Sunday, September 16, 2012


It's the creative works that relieve my soul in times of trouble, which seems to be most of the time.  I had a birthday in May and just got around to using some gift cards for one of the local bookstores in the Berkshires. One of the books I picked up was WOOLGATHERING by Patti Smith.

It's an amended version of a little book she wrote in the 1990s, only with a new introduction and photos. Part poetry part prose and pretty much all memoir, there are a few chapters that read as swiftly and clearly as her masterpiece of memoir prose JUST KIDS. So if you liked that you'll like those sections.

Others are more prose poem explorations of the imagery of memory, sometimes becoming a little precious but always a clear expression of Smith's creative inspirations and impulses.  And the book itself is a sweet little art object (I'm talking of the hardcover which was all the store had; I don't even know if there's a paperback) beautifully produced.

Here's a random example of the more poetic prose sections, a paragraph that displays her original use of imagery as well as her sometimes arcane use of language in a way she totally owns and makes her own as well:

"It seemed like all of creation was mapped out above and I was drawn from the laughter of the other children into a stillness I aspired to master. Here one could hear a seed form or the soul fold like a handkerchief."

[Full disclosure: As I've written before, an anthology I edited in the 1970s, NONE OF THE ABOVE, had poems by Smith because I was a big fan of hers when I discovered her first little book of poems and the 45 record where she did my favorite piece of hers: "Piss Factory." But when she didn't respond to my request for the use of some of her poems the publisher of the anthology contacted the publisher of her little book and got permission to use them. I didn't want to do that without her say so, but he did it anyway.

I did meet her back then, and since, but she didn't have anything to say to me any of those times, once just patting my little boy's head (my oldest back when he was still a boy) and giving him one of her magnetic smiles. Last time I saw her and reintroduced myself was last year, and once again she said nothing, just gave me an enigmatic smile.]


JenW said...

Maybe she still prefers her stillness. No point trying to figure a person’s reaction or interaction with someone new- especially someone who has had so much attention. Personally, I think she missed out on a nice chat. I remember introducing my mother to Antonio Banderas after a performance of Nine. He was charmed by her kind words and accent and he leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. It was sweet. Everyone’s different….

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

As Horshak said to Mr. Kotter: "...what is IS and always will be..." which may at least partially explain why I've not yet read any of her books but love reading Michael Lally's books, which have been instrumental in helping me find my own voice.

-K- said...

I've been very put off by the last several interviews with her that I've read. Maybe a little too grand or self-absorbed for some who comes from a "Piss Factory" sensibility.

Although it of course just could be the way reporters and editors choose to slant it.

Lally said...

I didn't mean to sound like I was knocking her for either not remembering me (we've read at the same events, been at the same parties, etc. over the decades) because I do that all the time myself. I was just being honest about the connection, or lack of it, I have to someone I'm writing a review about. As for recent interviews K, the only one I saw was with Tavis Smiley a year or so ago someone sent me a link to and I dug, she seemed mellow and spiritual and honest. What ones are you referring to, I'd like to check them out.

-K- said...

It took me a minute to find it but in 2010 (March 3rd) the NYT ran an article about her long-standing interest in high fashion, dedicating songs to designers and appearing at Fashion Week. She seemed to be distancing herself from her early life.

But in another article she gave a lot of support to the West Memphis Three so that goes a long way to the good.

Lally said...

That sounds about right from what I know of her early days in NYC. She seemed to be a part of the fashion scene then with a lot of folks digging her style and seeing her as a downtown fashion icon, with the help of Mapplethorpe and his photos, all of which she writes about in JUST KIDS.