A Note on Patti Smith

– By J.S. Porter


A rememberer                    of the familial dead and

the artistic dead.    Reader of Blake and Rimbaud,

Bolaño and Murakami.     Mourner (with humour).

What else can you do,       but mourn

when you lose a lover, a brother and a husband—

garland them with words,

make memory speak?

Kiss them into life               with Polaroid photographs

and graveside eulogies.       Princess of the Shrouds,

Our Lady of Dreams,         coffee, books and doodles,

and BBC detective shows;  hush,  she’s in love with

detective Linden.    Maker of words – some sung,

some stripped into poetry or whittled into prose.

Conjuror of lost objects,                lost people,

lost places.  Mood:  melancholia, which she can

turn in her hand      as if it were a small planet.

An Ethiopian cross around her neck, she believes

in everlasting Resurrections.      Ace of Swords

mental force and fortitude,         she’d fly if gravity

loosened.      But instead:  lives in hotels, greets strangers,

makes lists, fills notebooks and journals,  forages memory,

looks for a good coffee shop,                  the right book.


*All italicized words are from Patti Smith’s M. Train.



Patti Smith is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. She’s a singer, a poet, a songwriter, a photographer, a filmmaker, a non-fiction writer. Her Just Kids and M. Train are two of the most exciting and engaging works of the last decade.

As you know, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016, the first time the award has gone to a songwriter.

At Dylan’s reception, Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” written by Dylan in the summer of 1962. You can watch her sing the song on YouTube. Her version will engrave itself deeply into your consciousness.

This March CANADA READS – CBC will choose the literary work it thinks the whole country should read. The long list ranges from science fiction to non-fiction, from futuristic works to fables.

“What is the one book Canadians need now?”

No books of songs, it seems. If the Nobel Prize committee in Sweden can open new ground concerning what it conceives to be literature, maybe CANADA READS can too.

Why not consider lyrics by Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie or Leonard Cohen?