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Patti Smith at the Poetry Project

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by Joann Jovinelly (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Punk poetess Patti Smith, rock-and-roll icon, artist, activist, and writer, is reading at a performance of the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, the organization that helped launch her writing career 40 years ago. On February 9, Smith will read current work alongside guitarist Lenny Kaye, with whom she also performed in 1971, likely with as much fire and urgency.

Smith, now 65, is riding a wave of recognition that has been going
Just Kids, HarperCollins 2010
strong for more than a decade, first with the release of the recordings Trampin' (2004) and Twelve (2007) for Columbia Records, to the 2008 documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life, to writing the critically acclaimed memoir of her life in 1970s New York with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids.

In her best-selling book, Smith recalls a gentler city, one that poor artists could still embrace. She writes about living at the Chelsea Hotel and surrounding herself with an art crowd that included Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and William S. Burroughs. Her love for New York is warmly recalled in her poetry from that period, especially Prayer For New York.

"New York is the thing that seduced me,
New York is the thing that formed me,
New York is the thing that deformed me,
New York is the thing that perverted me,
New York is the thing that converted me,
New York is the thing that I love…"

Mapplethorpe and Smith in 1969

Perhaps the person who made New York so magical for Smith was Mapplethorpe, of whom she writes lovingly and with great
care while being candid about their sexuality, vulnerability, and honest search for self. The pair met in New York's East Village during the Summer of Love and found that they shared a number of similarities, such as being born in 1946 and making independent yet simultaneous commitments to become artists. It was also Mapplethorpe who encouraged Smith to read her poetry in 1971, just as he had helped them join the crowds at Max's Kansas City, the seat of New York's powerful art world headed by Andy Warhol in the late 1960s.

Cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1975

The pivotal 1971 reading launched Smith's musical career. She later created more than a dozen recordings, beginning with Horses in 1975. She exhibited her drawings and photographs in major art galleries and museums. In 2007, she was admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She published more than five books of poetry, and in 2010, won the National Book Award for Just Kids.

Crowds will likely be great for Smith's return to the Poetry Project, even though she read there as recently as 2010. Tickets are available only at the entrance to St. Mark's Church. If you're turned away, you can catch Smith reading and signing copies of Just Kids at the 92nd Street Y on February 16, or in a group performance at Carnegie Hall on March 3 in a benefit for Tibet House.

Photo Credits: Angelo Cricchi, HarperCollins, Norman Seeff, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe
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Why? To hear a love letter to New York City.
When: February 9, 2011 at 7:30 PM
Where: St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, E. 10th Street
Cost: $15
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