22 October (1939): Kenneth Patchen to James Laughlin

Below, poet Kenneth Patchen responds to New Directions Press founder James Laughlin’s frenzied, combative, and actually-kind-of-funny dispatch (which we published here on Monday) regarding the poet’s seeming failure to send vast numbers of NDP books to retailer. Patchen’s reply was found type-written on the back of Laughlin’s original letter; it is not known if he ever mailed it. 

Norfolk, Connecticut


I can say a few Christs and Hells, too. What do you think I’ve been squealing like a stuck pig for? Because I’ve nothing to do but get a fat ass from sitting? if your books are weeks late in coming out and hundreds of orders pile up, can I make that up? We’ve been working until two and three every morning, hours on our own time because we feel you’re entitled to a break on this. Mr. & Mrs Carlisle tell us to go off for trips, to forget the work, that no one has a right to keep anyone working like we are. Trips! The only trips we take are to buy stamps (on our own time) and to beg newspapers and boxes from townsmen. Do you know how many mailings are in the books? Far more than the orders you’ve sent in: TEN OVER A THOUSAND SINCE YOU’VE LEFT. Do you think that is done to tease you, to slow up your business? Do you know how much your “sales time sugar” and gifts to personal friends takes? Do you know that we have to eat and sleep sometimes? As for the orders you’re worried about, I’ve got everything cleared up so that I’m doing day-to-day orders now, but that took time. It was only about a week ago that I finally managed to get that far. Do you know that there are at least a thousand more mailings to go out before the first of the year? Do you know that your books showed only four thousand mailings in four years up to now? Do you know how much time it took to get the Miller store and individual letters out? How much time it took on the catalogues? Time to answer questions that are imperative to handle? How much help have I gotten from you: waiting weeks for answers for the gummed paper address, to the EXAGMINATION [sic] disposal? etc. A skeleton staff of five people would be rushed here, even if the books were on time. Think about it a little bit before you say such unintelligent things as you’ve been saying. I’ve tried my best, Miriam has. She worked two weeks with a sprained ankle. I’ve been working my back strapped up. Where’s the balance in this? 

Handwritten note: 

Don’t you think you’re old enough not to indulge in cheap, below-the-belt cracks as the underlined on the other side—even if you have the money to pay for someone to take them?