought had I not been busy taking care of Kenneth” (Interview 1990). The Patchens lived about a mile from the tiny town of Old Lyme in the caretaker’s cottage of an estate owned by Fred Wilcox. “A train to Old Saybrook from Manhattan and a taxi to Old Lyme was the route. . . . Thus we got to be ‘country people’” (Miriam’s “Notes” 204).

            "The town consisted of about two hundred, year-long residents and included a drug store, butcher shop, an A & P grocery store, a library, and a post office down Library Lane where Miriam walked each day for the mail.We were settled almost immediately. This was obviously a place where Kenneth could work. Behind us was a high hill. In front of us was the lawn rolling down to a small pond. Wherever we looked was gently controlled nature, trees, shrubs, open places. It was not landscaped. It was just New England which had been carefully handled for several hundred years” (From “The Little White House” unpublished story by Miriam Patchen Dec. 5, 1982).

            “One of the first things I had to do was to paint the house,” Miriam declares. Not realizing the neighborhood ban on anything but a white house with dark shutters, she took action. “Barnyard red our house became, with white trim,” and so it stayed for the four and a half years the Patchens lived and worked there enjoying the daffodils she planted around the white fence. Kenneth, who had lost most of his mobility by that time, welcomed the security and ready comfort of this little writer’s cottage which he fondly referred to as “a life-time home.” .(KP: Rebel Poet  194)

       Jonathan Williams, who would become a poet and the publisher of Jargon Society Books, recounts in fine detail his coming to Old Lyme: “In early 1949 I’d left Princeton, as much for reading Miller, Patchen and Thoreau as for any reason I can now remember....A friend, also renegade from Princeton, suggested a trip to Old Lyme, Connecticut, to meet Patchen and to bestow the Rouault [an aquatint of “The Yellow Clown”]. . . . It was one of those meetings you read about in ‘Books That Change Men’s Lives.’ Kenneth and Miriam lived in a tiny red cottage, about a half-mile from the Old Lyme Post Office. The lane led up a little hill by the town-ship library, down past a pond full of turtles, and then to the left.” (“How Fables Tapped Along the Sunken Corridors” in Aflame and Afun of Walking Faces 85).

            Williams had read Miller’s Patchen: Man of Anger and Light as well as most of Patchen’s work, so that their first encounter was memorably recorded on the impressionable young Williams: “The cabin sat in Connecticut less than it did in the context of Kenneth’s love poems. All the neighborhood animals sat on the lawn like hieratic beasts. One expected some of the little green deer and the red and yellow birds of childhood. It was all a bit like Gilchrist’s LIFE OF BLAKE—Kate and Will at Felphan—a veritable enchantment. There was no ‘strain’ for this. One simply felt it....The visit was a brief one. Snow was falling by night and my friend and I had the trip back to New York before the highway coated over. The loan of the Roualt was graciously accepted and we left with our own various treasures—the painted books or manuscript pages or records or foods that the Patchens always bestowed so generously.” (“How Fables...” 85, quoted in KP: Rebel Poet  201-202)

120 Charles Street, Holly Beye & David Ruff downstairs

apartment where Patchens & Jonathan Williams would visit.

1951-1955   Green Street, San Francisco,

Kenneth has back surgery in 1951, then moves to West Coast…
San Francisco, then Palo Alto, California

1951-1955   Green Street, San Francisco                                Kenneth in SF park

August to January Reading Cottage                             Kenneth at work on books

on 852 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, CA

1957  Sierra Court, Palo Alto, CA

Feb. 27, 1957  Patchens move to first home                                          Kenneth in later years

at 2340 Sierra Court, Palo Alto, CA                                                        till his death in 1972

Kenneth Patchen, Rebel Poet in America