Patti Smith Talks About Creativity and the Stories that Take Root

Posted by Cybil on September 1, 2019
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Punk rock legend, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, award-winning writer, photographer, activist, and all-around Renaissance woman Patti Smith is back on bookshelves this month with her third memoir, Year of the Monkey.

The slim, poetic book begins on New Year's Day 2016 as she travels down the California coast following a San Francisco concert.

Smith took a break in her music tour to answer some of our questions about Year of the Monkey, her creative process, and the books that mean the most to her, from Howl to Little Women.


Goodreads: Introduce readers to Year of the Monkey. What inspired the new memoir?

Patti Smith: Year of the Monkey traces my personal experience of 2016, the lunar Year of the Monkey, through the lenses of travel, dream, and imagination. I decided on New Year’s Day to write consistently as I traveled, and it expanded into a somewhat experimental narrative, merging my life concerns with waking dream and fiction. Inspiration was everywhere—in the books I was reading, within the stoic struggles of dear friends and our shifting political climate.

GR: Your photography illustrates the new book as well. How did you merge those two mediums for the book?

PS: When I was 16, I read Nadja by André Breton, illustrated with intriguing photographs by Man Ray. It inspired me to use photographs in Babel, my first major collection of poems and prose poems. I have been taking Polaroids since 1995, and except for Just Kids, I have used my own images to illustrate my books. It works very well, as I take photographs during my travels concurrent to writing, so the images fit within the text authentically.

GR: What is your process for writing books, and how is that different from songwriting or poetry? How is it the same?

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PS: I try to write as a daily discipline. Often entries remain in my journals unread, but some take root and intertwine, providing the material for an evolving mental and physical journey that with much willing labor becomes a book. Writing poems is highly concentrative, arduous work that requires the most solitude.

Songwriting differs, as my focus shifts from being solely on the work to the potential listener. I write lyrics to sing, so I must consider the listener, or in the case where another writes the music, the vision of my collaborator.

They are the introverted and extroverted states of process.

GR: Your first memoir, Just Kids, won the National Book Award, and you followed that up with another memoir, M Train. This book marks your third memoir. What draws you to this form of storytelling?

PS: I promised Robert Mapplethorpe, the day before he died, that I would write our story. I had never written a memoir, and Just Kids was a great responsibility. I was honor-bound to depict our relationship, the atmosphere of the times, the evolution of his work and historical chronology as accurately as possible.

M Train and Year of the Monkey depart from this demanding format. I still wanted to write in first person, though unfettered by linear chronology. I like this freewheeling way of translating the world around me through a more imaginative lens.

GR: You recently wrote a foreword for the 150th anniversary edition of Little Women. Can you tell us why that book is important to you?

PS: I have always loved books and decided very young I wanted to write them, but I wasn’t certain how to go about it until I read Little Women. Jo March was a girl not unlike myself, a somewhat socially inept bookworm who desired to be an author. She wrote every spare moment, passionately. I gleaned that if one wishes to be a writer, one must write diligently every day. I am grateful to have had her as a guide.

GR: What books are you currently reading and recommending to friends?

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PS: I am rereading the beautiful A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin, and have recently finished Anthony Alofsin’s Wright and New York and The Weil Conjectures by Karen Olsson. All three books examine their brilliant subject’s interior and exterior world in a unique and informative fashion.

GR: What are some of your all-time-favorite books?

PS: I love classics like The Glass Bead Game, The Scarlet Letter, Villette, and Billy Budd, as well as modern works such as The Wild Boys, 2666, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

The poetry I most reread includes Ariel by Sylvia Plath, After Nature by W.G. Sebald, A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud, and Howl by Allen Ginsberg.

GR: As an artist who embraces music, longform writing, poetry, and photography, what is the key to maintaining that level of creativity?

PS: Maintaining one’s enthusiasm, curiosity, and developing a strong work ethic. Much energy is required to commit one work, so one must also stay fit, take care of oneself. And, of course, one must love their work, even the most laborious aspects of one’s process. Which I do!



Patti Smith's new memoir, Year of the Monkey, will be available in the U.S. on September 24. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Holly (new)

Holly I've been a fan of Patti for forty years now and she's one of the few people whose memoirs I would take time to read. Thanks for this, the best thing I've read in your blog all year.


message 2: by Katie (new)

Katie Boyer How did I not know Patti has another memoir coming out?!? So excited now!


message 3: by Karen (new)

Karen I am looking forward Patti's new memoir. I loved the first two books.


message 4: by Judith (new)

Judith I read The M Train and absolutely loved it! It was the first of her books I have read. I will definitely read her new memoir.


message 5: by Ruth Anne (last edited Sep 18, 2019 06:55PM) (new)

Ruth Anne After hearing Horses in 1975, I became a Patti fanatic. (I learned of it because someone came up to me at a party and said I looked like Patti, which I kind of did at that age.)

