Patti Smith is a writer, artist, and performer. Her seminal album Horses was followed by nine releases, including Radio Ethiopia, Easter, Dream of Life, Gone Again, and Trampin'. Her artwork was first exhibited at Gotham Book Mart in 1973, and she has been associated with the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. Strange Messenger, a retrospective of three hundred works, made its debut at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and has been exhibited worldwide, most notably at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Haus der Kunst, Munich; and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Her books include Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Complete Lyrics. On July 10, 2005, she received the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the highest grade awarded by the French Republic to eminent artists and writers who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts throughout the world. Smith resides in New York City and is the mother of two, Jackson and Jesse.
Smith's fans remain legion; her 1975 album Horses, a masterpiece, continues to influence and inspire. Her writings, appearing over the years following the band's '80s dormancy, have garnered a cult following not unlike that of Charles Bukowski. The press chat quotes the following from a poem called "The Long Road": "We broke our mother's heart and became ourselves./ We proceeded to breathe and therefore to leave,/ drunken startled beings, each of us a god." It's hard to imagine those lines in a book published by Ecco without Smith to back them up. Yet they do convey what can only be called Smith's mystique, and the book as whole effectively transmits the affect and aura, as well as the innocence, that make her a rock star: one believes in her. There are better lines and poems among the 24 short lyrics (along with the long, diffuse "Birds of Iraq"); the book certainly eclipses, say, Billy Corgan's recent Blinking with Fists. There are more polished books of poems by bandleaders (David Berman's Actual Air and Jeff Tweedy's Adult Head come to mind), but these poems allow access to a major artist's thoughts and preoccupations. (Oct. 11) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Considering that this is Smith's first volume of new poems since 1979, its thinness is startling. Many readers will be tempted to recall an image of Smith carried over from the early 1970s, long before the poetry slams, rap's precursor, delivering up her words with endless surreal variations. With the long-winded free associations pushed to the background here, Smith's interest in Catholicism and mysticism becomes dominant. But the 11-page "Birds of Iraq" is this volume's hidden jewel. The U.S. invasion is ingeniously contrasted with the mother calling out "Can't I have some peace?" to the flock of unruly kids around her. From this point on, whatever Smith says about either her mother or Iraq is brought into mirrored focus, and the simile extends to the rest of her family in other poems that are among her best. These poems are also the simplest and most direct-not bothering with rhyme, cutting out the archaic (or "poetic") sentence structure that mars other poems. For larger collections.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
"[A] hidden jewel...Among her best."--Library Journal
"30 years after Horses, Smith's light is still burning bright."--San Francisco Chronicle