Friday, September 9, 2016

M Train by Patti Smith

Very few books resonate with a reader for a long time after the back cover is closed. Patti Smith's M Train is one of those incredible books. As talented a song writer and poet, Smith has a penchant for longer prose also. I cannot wait to hear her speak in October. 

The memoir seems to be in reality a means for her to pay homage to her late husband Fred Smith as well as cathartic means to move on with her life. She lost her husband in 1994 suddenly. Barely a month after that her brother died of a stroke. Those events in her life inspire her writing, which is lyrical and poignant. In an almost stream of consciousness style she remembers the distant past, the recent past, and her present situation.

Much of the book details the trips that Smith has taken, some on a whim and some with a decided purpose, but most revolving around her favorite writers. She and Fred travel to French Guiana to visit prison ruins that Genet spoke about. The trip was marred/highlighted by being taken into police custody when a body was found in the trunk of the taxi in which they were riding.

She visits the home of Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera to fulfill a dream that took hold when she was a young girl and given a book on the works of Kahlo. Her trips also include pilgrimages to the graves of Brecht, Plath, Rimbaud, Genet. Her reverence for them is real and she is moved by being so close to the final resting places of their creative genius. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, her favorite book by Haruki Murakami inspires her travel to Japan for a writing hiatus. The ease with which Smith quotes authors and books, most esoteric works, boggles the mind of the less informed reader. I was in awe.

She writes in cafes around the world. They are an important part of her life and writing. Her favorite one in New York closes when the owner decides to relocate to Rockaway Beach. It is there she buys a deteriorating bungalow right before Sandy hits the beach. Her prose is interspersed with black and white photos taken with an old Polaroid camera - Virginia Wolfe's walking stick and the table where Goethe and Schiller wrote among many others. 

I eagerly anticipate reading Patti Smith's first memoir, Just Kids, in which she writes of her younger years, arrival in New York and her loving friendship with Robert Maplethorpe. I have admired Maplethorpe's work for a long time and will be anxious to read of his artistic brilliance. 

So many passages in the book necessitated a re-reading simply because they were just so beautiful and you needed them to become absorbed as part of you. It would take pages to fully describe this book. M Train is so memorable and closes with this elegiac passage:

“And then I walked out, straight through the twilight, treading the beaten earth. There were no dust clouds, no signs of anyone, but I paid no mind. I was my own lucky hand of solitaire. The desert landscape unchanging: a long, unwinding scroll that I would one day amuse myself by filling. I'm going to remember everything and then I'm going to write it all down. An aria to a coat. A requiem for a cafĂ©. That's what I was thinking, in my dream, looking down at my hands.”