That album completely changed my life. I've seen the Patti Smith Band play at least 50 times, and have had the great fortune to meet and converse with her on several occasions (Lenny Kaye too, who I adore -- got to drink beers with him on his birthday at CBGBs, a great life memory). When "Just Kids" came out, I got six copies sent from close friends who said they thought of me when they read it.

So I'm delighted Patti's put out a new book. I have every one (with the exception of "Witt" which was "borrowed", I'd do anything to get another copy of it).

Thank you Patti. I am who I am today because of you.


message 6: by Ivory (new)

Ivory So looking forward to reading her new book. She is such an amazing artist.


message 7: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Thank you, Patti. “Just Kids” is one of my favorite books. Looking forward to the new one!


message 8: by Kehinde (new)

Kehinde Brown Patti’s writing is sublime. Just Kids was exceptional, and a book I reread. Can’t wait for this new one! 😀


message 9: by Louise (new)

Louise Anne I can’t wait for the year of the monkey. It’s my zodiac, plus her writing puts me into a trance. Brilliant woman.


message 10: by Jenna (new)

Jenna YenNga I hadn't known Patti Smith until I read Just Kids, and have been a fan since then for both her music and writings. Pre-ordered the book months ago, and now can't wait to have it in my hand.


message 11: by Greg (new)

Greg Roensch Thank you GoodReads. Thank you Patti Smith. I'm looking forward to reading this book.


message 12: by Argetlam (new)

Argetlam She likes The Glass Bead Game, which is one of my favourite books too. Im shaking.


message 13: by Chet (new)

Chet Can't read It !! I'm a huge fan of her work.


message 14: by Felice (new)

Felice Carter thank you for sharing, innovating, and being a worthy role model


message 15: by Kseniya (new)

Kseniya She’s so awesome! Happy to share my time on Earth with her


message 16: by Carole (new)

Carole Great news, I am looking forward to another Patti Smith memoir.


message 17: by David (new)

David Collins The link to this interview is possibly the most useful & worthy thing I have received from Goodreads in my six years of membership. Patti is my main rock-n-roll touchstone (I narrowly avoiding saying "spirit animal"), the living embodiment of pre-Disneyfication NYC.


message 18: by Helena (new)

Helena I echo all the praise for Patti. Reading her makes me feel that I am blessed to have such an intelligent, thoughtful and kind friend. She enriches my life. 💕


message 19: by Tim (new)

Tim Franklin What can I say that hasn't been said already in these comments? 'Just Kids' is a book which should be read by everybody; the story of two extraordinary people who became soul mates, a love letter from Patti to Robert, and to the New York of their early years in the city. I'll be on the look out for this new memoir for sure.

(But please, it's 'foreword' not 'forward'!)


message 20: by Rachael (new)

Rachael Day Your Poetry Dot Com...
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ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH

Contributed by alicewhite on Friday, February 20 2015 @ 12:21:49 AEST
Topic: Dedicated Poetry
She doesnt like sand stuck on her feet, Sylvia Plath tarot 7777 triskele triple spiral new grange the path of sameck , to see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower


THE WORLD CARD 21 IN A GRAIN OF SAND


"I could never write a poem about a toothbrush"



although now in this lifetime I feel that I must
lest these once white teen teeth
start to crumble and crown to rust
enamel be it hardened by life's thistle's n bristle's
brush stokes holding sway the stench of cavities cankerous decay
soft substance inside I am liquid nerves dead to the bone and dry
accepting every knock welcoming the after shock
fervently holding firm and rooted to the spot
with tooth and nail i venture a denture to quench my thirst for adventure
time stands still
on the Indrid Cold line
and I turn to dust
alchemical gold
forever mine

We will see you again
i will see you in time.




Copyright © alicewhite ... [2015-02-20 12:21:49]
(Date/Time posted on site)









Previous Posted Poem | | Next Posted Poem




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Re: ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH (User Rating: 1)
by MuppetMan on Saturday, February 21 2015 @ 23:50:43 AEST
(User Info | Send a Message | Journal)
hate to say pure genius because it's overused, but this is pure genius and not just because you quoted Plath or Blake but because of the etching away of enamel over time which is beautifully depicted here in this very interesting poem.
long may you run/ we've been through things together/ with trunks of things still to come/ We found things to do in stormy weather/ long may your run/ with your chrome heart shining in the sun/ long may you run --- from old Neil Young.
Peace!


Re: ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH (User Rating: 1)
by JamesStockdale on Sunday, February 22 2015 @ 09:15:28 AEST
(User Info | Send a Message) http://www.shareyourpoetry.com
Well you pulled it off.
So well I'm going to brush my teeth once again.
I did give me anxiety and that proves this was a powerful poem.
5 stars my friend!


Re: ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH (User Rating: 1)
by ming on Wednesday, September 09 2015 @ 01:43:26 AEST
(User Info | Send a Message)
Your mind is a wonderland. 'start to crumble and crown to rust' one of my fav lines.

ming

While every care is taken to ensure the general sites content is family safe, our moderators cannot be in all places; all the time. Please report poetry and or comments that are in breach of our site rules HERE (Please include poem title or url). Parents also please ensure that you supervise your children well when they are on the internet; regardless of what a site says about being, or being considered, child-safe.


