Sometime during the 1970s I came across Patti Smith’s book of poetry, Seventh Heaven. I just loved reading these poems over and over again. In fact, I still have my copy of the book.
I once saw another collection of her poems and was tempted to buy it but didn’t. Anyway, when I saw her recent book M Train I decided I would read it. I was not disappointed. Patti Smith is a fascinating person and besides being famous as a punk-rocker, writes extremely well. There are sentences in the book that are real gems, just perfect. It is a beautiful book, a memoir and an invitation to travel with her in her imagination. M Train is a mind or mental train. Smith reveals to us how her mind works.
As an artist, Patti Smith is mesmerizing. She manages to cast a spell on the reader and draw us into her magical world. She talks of portals, of passages unlocking the imagination. Her connections are guided by her finely turned intuition.
We are invited to join her at her table in her favorite café, pictured on the cover of the book. As you can see, she has her camera with her, so you will also find her photographs sprinkled throughout the book. This reminded me of W.G. Sebald and Smith mentions his extraordinary writings. She talks of the writers and books that have impressed her, in the sense that they really left their mark, more recently Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I’ll have to read them now. She also mentions Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, which I read. It was quite the experience. I was struck by Smith’s photo of Bolaño’s chair.
Doesn’t it make you wonder where he is. Of course, he died. There are also numerous photos of the graves of poets and writers she has visited, including Jean Genet and Sylvia Plath. Contemplating Plath’s suicide, Smith writes:
Sylvia placed her head in the oven. One can only shudder at the existence of such overriding desolation. The timer ticking down. A few moments left, still a possibility to live, to turn off the gas. I wondered what passed through her mind in those moments: her children, the embryo of a poem, her philandering husband buttering toast with another woman. I wondered what happened to the oven. Perhaps the next tenant got an impeccably clean range, a massive reliquary for a poet’s last reflection and a strand of light brown hair caught on a metal hinge.
She describes her visit to a friend’s café at Rockaway Beach, New Jersey, and how much she enjoyed the feel of the place, what with being on the ocean front and it having a long boardwalk. Before long she found a lowly bungalow and arranged to buy it despite her real estate lawyer strongly advising against it. One of the high points of her memoir is the advent of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the coast. Sure enough, her modest house was spared although she had yet to renovate it. I imagine she will and that she will produce even more writings there. In the meantime, I can read Just Kids.