Patti Smith Month: An Introduction

What Is Patti Smith Month?

An answer I made up about a thing I made up

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I loathe when people complain about the weather. It’s like complaining about being in a body. Being in a body is 1) the only choice we all have, and 2) essentially a miracle. I’m bored by easy negativity because it’s not creating anything. It simply laments what IS.

Weather is the main way that nature touches us. Even if you live in a city, the weather affects you. One of my favorite things about living in the country is how big of a character the weather is in my life, in the lives of all my friends and neighbors. It’s something we all share, and yet it affects us differently—where Justin’s snowdrifts pile up is different from where mine do, but both of us have blocked windows.

That being said, February is not an easy time to be alive in the northern hemisphere. It’s cold, it can be dark for days. Which is why, two years ago, I created something called Patti Smith Month. It started when I decided to reread her book “Just Kids,” because my friend Scott had gone to the St Mark’s bookstore in search of it (we had recently seen Patti Smith do a reading there in frigidicecold winter). When he got to the bookstore, he couldn’t find it anywhere. He wanted to buy it because I’d told him how much I love it, and because we both loved the way Patti Smith looked at her reading, with her boyish body and her black beanie. We both loved what she said.

He finally asked a clerk at the front of the bookstore where he could find “Just Kids.” In my head, she looked at him like he was an Effing Idiot (because this is how clerks look at you because you ARE one and also they’re tired) (I’ve been there), and said “Her books are all in the back, next to her.”

Patti Smith was in the store at that very moment signing books. Instead of buying the book for himself, he bought me a copy, which he had her inscribe. This is one of my most prized possessions.

As I read this book two years ago, it lit all those little flames inside of me. Some of those flames have to do with being an artist, which has practically become a dirty word these days. Some of those flames have to do with the talismanic powers that we all have to instill our lives with meaning. Some of those flames have to do with wearing menswear and necklaces. Suffice to say: that book is a world I need.

And so I decided that every February, I would re-read it. That’s the beginning. That’s the kindling. Because when I reread it, I relive and remember my own dedication to art-making. I am reminded. I am refreshed. I refurbish my altars and don my Patti Smith shirt, the only shirt with a face on it I’d ever wear. I drink tea in the dark nighttime house and tear up pages of notebooks with words. Sometimes I commit to writing more letters, or revising a long piece, or improving the art on my wall.

This year, I will write a poem every day for the month of February. I will write a letter to a new penpal in the hopes that she wants to write back. I am in the process of beginning an exciting new literary project with a friend of mine, so that will come to fruition, too. I don’t know what else will happen. Patti Smith Month is about saying, I am a maker. And: there is no time but the present.

I believe Patti Smith Month is one of my best ideas. Not only because what it inspires, but because in making February a special month for myself, I have improved my own life. Patti Smith Month is the opposite of complaining about Feburary. It means I look forward to February and the way I’ll spend the month leaning in to the artistry inside me. Remember how environmentalists sometimes tell you that you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem? I disagree. You are both the problem and the solution. So even if Patti Smith Month isn’t what will make your own personal February awesome, find out what will. Then buy yourself a t-shirt and get to work.

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Mourning for Galway Kinnell, poet & Vermont person.

Maybe it’s just because I’m stretched as thin as cheap stockings right now and prone to emotions, but I cried this morning hearing (again) about the passing of Galway Kinnell.

I learned to love his poems in college, by my professor who loves his poems. When I worked for the Dartmouth bookstore years ago, I sold books at a reading he gave at Dartmouth, sitting next to him as he signed new and wellworn copies. The reading he gave was equal parts wonderful and sad; he often lost his place while reading a poem, or seemed to drift away mid-thought. I witnessed the deteriorating mind of a poet whose poems have meant a lot to me.

His epic poem (note: I do not generally use the word epic so you know I mean it) “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World” has so much more of New York in it than Taylor Swift’s new song (that’s not saying a lot), and even more of New York in it than Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ song. He was compared to Walt Whitman after that poem, and I see why: it contains multitudes, big time.

As Daniel Lewis of the New York Times writes, “The poem is a 14-part work about Avenue C in Manhattan, a mother lode of inspiration for someone with Mr. Kinnell’s photographic eye and intuitive sense of other people’s lives. In these verses and on this street, Jews, blacks and Puerto Ricans walked in the spring sunlight, past the avenue’s mainstays at the time — the Downtown Talmud Torah, Blosztein’s Cutrate Bakery, Areceba Panataria Hispano, Nathan Kugler Chicken Store Fresh Killed Daily and others.”

I’ve experienced a renewed love of Kinnell since moving to Vermont, as I read his poems again, many of which are set in this state, such as “Blackberry Eating”:

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

And then there’s this poem, which has always blown my mind. If someone had told me in college that you could write a poem with the word “is” used three times in a row and it would be a stunner, I would not have believe him/her.

Prayer

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

kinnell

Harriet Richardson, a Student Organizer at Pennsylvania’s Juniata College, Presses a Cloth to the Wounds of Galway Kinnell, Who Was Then Poet-In-Residence at Juiata, Selma, Alabama, 1965.

Read this poem it will take you 5 seconds (Eileen Myles)!

Just read this poem it will only take you 5 seconds to do so and hey who knows maybe you will really love it maybe you will be like OOOOOH-KAY, POEMS, I DIG! Or maybe you’ll want to send it to a loved one or a loathed one maybe it will make you think of summertime or of the word “jumpsuit” which is not a word we get to say that often but a good word nonetheless. With a poem you really never know what’s going to happen what little locked door in your bodymind is going to get opened maybe that’s why we all have bodies and minds (so they can be opened like doors like secret trapdoors).

