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.

Love & friends & verklempt (something in prose).

I don’t think I’m a poet of the atrocities, or even of the victories. I think I’m a poet of the people I love. I’m trying to make sense of how much there is to love in the world. I’m trying to put into words the moment when someone reaches out to touch someone else’s face, but then doesn’t, and then that person never knows that that other person wanted to touch them. And so that touch will never be in the history books. But I might just get it into a poem.

 

Do you have any famous friends? Friends who people know because of something they did or wrote? I have a couple of great friends in a band and it makes me insanely proud and insanely baffled to know them and to see them progressing in the music world and to know that they are an entity outside of the dudes that I got to know in college. And to think that I knew them in a dorm hallway, with their morning hair and their late night gaits. How I’d leave the coed bathroom when I’d see one of them with their sneakers facing outward in a stall (pooping!). 

 

I have a lot of friends who really impress me. Not just because of their jobs, but sometimes because of their jobs. I have some friends who were born knowing how to be great friends. A lot of my friends aren’t the same as each other. A couple of my friends are attempting similar back-to-the-land plans as I am, but most of them aren’t. I’m here as a human and as a girl and as a poet and as a farmer-in-training to say: my friends, I love the shit out of you. I know you know it already, maybe because I told you recently in an email or textual exclamation or maybe I sent you something recently or maybe you read a poem here that reminded you of it. Either way, I might as well say it often, because life is short and fast (especially in summer).

 

So here’s a music video that really impresses me featuring some dudes I know. For some reason this video is making me want to hug people (BAD), probably because I’ve been drinking wine and I live with a man I adore and because it’s summer and there’s quite nearly enough sunlight to provide for all the words I want to write and say each day. Amen.

 

February collage (illustration; photography; Frank Ocean).

Some people feel negatively about February, including, possibly, Maira Kalman. Or maybe she just picks up on everybody’s February blues. It’s hard to love February in the city, this I understand.

Maira Kallman's Feburary

 

 

This February, I’m all about Patti Smith (again). Maybe I’ll make February my Patti Smith month. Why not?

 

patti smith 7

 

 

But guys….remember those other times, those other seasons? Remember flowers?

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Remember how it’s going to be Valentine’s day soon? Let’s not bring up our consumer culture rants again, we do that every year & even the truth gets stale. This year, lets just do some good lovin’. Let’s share what we got, or give ourselves a little bit more. I mean, Phoebe Wahl is doing it! And why not.

 

beyourownvalentine

 

 

ILoveYouvalentine

 

If you’re still not feeling good about February yet, then, here! Have this gift! It’s a free Frank Ocean mixtape! Also did you know he has a tumblr?! Fuck yeah, America! You know?

 

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Alright February!! Allllllllright!

“There has to be a libidinous delight in finding things and stuffing them in your pockets” (writing advice from W.G. Sebald).

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Since W.G. Sebald’s death, there has been much talk of W.G. Sebald. I have heard this talk and pondered through it, though I’ve never set foot into one of his books. This happens to me a lot: I hear about and read about and sometimes even discuss a piece of art without having actually seen or read or watched it. Because sometimes the discussion is more interesting than the art itself. Because I can’t get to everything. Because knowledge can be gleaned off the peripheral as well as the focal.

 

Below is part of a list of writing tips from W.G. Sebald, compiled by a couple of his students after his death. There are many more where these came from, but they’re more about fiction, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m allllll about poems. I like the list below because it’s a little wry, and because it emphasizes thievery. And also because it encourages me to do some things that I’m already doing, and a little positive reinforcement never hurts.

 

On Reading & Intertextuality

 

  • Read books that have nothing to do with literature.
  • Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.
  • There has to be a libidinous delight in finding things and stuffing them in your pockets.
  • You must get the servants to work for you. You mustn’t do all the work yourself. That is, you should ask other people for information, and steal ruthlessly from what they provide.
  • None of the things you make up will be as hair-raising as the things people tell you.
  • I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in strange, eloquent quotations and graft them into your story. It enriches the prose. Quotations are like yeast or some ingredient one adds.
  • Look in older encyclopaedias. They have a different eye. They attempt to be complete and structured but in fact are completely random collected things that are supposed to represent our world.
  • It’s very good that you write through another text, a foil, so that you write out of it and make your work a palimpsest. You don’t have to declare it or tell where it’s from.
  • A tight structural form opens possibilities. Take a pattern, an established model or sub-genre, and write to it. In writing, limitation gives freedom.
  • If you look carefully you can find problems in all writers. And that should give you great hope. And the better you get at identifying these problems, the better you will be at avoiding them.

