Top positive review
24 people found this helpful
Eternity In An Hour
on November 16, 2005
Like the other reviewer, we went to see Patti Smith read from her new book on Sunday here in San Francisco, at the Victoria Theater where she went on as a benefit for the fabled Poetry Center at San Francisco State. She introduced AUGURIES OF INNOCENCE in a context very much about William Blake, who wrote a poem two hundred years ago with the same title:
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
Her book is all about the perils of childhood. One of the poems, "Fourteen," takes the facts and images of the recent Elizabeth Smart case (the Mormon girl kidnapped out of her home in Utah by a "family" of nuts) and recasts it in Blakean terms. Reading "Fourteen" Smith brought us right into a strange, familiar world of danger, even terror. We may not force our children to work until midnight in mills and factories here in the US, but indeed we do force children overseas to do exactly that. As she points out, in private life not much has improved for our children who continue to be exploited sexually and damaged while young.
The new book isn't all about tragedy however, and her reading of "The Long Road" brought smiles and innumerable, involuntary nmods of recognition. Dedicated to her brother and sister, "The Long Road" surveys the whole enchanted world of childhood, the pleasures as well as the tears. Childhood is an anarchic, contested site of adventure, it's the "Never-Never Land" of PETER PAN, and something happens when children bond together against the adult world, they discover an agency that bonds them together as a host of angels. It isn't always pretty, but it's vibrant, even when it's scary.
Another new poem she read related to her recent LP TRAMPIN. This was an elegy, written in Belfast, on the death of an Irish tramp she happened to read in the local newspapers. The poems are pretty much short ones, concentrated bursts of lyric. One poem I didn't think worked very well expanded the legend of the "Three Windows" in Rome, where Smith happened to be at St Peter's Square when the College of Cardinals was electing the new Pope in April. Jokingly she announced it was the end of her "Pope Trilogy," which began long ago (1978?) with her imaginary encounter with John Paul the First in "Wave."
We were delighted when she brought out her guitar and sang some of her songs as well, including "Beneath the Southern Cross," "Wave" of course, "Wing," "My Blakean Year," "Grateful" for Jerry Garcia, "Dancing Barefoot," "Ghost Dance," and "People have the Power" among others. Lenny was there too. In each case you could see Patti reaching back into her enormous catalogue to try to illuminate (casting a searching beam of light) the new poems of AUGURIES. It was an incredible experience, a "poetry reading" that lasted two hours and twenty minutes. When it was over we all of us pondered the mysteries of William Blake and Patti Smith. It is true of a society that it will be judged by how the weakest and smallest among us are treated:
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house filled with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell through all its regions.
A dog starved at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.