Reading Once Upon A Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan by Ian Bell last night in bed, half-drunk and dozing off, I was startled awake in an instant upon reading the following section:

“It’s just as likely, though, that Dylan had come across The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Patchen’s 1941 pacifist ‘dream-vision’ of a novel, when it was republished by New Directions in 1961. There are plenty of Bob-like bits to be found:

People don’t want to be healed. They want a nice juicy wound that will show well when they put neon lights around it.

May 19. I have forgotten my mask, and my face was in it.


The usual thing to say is that Patchen was ‘surrealist-influenced’. This is usually said when people have nothing better to say, least of all about this hugely important American poet…

Henry Miller called Patchen ‘the living symbol of protest’, a ‘sort of sincere assassin’ and ‘a fizzing human bomb’. —Patchen: Man of Anger and Light (1946)

These things were said in 1946, five years after The Journal of Albion Moonlight, and five years after the poet had decided to oppose the war, the good war, and (come to think of it) any war. Mostly bedridden, in constant pain from a severe spinal injury and the incompetent surgery that had almost crippled him, Patchen developed his art unhindered by the usual literary trends. He was prolific, experimental, independent and, for most of his career, obscure. He framed The Journal loosely around ‘Tom a Bedlam’ / ‘Tom o’ Bedlam’, the astonishing, anonymous seventeenth-century beggar-ballad rendered in the voice of a crazed wanderer.

Kenneth Patchen and kitten.

Kenneth Patchen and kitten.