Beyond ‘Just Kids’: A Pocket Guide to Patti Smith’s Non-Fiction

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LITERARY CRITICISM

“Où est Baudelaire?,” from Creem, 1977
A short piece about Baudelaire. Well, sort of about Baudelaire. In any case, it benefits from brevity and from offering some rather fascinating insight into Smith’s own thoughts on criticism.

Most Patti turn of phrase: “Critic does not mean criticize. It means to open the eyes. To be the translator of the demon of creation… transforming the seed into a substance soluble and palatable so that the people may eat. In the past it has been the critic, one who could see for miles. The unfailing vision of Baudelaire. The critic who trumpeted the space and light of the future. The whirling noise that saturated the jail house walls with the rock of right.”

“Pain and Ink,” from Details, 1993
A review of Genet, Edmund White’s biography of Jean Genet — a subject close to Smith’s heart, and on whom she writes with passion and insight.

Most Patti turn of phrase: ” His exquisite beauty, his affirmation of betrayal, crime, and homosexuality filled the guts of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac. It helped spawn Jackson Pollock, John Coltrane, and eventually rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Deep Chords,” from the New York Times, 2014

And finally, Smith’s take on the new Murakami. Her style has mellowed somewhat over the years (as also demonstrated in this beautiful obituary for Lou Reed), and it illustrates the virtue of restraint — when she does wax lyrical, it has a whole lot more impact that it did in the 1970s. Writing is hard.

Most Patti turn of phrase: “The writer sits at his desk and makes us a story. A story not knowing where it is going, not knowing itself to be magic. Closure is an illusion, the winking of the eye of a storm. Nothing is completely resolved in life, nothing is perfect. The important thing is to keep living because only by living can you see what happens next.”