Hear Patti Smith Read 12 Poems From Seventh Heaven, Her First Collection (1972)

So it’s Nation­al Poet­ry Month, and the Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets rec­om­mends 30 Ways to Cel­e­brate, includ­ing some old stand­bys like mem­o­riz­ing a poem, read­ing a poem a day, and attend­ing a read­ing. All sen­si­ble, if some­what staid, sug­ges­tions (I myself have been re-read­ing all of Wal­lace Stevens’ work—make of that what you will). Here’s a sug­ges­tion that didn’t make the list: spend some time dig­ging the poet­ry of Pat­ti Smith.

A liv­ing breath­ing leg­end, Smith doesn’t appear in many aca­d­e­m­ic antholo­gies, and that’s just fine. What she offers are bridges from the Beats to the six­ties New York art scene to sev­en­ties punk poet­ry and beyond, with span­drels made from French sur­re­al­ist lean­ings and rock and roll obses­sions. A 1977 Oxford Lit­er­ary Review arti­cle apt­ly describes Smith in her hey­day:

In the late six­ties and ear­ly sev­en­ties Pat­ti Smith was a mem­ber of Warhol’s androg­y­nous beau­ties liv­ing under the flu­o­res­cent lights of New York City’s Chelsea Hotel…Her per­for­mances were sex­u­al bruis­ings with the spasms of Jag­ger and the off-key of Dylan. Her musi­cal poems often came from her poet­i­cal fan­tasies of Rim­baud.

Smith’s work is sen­su­al and wild­ly kinet­ic, as is her process, which she once described as “a real phys­i­cal act.”

When I’m home writ­ing on the type­writer, I go crazy
I move like a mon­key
I’ve wet myself, I’ve come in my pants writ­ing

Emi­ly Dick­en­son she ain’t, but Smith also has an abid­ing love and respect for her lit­er­ary fore­bears, whether now-almost-estab­lish­ment fig­ures like Vir­ginia Woolf or still-some­what-out­ré char­ac­ters like Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet.

Smith’s first pub­lished col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Sev­enth Heav­en, appeared in 1972 and includ­ed trib­utes to Edie Sedg­wick and Mar­i­anne Faith­full. She ded­i­cat­ed the book to gang­ster writer Mick­ey Spillane and Rolling Stones’ muse, and part­ner of both Bri­an Jones and Kei­th Richards, Ani­ta Pal­len­berg.

The book has not been reis­sued, and print copies are rare. Yet, as the afore-quot­ed arti­cle notes, Pat­ti Smith’s is an “oral poet­ics” that “uses much of her voice rhythms.” The line between her work as a punk singer and per­for­mance poet is ephemer­al, per­haps nonex­is­tent—Pat­ti Smith on the page is great, but Pat­ti Smith on stage is greater. Hear for your­self, above, in a 1972 record­ing of Smith read­ing twelve poems from her first col­lec­tion at St. Mark’s Church in New York City. She sounds almost exact­ly like Lin­da Manz from Ter­rence Malick’s Days of Heav­en, a street­wise kid with a roman­tic streak a mile wide.

Over three decades and many more pub­li­ca­tions lat­er, Smith is now a Nation­al Book Award win­ner and a con­sid­er­ably mel­low­er pres­ence, but she has nev­er strayed far from her roots. Above, see her at back at St. Marks in 2011, read­ing her poem “Oath,” first writ­ten in 1966, whose famous first line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” became the unfor­get­table open­ing to her equal­ly unfor­get­table “Glo­ria.” For con­trast, hear her read the same poem below, in 1973, over squalling gui­tar feed­back (and with the famous line begin­ning “Christ died…”). Clas­sic, clas­sic stuff.

See and hear many more of her read­ings on Youtube, and see this site for a par­tial Pat­ti Smith bib­li­og­ra­phy, pub­li­ca­tion his­to­ry, and select­ed archive of poems, essays, and reviews.

Smith’s read­ings of Sev­enth Heav­en will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

via Fla­vor­wire

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Pat­ti Smith Read from Vir­ginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Sur­viv­ing Record­ing of Woolf’s Voice

See Pat­ti Smith Give Two Dra­mat­ic Read­ings of Allen Ginsberg’s “Foot­note to Howl”

Pat­ti Smith Plays Songs by The Ramones, Rolling Stones, Lou Reed & More on CBGB’s Clos­ing Night (2006)

Pat­ti Smith Doc­u­men­tary Dream of Life Beau­ti­ful­ly Cap­tures the Author’s Life and Long Career (2008)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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