Brian Patten

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Brian Patten (born 7 February 1946) is an English poet and author.[1] He came to prominence in the 1960s as one of the Liverpool poets, and writes primarily lyrical poetry about human relationships. His famous works include "Little Johnny's Confessions", "The Irrelevant Song", "Vanishing Trick", "Emma's Doll", and "Impossible Parents".


Patten was born in Bootle, Liverpool, England.[2] He attended Sefton Park School in the Smithdown Road area of Liverpool, where his early poetic writing was encouraged.[1] He left school at fifteen and began work for The Bootle Times writing a column on popular music. At age 18, he moved to Paris, where he lived rough for a time, earning money by writing poems in chalk on the pavements.[3]

Together with the other two Liverpool poets, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, Patten published The Mersey Sound in 1967. One of the best-selling poetry anthologies of modern times, The Mersey Sound aimed to make poetry accessible to a broader audience. It has been described as "the most significant anthology of the twentieth century".[4] Together with Henri and McGough, Patten was awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool in 2001.[5]

Patten's first published volumes of poems were Little Johnny's Confession (1967) and Notes to the Hurrying Man (1969). They were followed by The Irrelevant Song (1971), Vanishing Trick (1976) and Grave Gossip (1979). In 1983, along with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, Patten published the follow-up to The Mersey Sound with New Volume. Patten's later solo collections, Storm Damage (1988) and Armada (1996), are more varied, the latter featuring a sequence of poems concerning the death of his mother and memories of his childhood. Armada is perhaps Patten's most mature and formal book, dispensing with much of the playfulness of former work. He has also written comic verse for children, notably Gargling With Jelly and Thawing Frozen Frogs.

Patten's style is generally lyrical and his subjects are primarily love and relationships. His 1986 collection Love Poems draws together his best work in this area from the previous sixteen years. Charles Causley commented that he "reveals a sensibility profoundly aware of the ever-present possibility of the magical and the miraculous, as well as of the granite-hard realities. These are undiluted poems, beautifully calculated, informed - even in their darkest moments - with courage and hope."[6]

The actor Paul Bettany, in his contribution to the poetry collection Poems That Make Grown Men Cry (2014), said of Patten's work: "Reading Brian Patten's poetry does that trick that art should do, which is to sort of adhere you to the surface of the planet, just long enough that you don't go spinning off into the loneliness of space - 'Somebody else has felt this too', you think. And you breathe a little easier".[7]

Patten's poem "So Many Different Lengths of Time" has, in recent times, become a popular poem recited at funerals. At the service to remember Ken Dodd in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, the actor Stephanie Cole read "So Many Different Lengths of Time" to a congregation of thousands within and outside the building. Opening his poem with verse by Pablo Neruda, Patten's poem argues that it is the act of remembrance which offers family members the best antidote to the anguish of loss. In tackling the subject of grief, Patten views poetry as performing an important social function: "Poetry helps us understand what we’ve forgotten to remember. It reminds us of things that are important to us when the world overtakes us emotionally."[8]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Publications with others[edit]

  • The Mersey Sound 1967
  • New Volume 1983

Poetry collections for adults[edit]

  • Little Johnny's Confession 1967
  • Notes to the Hurrying Man 1969
  • When You Wake Tomorrow illustrated by Pip Benveniste 1971
  • The Irrelevant Song 1971
  • And Sometimes It Happens 1972
  • Vanishing Trick 1976
  • Grave Gossip 1979
  • Love Poems - (anthology) 1986
  • Storm Damage 1988
  • Grinning Jack (anthology) 1992
  • Armada 1996
  • Selected Poems (anthology) 2007
  • Collected Love Poems (anthology) 2007
  • The Book of Upside Down Thinking 2018

Books for children[edit]

  • The Elephant and the Flower 1970
  • Jumping Mouse 1972
  • Emma's Doll 1976
  • Mr Moon's Last Case 1988
  • Thawing Frozen Frogs 1992
  • Impossible Parents, illustrated by Arthur Robins Walker Books, 1994, OCLC 31708253
  • Jimmy Tag-Along 1995
  • The Blue and Green Ark: An Alphabet For Planet Earth 1999
  • Juggling With Gerbils 2000
  • The Impossible Parents Go Green, illus. Robins, Walker Books, 2001
  • The Story Giant 2004
  • The Most Impossible Parents, illus. Robins, Walker Books, 2010
  • Gargling With Jelly 2015

As editor[edit]

  • The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry 1998
  • The Puffin Book of Modern Children's Verse 2006


  1. ^ a b Echo, Liverpool (29 September 2010). "Mersey Poet Brian Patten on his memories of Liverpool". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  2. ^ Manning, Craig (6 June 2018). "Hot off the bookshelf ... Brian Patten on his book of Upside Down Thinking". Wirral Globe. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  3. ^ "Brian Patten | Welcome to Brian Patten's official website |". Retrieved 31 December 2023.
  4. ^ "Brian Patten - Literature". The British Council. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Recipients of the Honorary Freedom of the City of Liverpool - Liverpool Town Hall". Liverpool Town Hall. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  6. ^ Causley, Charles (1978). Twentieth-century Children's Writers (1st ed.). Macmillan International Higher Education. pp. 979–980. ISBN 9781349036486. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  7. ^ "The poetry that moves men to tears". the Guardian. 6 April 2014. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  8. ^ "The Poetry of Remembrance: Pablo Neruda & Brian Patten". 12 July 2017.

External links[edit]