The fact that I have chosen to sit and type this after a day of work, instead of scrolling through instagram and letting other people decide how I should hate myself today, perhaps illustrates the point that Patti Smith is trying to explore in this book- Devotion, all about why writers choose to write. Why there is something within us all that won’t shut up, like a conker trying to burst out of it’s thorns into the dark softness of earth around. The mystery of what compels somebody to sit down and create a whole new world of their own choosing, whilst the real hustle and bustle of blood and bones keeps cranking the wheel outside dreamings. This isn’t the first book of Patti’s I’ve read, and Just Kids about Robert Mapplethorpe and her galavanting around New York in love and inspired will always hold a special place in my heart. Patti’s works are always little miracle drops into the vast legacy of language.
Devotion keeps up the typical Smithian prose, sparse yet searing- using a minimal lanuguage to convey spiritual hopes and depths, that many writers forsake in favour of catalogued details to get more ‘realistic’ styles. Sometimes reading Smith I do feel a bit skeptical, like her writing is trying too hard to be profound and is too serious in its exultations of divinity. But, I also feel perhaps that is the green eyed monster clouding my perception- truly, I am amazed how one mind can be so sensitivley intune to the cosmic vibrations around the most mundane of routines without fanfare. In Devotion, Patti describes her visits to cafes for bread and coffee with as much beauty as if she were visiting an other-worldly wonder, not some old poets dive in Paris.
This book is not too long, but it engages with the topic on the origins of inspiration and the force behind writing with a mystical directness that only leaves me wanting more. It is probably my analytical mind being too hopeful, that I thought before reading this that Smith could give clear answers to these obscure and ever debated issues of creatvitity. But ultimatley, that’s what I love about Devotion– Patti is like a London pidgin, alighting on one thought, briefly pecking around its periphery before flying away in search of another hope to find substance, not mere crumbs. The only certainty being that there will never be certainty, never any right or wrong when it comes to the soul unsullied. Smith doesn’t pretend to know all the answers- she worships beauty on her knees like communion mass scribbled on paper. She appreciates, and celebrates without the burden of answers which is something I envy a lot about her writing. It is powerful, direct, yet not pretentious in the slightest. If she is melodramatic, it isn’t because she is hiding behind pretty words- its a pure and unadultarated excitement for the world and its little wonders.
She discusses the how and why of writing. We often know what inspires us, and how we come to express such dioramas of feeling and thought, but never the why. Why do we write when we could live? Why create another world when we are given what is before our eyes without even asking for it? Is writing a desperation, or an overflowing sensitivity of nerve endings, forever reaching to finally touch what we trmeble underneath, grasp what is really there. This book is interesting, as it is not only a short work of fiction, but also includes memoir of before the pen hit page. Of what her life was unfurling to prompt that brain to dream, those words to kindle. This is a story where slices of ham become round ponds of ice. Where ice skaters speak a limb language that only hands knowing the curve of inked-writing can echo. Silent forests and the way failing sunlight in winter breaks through crusted leaves, the way breath catches on frozen air- a cold beauty only the mind can embrace without shivering in uncomfort.
Her story is promted whooshing past fields of France, and is recorded in its final narrative as a story of a young, friendless girl with a longing of finding and speaking her solitary truth through dancing on snowflakes. The story is told through her perspective, at once brutally honest yet alienatingly emotionless as she encounters her doomed paramour. A strange yet alluring art collector, obsessed with beauty and thus cursed with his rejection of living- all he wants to do is own, safe and sturdy with his precious object to commandeer. When I started reading this book, I was unsettled by the story Smith spins, and the ending is hardly consoling. But, once you get past the initial shock, the story unfolds in a prophetic eloquency that only Smith could have the gentle, innocent audacity to write. I don’t want to spoil the plot here, as really if you have a day to yourself this book could be easily read with delight in silence, with copious amounts of tea or coffee or zootage. But rest assured, after reading Devotion you won’t only wish there were more pages to turn, but you’ll be wanting to pick up a pen and record the singular mysteries of destiny and love in your own silent epic that is us, our lives.
I hope this blog post finds you well, and even if you dont read Devotion, that you give Patti your eyes and ears. Her writing is always consice without being empty, deep without being too high-brow and arrogant. Her voice is loving, cosmic and demurely energized- a way of feeling deeply without thinking too highly. If you have no time to read, do at least give her music a try. She is the punk poetess of New York, after all- and for that, Patti, I am eternally grateful. Like she so often visits the graves of those icons and artists she has followed; if I can’t meet her in person, I hope to be able to lay flowers for her some day. As Patti would say: THEY LAUGH AND THEY EXPECT ME TO FAINT BUT I WILL NEVER FAINT I REFUSE TO LOSE, I REFUSE TO FALL DOWN. xoxoxoxox
” Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others… There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We must write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a willful foal. We must write, but not without consistent effort and a measure of sacrifice: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.”