***

 

Photo from here. Read the full list here. 

Thankful for bacon pancakes & so much more (poemthing) (mine).

On the night before Thanksgiving, I am thankful for friends. Thankful for the emails I get from friends like Chase, with this enclosed:

because I’M LAUGHING and because that video is so much like my life, my life is so much of making up songs about loving the things I’m cooking, picking, making, seeing. Thankful for friends who have and will come visit, and thankful for new friends in the making, thankful to be back east nearby closefriends I felt so far away from and thankful for the busestrainsandautomobiles which transport me and them to and from the country where I live. I’m thankful for my family members who are my friends in the deepest sense, the friends I haven’t picked but who have made me and it continues:

Thankful for

winter sun and

a grownup rooster fluffed with feathers (his name is Claude!) and

the shoes on my feet and

good soup and a fire and

the ever-discovery of poems and

the way lighting a candle makes me feel sacred no matter the time of day I do it and thankful

and apologetic to the mice we’ve killed in the basement who did not deserve to die and

thankful for free health insurance from the state of Vermont!

and emoticons and

thankful for sage and sweetgrass and cedar incense and

for the pond that I hopehopehope will turn to ice and hopeful

for finding ice skates at the thrift store for our pond and

thankful for nice thick socks

thankful for nice coworkers and kind customers and a wall of windows

thankful for how cheap a stamp remains and

for letters and packages and our big box from “fungi perfecti”

which means we’ll grow mushrooms underneath the sink throughout the winter and

thankful for the boldness of 2012 and all the good change it’s wrought and brought and

thankful for mittens

and a yellow hat from my sister

and a red hat from the country store which makes me look like a hipster which I am a little bit I guess but mostly I’m just a farmer who likes clothes and colors and thankful for

a grey hat from amsterdam

and thankful for all the things that weren’t stolen from our truck

like eachother and my gorgeous blue rounded piece of sodalite

which a woman at the stone store told me to select

because she said the purple of my aura was sagging that day

and it was

I was sagging that day

I’m thankful for people who help me unsag

like that cosmic lady who made me buy a very dark sodalite and also for my family and friends and

now I’m back to where I began which is thankfulness and

yayness and love and thankful and giving

this tinysmall poemthing in thanks and

in preparation for a bigmeal tomorrow, amen.

A poem of farewell (mine).

 

Misha’s off to work in a shirt that’s too big

on him but he loves its colors. I bake the bread

 

when he leaves, mist it and cover it, cooling.

On my bike around town my clothes don’t

 

get caught in the pedals. At the café I edit

my poem, the one that’s now eight pages,

 

I drink my favorite coffee. The man to my left

says to his friend, “We’re here to share stories

 

and energy.” His beard is braided. I ride my bike

to the store, I see Christina who makes earrings

 

out of old records, John from Self-Heal, and Jeff

from the fruit stand is my cashier. I treat myself

 

to sushi at the high chair that overlooks the street

and see the Suzie’s truck roll past, the one I rode in

 

yesterday. I’ve lived here three years and the food

I eat is delicious and so much of it I’ve planted

 

with my own short thumbs. I’ve lived here three

years and I get across town on my feet, I’ve made

 

human mistakes and baked foods in summer, heat

overtaking the kitchen, the kitchen that leads

 

to the porch where tools are hung or lean, the porch

that steps out to the yard where we grilled and drank

 

and read our books, the yard we bought a table

and umbrella for, the yard where poems woke

 

the neighborhood, where sunburns sang and worms

were fed on foodscraps. Friends visited and friends

 

stopped by and friends brought food and friends

bought books or art and used up all the toilet

 

paper. We met them and we said come in and now

the nights are warm enough to let us go out

 

into them, the nights we hope will lead us

heavenward into a land we’ll plant ourselves.

