Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn on Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg

Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!


I came to Patti Smith pretty late … I didn’t get “Horses” or “Easter” until after I graduated High School. As soon as I heard them, though, I was hooked. There was a rawness, energy, an edge of danger in her voice and music which appealed to me. Her songs were poetry and rock ‘n roll at the same time. They tasted like night and felt like a desert horizon.

In September 1997, Smith’s “Peace and Noise” came out – which I got sometime that fall, along with the then newly published “Allen Ginsberg Selected Poems 1947-1995”. Ginsberg had died only about 5 months before, and I was in the process of applying to the writing program he had founded in 1974 with Anne Waldman at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado.

I had read Ginsberg’s “Howl” before, but never owned a copy of the poem. There’s something about being able to go back again and again to a poem, especially one as long and complicated as “Howl.”  The poem, which before I had dismissed before for some reason, knocked me over. I was amazed to discover that in “Peace and Noise” Patti Smith had taken Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” and used it as a spoken-word song under the title “Spell.”

I listened to it over and over. And over. Her gritty voice, the low whir of bass strings in the background, the guitar line like a ticking clock, the surprising sax squeal, and the relentless repetition of holy, holy, holy, holy …


Something about the past week has brought that song, and the poem, to mind. Sometimes I need a reminder, not only that “The world is holy. The soul is holy. The skin is holy.” But also  that “Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets” and “holy the angel in Moloch.” Holy, holy, holy, holy. Everything is holy. Everybody’s holy.


Here is a link to Patti’s Smith’s “Spell”:


Because the Night: a cento in homage to Patti Smith, by Scott Wiggerman

Because the Night
            a cento in homage to Patti Smith,
            using 22 lines from 22 of her poems/lyrics
The air is filled with the moves of you,
as if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars,
the lights like some switched-on Mondrian.
Some strange music draws me in,
and I know soon that the sky will split
with a throat smooth as a lamb.
I felt a rising in my throat.
I could feel my heart (it was melting).
I was a wing in heaven blue.
The sky was open like a valentine,
a silk of souls that whispers to me.
My senses newly opened, I awakened to the cry.
Maybe it’s time to break on through,
for I was undulating in the lewd impostered night
toward a dream that dreams itself.
You are the adrenaline rushing through my veins.
Each way I turn, the sense of you surrounds,
knowing no end to our rendezvous.
No star is too far with you.
Every word that’s spoken, every word decreed,
word of your word, cry of your cry,
all I ever wanted, I wanted from you.

Wiggerman, Scott, “Rebirthing the Words: Crafting a Cento” in Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry (Austin, TX: Dos Gatos Press, 2011).

10 Best Rock and Roll Movies Ever

I have an incredible weakness for lists and categories. In my household, we can get so distracted by activities like–sing all the songs you know with dogs in them (or cats or birds or anything)–that we are surprised to find the evening gone. To get my full attention, ask me something like–how many novels have the word “love” in the title? Or–what are the dozen greatest condiments of all time?
So I find this list by Jon Freidman, of of all things, of the ten best rock and roll movies ever, irresistible.

1.  A Hard Day’s Night
  2.  The Last Waltz
  3.  Gimme Shelter
  4.  Woodstock
  5.  Don’t Look Back
  6.  Help!
  7.  Purple Rain
  8.  Stop Making Sense
  9.  This is Spinal Tap
10.  The Future Is Unwritten: Joe Strummer

Of course I have an opinion, and I’m sure you do too. Like–where is “Monterey Pop?” And what the heck is number 10? Does anyone care about “Performance” besides me? And why no movies about women? (Patti Smith‘s “Dream of Life” WAS disappointing.) And how exactly is this list categorized? It isn’t exactly all documentaries…Could “Dream Girls” count? Or The Commitments? Have movies essentially become music videos? Where is the Lady Gaga movie?

And how many songs in these movies are about dogs?

Two Patti Smith Poems by Nan Rush

Stirring the Waters
(for Patti Smith)
Full moon over the Delaware,
big boats on the water,
Patti shouting the truth
into the summer night,
people of all ages clapping
in time to her exhortations,
music flying over the river
to Jersey,
Patti beating her message
into our thick heads,
Patti raising her thin arm, growling –
“I give you my blood, what
will you give back?”
Patti urges us:
bury your timidity,
grab your power,
sing the truth,
stir the waters
until they boil and the
Titanics of complacency
split in two, and we
bury them forever
under the waves we’ve created.
Because the day
(for Patti Smith)                                                  
Because the day
brings pain
& loss of magic
when the spells are forgotten,
and cotton fills my ears,
Because the day
brings clouds & rain
in this leaky valley
& the sun hides as I hide
my fears,
Because the day brings
betrayal pounding its way
across my heart,
erasing my dreams,
Because the day itself
is a betrayal,
I sleep.

Nan Rush

Asked a bunch of readers and writers what their favorite memoirs are…yours?

Terry Wilson: “Wow, I have so many favorites: Liars’ Club, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, The Glass Castle, Angela’s Ashes, and even Hyperchondriac (Brian Frazer). In my opinion, they’re all very well written, they contain a lot of humor (not maudlin at all even though there are sad events), and really strong voice and POV character that I could sympathize with and relate to.”

