Last week, one of my favorite rock ‘n roll icons, punk rock poetess, Patti Smith, won a National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids, which recounts her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who later confessed he was gay and died of AIDs in the late 1980s. I haven’t read this book yet, but I look forward to it. While I was in Ithaca, NY over the weekend, I managed to pick up an autographed copy of it for $45!
Upon winning the award, Smith started crying and said, “I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on the shelf.” In the age of the E-reader, Smith also made a defense for the book as a physical object, saying, “There is nothing more beautiful than a book,” adding, “Please don’t abandon the book.”
Now that Smith has won a National Book Award, perhaps it will bring more attention to her poetry collections. As a recent article posted on Huffington Post points out, Smith has a long relationship with poetry. Anyone who has listened to her albums or live concerts knows she has always blended poetry with punk rock, and her love of the genre goes deep. According to the article, her mother gave her a copy of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience when she was just eight. And the title of her latest poetry collection, Auguries of Innocence, is a quote from Blake.
I also want to mention that one of my favorite contemporary poets, Terrance Hayes, also won a National Book Award last week for his latest collection of poems, Lighthead. The Pittsburg-based poet’s fourth collection is a great book that contains a variety of narrative and lyric poems featuring icons as diverse as Harriet Tubman and Wallace Stevens. The book is a great combination of personal and cultural history. Check it out, and also check out his earlier collections, Hip Logic and Wind in a Box, two of my favorites.