Punk Poet Patti Smith Says Writing Is Her “Essential” Art Form
Bob Chiarito (AFP)
Chicago, United States ●
Fri, November 4, 2022
Alongside her musical performances and her literary activities, Patti Smith is a painter and photographer, but if she had to choose a form?
“I would choose writing.”
“Writing is my most essential form of expression,” the artist told AFP in Chicago, where she recently received the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
Smith, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, is perhaps best known for her seminal punk album Horses.
But poetry was an earlier love, and Horses begins with lines from a poem she wrote.
“Performing poetry, reading poetry was very strong in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” she said.
But “I had so much energy and I was really a rock and roll kid, so just sitting there reading a poem never satisfied me,” Smith continued.
Poet by heart: American singer-songwriter Patti Smith speaks after receiving the highest French Legion of Honor during the Night of Ideas event at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York, USA , May 21. She continued with a performance of her music and a reading of her poetry. She was joined on stage by her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, on piano and Lenny Kaye, on guitar. (AFP/Andrea Renault)
“I quickly merged my poems with a few chords to push myself to improvise more poetry, and it sort of evolved into a rock and roll band.”
While Smith and her band’s album was critically acclaimed, songwriting has always been her backbone, she said, pointing to her song “Redondo Beach,” which was originally a poem.
“In all my albums and even in the prose that I write, poetry is always a common thread,” she said.
Horses is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time, but for Smith it was his 2010 book just children – a memoir she promised her best friend and muse Robert Mapplethorpe that she would write hours before he died – which became the biggest hit of her life.
“I had never written a non-fiction book, but he asked me if I would write our story,” she recalls.
Mapplethorpe, a photographer, has died aged 42. He and Smith shared a deep friendship, romance and lifelong creative connection.
“My greatest success in my life was the book he asked me to write and it almost makes me cry. Robert got his wish and I kept my wish and wrote the book the best I could. as I could.”
just children won the National Book Award and introduced Smith to a whole new generation of fans, while surpassing all of his music albums along the way.
She said the youngsters used to tell her Horses changed their lives – but “it was usurped by Kids.”
“I think it really opened a lot of doors for me,” she continued. “Other books have been looked at and people have read them and now when we have our shows it’s a wonderful thing to get on stage and see a sea of people under 30 or even under 30. 25 years.”
“To see all these young people who are interested in your work and who give their energy, I am very grateful to you.”
‘Keep on doing our job’: Patti Smith (left) and Busy Philipps attend the ACLU and NYCLU’s 20th Annual Sing Out For Freedom Benefit Concert at City Hall on October 24 in New York City, USA. United States. (AFP/Getty Images/Rob Kim)
Smith, who turns 76 in December, said she has no plans to slow down production.
She’s ready to go out A book of days later this month, a volume based on reflections from his Instagram account.
She is also considering a book series titled cast ironbased on his posts on the Substack account.
Smith has maintained her prolific output for years, but she says “things aren’t necessarily easy.”
“I had to hook up my whole life.”
She considers herself an optimist but is “deeply concerned and heartbroken” about the state of the world at the moment, citing environmental crises as well as rising nationalism around the world and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“So many things are happening simultaneously right now, it’s overwhelming,” she said. “But I have kids, so I always search my mind for ways to make the world a better place for them.”
Persevering means writing daily and doing your best to help others.
“We just have to keep doing our job and find a way to stay healthy and help each other. It seems so basic, but it’s also necessary,” she said.
Smith said she was working on writing a new song inspired by the women protesting in Iran and that she still believes, like one of her famous songs, that people have power.
“I absolutely believe it,” she said. “It’s just whether we choose to use it or not. That’s what the women of Iran do.”
“It’s the only tool we have.”