9. “Joe Hill Listens to the Praying” (Kenneth Patchen / © 1935 International Publishers)
Joe Glazer – narration
Lori Elaine Taylor – narration
Recorded by Jon Tyler, 29 January 1990 at Radio Smithsonian Studios.
Digitally mastered by Air Show, Springfield, Virginia.
After Kenneth Patchen worked in a steel mill, in a rubber factory, as a migrant field worker, and as a janitor, he began to publish his poetry in left-wing periodicals. “Joe Hill Listens to the Praying” first appeared in The New Masses (20 November 1934: 8-9) for the 19th anniversary of Joe Hill’s death. The next year it was published in Proletarian Literature in the United States: An Anthology (New York: International Publishers, 1935: 179-180); a fragment of Alfred Hayes’ poem “I Dreams I Saw Joe Hill Again” also appeared in this anthology in an article on “The Wobbly in American Literature” (Alan Calmer, 340-45). The Patchen piece was more avant-garde compared to the traditional rhyme and verse of the Hayes piece, but both poems reached only a limited audience—until the summer of 1936 when Earl Robinson composed music for Alfred Hayes’ poem and the song “Joe Hill” was born, claiming “I never died said he” while keeping Joe Hill’s name alive. Patchen’s poem invokes the power that the events and personalities mentioned here had for the 1930s Left—the first I.W.W. convention in Chicago in 1905, Bill Haywood and Vincent St. John, Wobbly leaders. Patchen asserts solidarity with the I.W.W. and other rebels in American history by saying, WE are the real patriots.
Patchen received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his first book of verse in 1936. In the 1950s Beats embraced him and his innovation of reading poetry with jazz accompaniment, but remained determinedly independent. He won great critical praise, and the simple passion of his picture poems is timeless. He recorded four records for Folkways (Journal of Albion Moonlight 9716, Selected Poems 9717, Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz 9718, and Love Poems 9719). In his home state of Ohio, enthusiasts hold an annual Kenneth Patchen Festival.
Many singers, Mats Paulson among them, learned Joe Hill’s songs from Joe Glazer’s Songs of Joe Hill (Folkways FA 2039). Glazer has been active in the folk revival and trade union music movements since the 1950s. He is currently chairman of the Labor Heritage Foundation, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of workers’ culture.