cover image Early Work, 1970-1979

Early Work, 1970-1979

Patti Smith / Author W. W. Norton & Company $18.95 (177p) ISBN

The revival of interest in 1970s punk culture reaches an apotheosis with this strong selection of poems, prose and assorted rantings from Smith, who as a writer and musician embodied the New York downtown punk-rock ethos in its most romantic, naive and optimistic form. She first came to prominence with the publication of the slim but powerful Seventh Heaven and Witt , which blazed with post-Beat poetics, rock-and-roll rhythms and an aggressive sexuality that celebrated yet tried to transcend feminine stereotypes. ``I'm cool as menthol,'' Smith bragged. ``I keep trying to figure out what it means / to be american.'' In fact, she often descended into excess--``blushing monument: pink sphinx.sizzling / squirrel.fallen / pharaoh''--but kept her head: ``we long for what we cannot love / to be freed from the boundaries / of our terrible skin.'' Though her first poems still burn, the collection is most revealing as an account of Smith's transition from poetry into the world of rock, showing her movement from verse to prose; from the influence of Ginsberg to Burroughs; from a sense of personal rebellion to public spectacle; and finally to a tone of resignation in her late-'70s poems. Smith's assessment of poet-rocker Jim Morrison might also apply to her own book: ``Today the drama of his intensity seems dated. Dated in its passion and innocence.'' Still, her claim that she ``reinvented frenzy'' is correct--without Smith there would have been no Karen Finley, no Kathy Acker. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)