Songwriter, punk rocker and poet Patti Smith made her triumphant return to the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church on February 9, forty years after her first “official” poetry reading took place there on February 10, 1971. Tickets went on sale at 7:30 for the 8:00 show and some die-hard fans turned up two hours early to wait in almost 15 degree weather.
Smith’s long-time friend, Janet Hamill, read first. Her reading was followed by a brief intermission. Anne Waldman introduced Smith, then Smith took the stage. Smith alternated between reading poems and passages from her Just Kids, which won the National Book Award last fall. She also sang songs accompanied by long-time friend and guitarist, Lenny Kaye. Since this event was both a reading and concert, the set-list gets a little crazy, but here’s an attempt to recapture the evening:
from Early Work 1970-1979
2. Dog Dream
3. Dream of Rimbaud
Smith paraphrases the passage in Just Kids about meeting Lenny Kaye. Kaye joins Smith on stage. Smith then reads a passage from Just Kids about Robert Mapplethorpe getting her a reading at the Poetry Project.
Smith and Kaye play a cover of “Mack The Knife” and another cover song (title unknown). The song was dedicated to Bertolt Brecht’s birthday (February 10, 1898). Smith made up the English lyrics before switching to the German.
Smith reads another passage from Just Kids about Jim Carroll.
Smith reads a passage from Just Kids about Gregory Corso. She then reads “ps/alm 23 revisted” from Early Work and dedicates it to William Burroughs. This is followed by a passage from Just Kids about Allen Ginsberg buying her a sandwich.
Smith and Kaye sing and play:
1. My Blakean Year
2. Redondo Beach
3. Pissing in a River
4. Gone Again
Smith reads “Ballad of a Bad Boy” from Early Works and dedicates it to Sam Shepard.
Smith closes with her song “Gloria,” which was developed from her poem “Oath.” While performing “Gloria,” Smith implores the audience to get on its feet. She shouts “Poetry is not dead, unless you f*cking kill it.” The audience goes crazy and joins in the chorus to “Gloria.”
Set over. Many leave transfixed.
-steven karl & Nicolette Wong