Your Poetry Dot Com...
Poems On Site: 198,500+ Comments On Poems: 427,000+ Forum Posts: 105,000+
Search
Back Home Forums Poetry Submit Poetry FAQ Your Account



ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH

Contributed by alicewhite on Friday, February 20 2015 @ 12:21:49 AEST
Topic: Dedicated Poetry
She doesnt like sand stuck on her feet, Sylvia Plath tarot 7777 triskele triple spiral new grange the path of sameck , to see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower


THE WORLD CARD 21 IN A GRAIN OF SAND


"I could never write a poem about a toothbrush"



although now in this lifetime I feel that I must
lest these once white teen teeth
start to crumble and crown to rust
enamel be it hardened by life's thistle's n bristle's
brush stokes holding sway the stench of cavities cankerous decay
soft substance inside I am liquid nerves dead to the bone and dry
accepting every knock welcoming the after shock
fervently holding firm and rooted to the spot
with tooth and nail i venture a denture to quench my thirst for adventure
time stands still
on the Indrid Cold line
and I turn to dust
alchemical gold
forever mine

We will see you again
i will see you in time.




Copyright © alicewhite ... [2015-02-20 12:21:49]
(Date/Time posted on site)









Previous Posted Poem | | Next Posted Poem




All comments are owned by the poster. Your Poetry Dot Com is not responsible for the content of any comment.
That said, if you find an offensive comment, please contact via the FeedBack Form with details, including poem title etc.

Re: ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH (User Rating: 1)
by MuppetMan on Saturday, February 21 2015 @ 23:50:43 AEST
(User Info | Send a Message | Journal)
hate to say pure genius because it's overused, but this is pure genius and not just because you quoted Plath or Blake but because of the etching away of enamel over time which is beautifully depicted here in this very interesting poem.
long may you run/ we've been through things together/ with trunks of things still to come/ We found things to do in stormy weather/ long may your run/ with your chrome heart shining in the sun/ long may you run --- from old Neil Young.
Peace!


Re: ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH (User Rating: 1)
by JamesStockdale on Sunday, February 22 2015 @ 09:15:28 AEST
(User Info | Send a Message) http://www.shareyourpoetry.com
Well you pulled it off.
So well I'm going to brush my teeth once again.
I did give me anxiety and that proves this was a powerful poem.
5 stars my friend!


Re: ARIEL'S TOOTHBRUSH (User Rating: 1)
by ming on Wednesday, September 09 2015 @ 01:43:26 AEST
(User Info | Send a Message)
Your mind is a wonderland. 'start to crumble and crown to rust' one of my fav lines.

ming

While every care is taken to ensure the general sites content is family safe, our moderators cannot be in all places; all the time. Please report poetry and or comments that are in breach of our site rules HERE (Please include poem title or url). Parents also please ensure that you supervise your children well when they are on the internet; regardless of what a site says about being, or being considered, child-safe.

Poetry is much like a great photo, a single "moment in time" capturing many feelings and emotions. Yet, they are very alive; creating stirrings within the readers who form visual "pictures" of the expressed emotions within the Poem. ©

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oetry is much like a great photo, a single "moment in time" capturing many feelings and emotions. Yet, they are very alive; creating stirrings within the readers who form visual "pictures" of the expressed emotions within the Poem. ©

Opinions expressed in the poetry, comments, forums etc. on this site are not necessarily those of this site, its owners and/or operators; but of the individuals who post items to this site.
Frequently Asked Questions | | | Privacy Policy | | | Contact Webmaster

All submitted items are Copyright © to their submitter. All the rest Copyright © 2002-2012 by Your Poetry Dot Com

All logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owners.

Script Generation Time: 0.103 Seconds. - View our Site Map | © @m.com


message 21: by Anna (new)

Anna Mosca Thank you for the interview and information about her new book! I need to meet this wonderful woman and create with her, she’s been a strong sister in perilous life periods. Thank you Patti for making public your newest writings, can’t wait to read them. There will be an audio book vrs too, read by you?


message 22: by Rob (new)

Rob McCabe I have read "Just Kids," " M Train," and "Devotions," and can't wait until next month to buy this latest one. Ms. Smith is an amazing writer, poet, and musician. Her musical albums are sheer poetry. Thanks for posting this interview.


message 23: by Helena (new)

Helena Woods Thank you so much for sharing this interview! I'm actually rereading M Train at the moment, and just a few moments ago I was thinking, "I really would love to read an interview by Patti Smith on her writing process..." and then 10 minutes later, I'm updating my book list and find this interview in my message inbox! Fate! What a magical fateful finding. Thank you!


message 24: by Jeaninne (new)

Jeaninne Escallier Kato Whenever I read Patti's work, I feel like I am not alone in my nostalgia for my seasoned life; that other women of a certain age go through a creative renaissance that involves a mixture of everything we have loved, felt and experienced in life.


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