Terry: “Oops, forgot “Just Kids” by Patti Smith!”

Erika Wurth: “I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but I did read Nick Flynn’s Another Night in Suck City & liked that a lot.”

Lynn Cline One of my favorites is The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, and also The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Williams. These are both so honest, raw and poignant. Beautifully written…they cover hardscrabble lives, but the authors never become sentimental or overly wraught.

Susan Harries Aylward I love Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg, about his grandfather. The cover has a great photo of him on it.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg, too!

J.A. Lee Miriam, one of my favorites is Nat Hentoff’s Boston Boy. Another is Sam Kashner’s When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School.

Melissa Allen ‎”Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight,” by Alexandra Fuller.

Marie Longserre I’d say Andrea Fuller’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs”, and Bragg’s “All Over But the Shoutin”, and of course “Angela’s Ashes”by that great Irish author What’s-his-Name, as well as his brother’s book.

Marie Longserre Oh yeah, “This Boy’s Life” also.

Sudasi J. Clement Reading “Just Kids” by Patti Smith and can’t put it down!

Linda Hunsaker ‎”Slackjaw”, “Quitting the Nairobi Trio”, and “Ruining it for Everybody” all by the great writer from Brooklyn Jim Knipfel.

2. Mary Karr: The Liars Club.
3. William Maxwell: So Long See You Tomorrow.
4. Harry Crews: Childhood, Autobiography of a Place

Carol Joyce Maltby ‎”Flowering Dusk” by Ella Young. She moves easily and observantly through many worlds: IRA members, artists, writers, Theosophists, and the fairy folk she could see and hear.



Patti Smith cut the cuffs off her shirt
I would never do that, I would never do that.
Our friend Webb went AWOL from Vietnam
we hid him out. Now, I would never do that.

I hitchhiked to Harvard Square
while my bug was in the shop
Marquis de Sade was there
against an Ivy League backdrop,

Now would you ever? Time passes
people move around a lot and end up west.

Other people were dancing rock and roll
I was peeling the bark from a Ponderosa Pine
I was giving birth in a three-room house
with no running water and a full moon bass line.

Would you ever do that, would you ever?

The parrot ran off with the day
I would never do that, I would never do that
The magpies were making raucous hay
Their tuxedos and tails, their noisy ways

My mother was paying the bills, and soon
she’d be selling the shop. The photos
of movies stars would fall . All would
vanish from the Carlton House Hotel.

I said, Hey Lovey Dovey, yeah I said,
Hey, Lovey Dovey. We’ve been married these fast forty years
with our burgeoning bourgeois frames and our bank
roll in your back pocket.

I’d never do that, You know I’d never.

Bob Dylan was passing through but I never got
his name. Janis Joplin would soon be through
and nobody called her tame. I put on my goody two shoes
and stared out the window in flame.

I gave birth to you and you and you
and nobody called out my name. I was Mama
I was Joanie, I was Jane. I wore out
my Goody two shoes, I was wild and then I tamed.

You were tame and then you got wild.
Three times I handed you a child.
Just check it out, over here, all alone
It’s Paradise without a throne.

Six acres and my last good nerve
Patti Smith came back in a huff
I rolled up my shirt cuffs. I deposited notes
in the bank, gave myself a third chance.

The small coyote howled, the computer
ran out of ink. The latest was just a child
with a heart as deep as the sink.
I can’t stop finding the joy,

even when the meanings run out.
The evening was alive, it was evening’s turn
to shout. I won’t ever do this
I won’t ever…I said Hey Lovey Dovey, hey….

“Some Thoughts on Patti Smith” and “Courtship Dives of the Male Hummingbird”: Two Poems by Paul Hostovsky

Some Thoughts on Patti Smith
First I thought: she looks like a boy.
And then I thought: it takes balls
to use ‘pituitary gland’ in a poem.
And then I thought: she spells Gloria
better than Van Morrison. In fact, she
spells it so well that I think she wins
the rock & roll spelling bee of my
sexual imagination, enumerating
the steps she is taking up to my door
and into my room and here she
comes, spelling and spilling her
hot androgynous self all over the white
album cover and oh she looks so good
and oh she looks so fine and Jesus
died for somebody’s sins but not mine.
Courtship Dives of the Male Hummingbird
He pretends he doesn’t see her.
She pretends she doesn’t see him.
But they have noticed each other.
They are both so small in the world.
How in the world will they ever meet?
She has no idea. But he has an idea.
It’s one of those crazy great ideas
men get when they’re in love.
The kind that just might work.
The kind that makes a man great
and gets him the woman. The world
is full of crazy great ideas, and this one
belongs to the male hummingbird. He will
dive-bomb and 58.6 miles per hour
with a body drag coefficient of 0.3,
as if to say, “Because you don’t have eyes for me
I’m going to have to kill myself.”
Then out of the corner of his eye
he checks to see if she looks concerned. And when
it looks like he’s going to crash and burn,
she does. And then he knows. And then his heart
leaps up, and he pulls up at the last second
with a centripetal acceleration that
is rivaled only by the best jet fighter pilots.
Then he banks, and jukes, and flits back down
to earth, and takes her out for a drink of nectar.