 

THE BEACH

Economically, not
emotionally this
color is connected
to that color
the waves
break

they really
do.

I hold on,
I hold on to you

 

-Eileen Myles

 

Poetry Awesomes of the New Year Thus Far (list).

Poetry Awesomes of the New Year Thus Far

a short list from a short poet

1. As I’ve mentioned before, Cassandra Gillig, who I want to be friends with (HELLO CASSANDRA DO YOU WANT TO BE FRIENDS I AM A REALLY GOOD PEN PAL), has smushed hip hop with poets reading their poems, and now you can download her album of these so-called “mash-ups” for FREE, right here. Just enter in the number zero when it asks how much you want to donate. And then you’ll have a file on your computer called “put me in charge of poetry magazine and i will fuck this country up.” Which is awesome.

 

2. womenpoetswearingsweatpants.tumblr.com is a total inspiration. Why? Well, the poems on the site have been submitted, with photos, by the ladypoets themselves. They are then turned into meme-looking things, with that shadowed font that meme-makers always use (who ARE you, meme makers?!). The photos are often selfies, and they often seem to be taken specifically in order to submit to this site (just a guess), and they are often of cozy poetlady feet. I like how comfy everyone is, how unpretty and normal looking. Most poems are probably written while wearing clothes you wouldn’t want your neighbor to see you in, and this blog seems to be a way of announcing that, embracing it, liking it.

I submitted to this blog and had the nearly-instant satisfaction of getting accepted, and of seeing a piece of a poem of mine in the world, in that font, over what is probably one of the least attractive photos taken of me, EVER. I am so glad that I’ve finally found a use for this photo, which has always made me laugh so hard (and Misha too) (he took it). It’s taken on Farnsworth Street in New London, Connecticut, sometime in the fall of 2008. In it, I am being both totally tired, and totally “what what!” It’s my hand that’s doing the “what what” and my body that’s doing the tired.

 

3. Poems on Facebook is happening, at least in my world, and you should get in on it. You post a poem, tell people to “like” it, then you assign each of the “likers” a poet to post on their own pages, with a similar message explaining the whole shebang. I love this because it’s like a chain letter, except 1) it’s not annoying 2) it’s spreading poems in a place where not many poems show up 3) it doesn’t involve me having to write down a recipe or buy stickers to send to someone I have never met. I especially like this because anyone can “like” the post, and therefore anyone, poet or non, can go on to post poems. It’s not exclusive to “poets.” I really really “LIKE” this.

 

4. The Ashbery Home School was just invented, & holy moly, I want to go to there. The coolest part is it’s held at JOHN ASHBERY’S ACTUAL HOME. With all his artstuffs and thingies in it. And it’s in Hudson, NY, the town that shows up somewhere new in my life like, once a week. Unfortunately, this program, a week-long writers’ retreat in August with awesome professors, field trips, movie screenings and workshops, costs money that I can’t spend on something like “retreating.” Especially since I live in what many would call “a retreat place.”

But this concept, of holding school at someone famous’ home, acknowledges the domestic space as pivotal to the artist. Which may not be true for all artists, but is very true for me. If you come to my house you will see treasures lined up in rows on almost all surfaces. I am always ordering things, collecting things, giving them away, altering them, altar-ing them. This is a part of how I am always creating. If I had money to spare I would apply to this brand-new retreat, which costs $1175. If you can afford it, you should go.

 

5. Lists seem to always have five or ten or one hundred things on them, so I’m feeling a little pressure to fill something in here….but I really don’t have any other poemy things to blog about…so please make something else poem-awesome and email it to me at taylormkatz@gmail.com! For the sake of the list!

 

Poem inspired by a painting (my poem; Clare Elsaesser’s painting)/

I am the girl with flowers in front of her face

 

I am the girl with flowers in front of her face.

You cannot see my face and all I care about

is keeping the flowers in place.

They are huger than I

& I snipped them for myself.

I can sense your attempts

to see through my cloud of pinks:

I sense you searching for an angle

that will unveil my veil

of petals. You can gaze forever

at the Mona Lisa, speak novels

of her brows, her simple little

almost-smile. But I am only

petals now. Like a pill bug

beneath a stone untouched

in a forest, I am occurring

wholly elsewhere. You may never know

where I harvested my flowers, let alone

what type of beauty or disdain

I hide.

 

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Buy it if you want it (I did).

I paid $8 for this poem (and I don’t regret it) (Ben Aleshire).

Sometimes you’re in New Orleans for a bachelorette weekend with your favorite ladies and you meet a Vermont poet with a typewriter on the street and you ask for a poem please and he writes you one and you like it a lot and you pay him $8 which seems like a lot to you but seems like a little to him since he just had a woman hand him two crisp twenties for her poem. And maybe if this happens to you you feel a little bit like the world is helping you out, throwing you a bone, or in this case, a Ben.

 

Fruit

 

Clementine, you say,

already tasting it.

Apricot, and the word is caught

on your tongue (lone muscle

of both language & hunger) (the word

itself you peel and undress).

In the night you wake,

find yourself in an orchard –

don’t you        don’t you

You cannot sleep for the sound

of apples falling all around you,

words heavy on the branch.

Even trees let go their fruit.

Nothing weighs more

than a burden refused (say the apples

touching each other in the grass)

 

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