 

 

 

 

Things that are awesome (Sunday edition).

 

garlic scapes are awesome

roses smell awesome

tampons are awesome

women that use diva cups are awesome

old ladies who dye their white hair purple are awesome

men with babies strapped to their fronts are awesome (so is anyone with a baby strapped to their body)

bare feet are awesome

mixed recycling is awesome

happy hour prices are awesome

bicycling feels awesome

tie dye is awesome

“Made in the USA” is awesome

having a sister is awesome

homemade hot sauce tastes awesome

grilling is awesome

finishing projects is awesome

making pancakes for yourself is awesome (so is making pancakes with anyone)

driving a tractor is awesome

getting high on coffee is awesome

artichokes are awesome

handshakes are awesome

wordplay is awesome

DJ names are awesome

blueberry season is awesome

reading is totally awesome

i think rollerblading looks awesome but i only did it once so i don’t know for sure

being taken out to lunch is awesome

feeding people is awesome

riding shotgun is awesome

James Brown will always be awesome

writing poems is for sure awesome

giving poems to people is awesome

whiskey is awesome

ginger beer is awesome

old friends are the most awesome of awesome

homemade muffins are awesome

thrift stores are awesome especially the sunglasses section

records are awesome

the word “platypus” is awesome and so is “spritz”

hip hop lyrics can be really awesome

bartering is awesome

letters in the mail are undeniably awesome

bacon is awesome why didn’t anyone make me eat it earlier it so so goddamn awesome

summer coming on is awesome

Misha is number 1 awesome

treasures are awesome (like bird bones or gemstones)

wind turbines are awesome

root beer floats are awesome

notebooks are awesome especially new notebooks

woodcuts are awesome

worms are awesome

herbs are awesome

friendship bracelets are awesome

monks are awesome and so are nuns

hats are of course awesome but we already knew that

getting an mfa is awesome and i’m almost done doing it!!!! awesome over & out.

 

 

 

Short-lined poem (mine).

 

I do declare

 

Life’s not rich

from items—

thin futon, donated

chairs, dirty fake

-tiled floor. Used

books, used rags

& the sink’s not

silver anymore.

But the toilet’s

always clean. &

there are hooks

for keys and towels.

& signs that lean

on ledges, painted

wood, wood with

words burned

in. We’ve had

these sheets since

we were twenty.

They’re so poor,

people think, so

planless. But with

our altars & our

bottles & our bowls

of stones, we’re

healthy. With

a little liquor

& earplugs,

we sleep.

 


“Straight up gangster celery” (poem) (Nick Demske).

…From Otis Henry

 

Otis Henry is a straight up gangster.
Everything Otis Henry does, he does gangsterized
Because he is such a straight up gangster.
When Otis Henry walks, he walks gangster.
Look at Otis Henry’s walk—
Oh Lord, it is too gangster!
When Otis Henry is hungry, he gangster eats.
Eating hard!
Ripping the celery from its stalk.
For that is what true gangsters eat.
Straight up gangster celery.
When Otis Henry drives a car—you guessed it:
Gangster.
How do gangsters drive cars, you ask?
Answer: just like Otis Henry.
Superduper gangster.
After washing his hands, Otis Henry straight up gangster dries his hands.
He dries his hands like a straight up gangster
On a gangster hand towel
Monogrammed with a G.
Cause everybody needs to know that this is a straight up gangster hand drying party
And Otis Henry
Is the original
Straight up gangster.
And when I say gangster
I mean gangster gangster ass gangster.
And when I say gangster gangster ass gangster.

I mean poet.

***
(via pank, where you can find more of Nick Demske’s Otis Henry poems.)

“You’re a Genius all the time” (list) (Kerouac).

 

Here’s a list that Jack Kerouac titled “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” He enclosed it in a letter to Don Allen, written in 1958. Here are his essentials, each of them so very Kerouac, each of them reminding me to be just as wild as I want to.

 

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

 

(list via a great new site I just began loving, lists of note. photo of jack kerouac, lucien carr, and allen ginsberg, in the middle of being geniuses all the time, via tumbling dice.)