The People Who Say They Like Poetry and Never Buy Any Are Cheap SOB’s

Kenneth Patchen? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the 1980s I was browsing in the poetry section of a bookshop, and I saw a sign designed to encourage purchasers. Here are two versions:

People who say they love poetry but never buy any are cheap SOB’s.

People who say they like poetry and don’t buy any are a cheap sonsabitches.

There was an ascription on the sign, but I cannot recall who was named. Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1946 U.S. poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen published the experimental work “Sleepers Awake” which included an episode during which a person met an admired poet. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

In a bar on 3rd I met the poet Fitzmichael Kell. He had his latest book in a big stack on the table in front of him and I bought three copies which he was good enough to sign because I believe the people who say they like poetry and never buy any are a pack of cheap sons-of-bitches.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1966 the countercultural publication “The Marrahwannah Quarterly” printed a somewhat different version with an ascription to Patchen. The words “like”, “and”, and “never” were changed to “love”, “but”, and “don’t”: 2

“People who say they ‘love’ poetry but don’t buy any are a pack of cheap sons of bitches.”
— Kenneth Patchen

The “Writer’s Market” annual for 1978 contained a chapter titled “What Every Freelancer Should Know” by Leon Taylor which included a shortened version of the remark: 3

Patchen once said, “People who say they love poetry but never buy any are cheap SOB’s.” That includes would-be poets!

In 1986 Kathryn Winslow published “Henry Miller: Full of Life”. She included material about the U.S. poet and small press publisher Judson Crews who issued a thin quarterly called “Flying Fish”. Crews printed Patchen’s remark in the quarterly: 4

He resented what he felt was the snobbishness of many poetry and literary magazines in taking only the work of recognized “names.” Evidence of his zeal in getting his own poets into circulation was seen in The Flying Fish, which had a box with a quotation from Kenneth Patchen: “I believe the people who say they like poetry and never buy any are a pack of cheap sons-of-bitches.”

In conclusion, Kenneth Patchen deserves credit for this statement based on the 1946 citation. The phrasing has evolved over time because human memory is imperfect.

(Great thanks to John A. Clark whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1969 (1946 Copyright), Sleepers Awake, by Kenneth Patchen, Section: Prologue, Quote Page 72, New Directions Publishing, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1966, The Marrahwannah Quarterly, Volume 2, Issue 4, Date: 01-04-1966, (Epigraph), Quote Page 4, Publisher: D. A. Levy, Publisher Location: Cleveland, Ohio. Collection: Little Magazine – Independent Voices. (JSTOR) link
  3. 1977, Writer’s Market 1978, Edited by Jane Koester and Bruce Joel Hillman, What Every Freelancer Should Know by Leon Taylor (Former Managing Editor of Writer’s Digest), Sub-section: Poetry, Quote Page 14, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1986, Henry Miller: Full of Life by Kathryn Winslow, Part 3: Big Sur, Chapter 28, Quote Page 230, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angeles: Distributed by St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)