patti smith on auguries of innocence
TODD BAESEN: You said that The Writer's Song was written in the eighties.
PATTI SMITH: Yes, The Writer's
Song I writ in the late eighties, when I was living in Michigan. I had a lot
of tasks raising my kids in the eighties, but my one private time from all of
my domestic tasks used to be on Saturday afternoons. Every Saturday afternoon
there were these two shows I loved to watch, Kung Fu Theater and Martial Arts
Theater. They used to show these old martial arts movies, one right after the
other. One guy was dressed like Bruce Lee, and he'd say, "Today Shoalin monks
will be flying through the sky." So I used to get a little jar of sake and
some cheese and crackers and sit there in the afternoon and watch my martial arts
movies. That's when the kids couldn't bother Mom, because it was Kung Fu Theater
time. And then one Saturday I got my sake and was all ready, and I turned on the
TV and Martial Arts Theater wasn't there. Another episode of Cheers, or something
else was on. So I thought, "alright, I won't be greedy, I'll just wait for
Kung Fu Theatre. So I waited, and there's no Kung Fu Theatre either. It was gone.
There was some infomercial for one of those vacuum cleaners that only weigh six
pounds. I can't tell you how upset I was that it wasn't there. But I wasn't just
upset that it wasn't there, I was really upset that the week before they didn't
tell us. Then I waited the next week just to see if maybe something was wrong,
but they never came on again, so there was no closure, and the guy in the Kung
Fu suit didn't ever say, "Patti, and everybody else who is watching, happy
" It was just over. I was really heartbroken, so I had to sort
of dream my Kung Fu movies, and I wrote The Writer's Song.
BAESEN: What was the inspiration behind Death of a Tramp?
SMITH: That's a poem I writ in Belfast, we were on tour there and I read this
little thing in the newspaper about how a tramp was murdered in the hills, and
what a kindly tramp he was.
TODD BAESEN: What about To
His Daughter. Was that written for Jesse?
No, it was written for my niece Simone, after my brother Todd passed away. The
poem that I writ for Jesse was The Pride Moves Slowly.
BAESEN: I know you're a big environmentalist and recently Prince Charles was in
San Francisco warning about global warming and speaking out against the destruction
of the environment.
PATTI SMITH: Good for him.
BAESEN: It's rather alarming that so many species of animals on the planet are
in danger of becoming extinct. Was that part of the idea behind your poem for
the Dodo bird?
SMITH: Yes, the little Dodo poem resonates right now with all of our concerns
about the environment, and all the different animals, fishes and birds that are
dying out from abuse. Because of the destruction of our environment, all these
animals no longer have homes or they no longer have the food chain that they need
to survive. And the story of the Dodo bird is so heartbreaking, because they were
a very kindly bird; very family oriented, and were vegetarians. They lived on
Mauritius Island, off the coast of South Africa and they were very specific to
this one particular island. They were just a big lumbering bird with a huge beak,
just like you saw in (Lewis Carroll's) Through the Looking Glass. Then
when the Dutch and Spanish and other new people came to this island, they found
them so hilarious and so clumsy they just killed them off for sport, because they
really weren't that tasty. In fact there were very bad reviews written in the
in the 17th century about Dodo meat, saying it's very fatty and unappetizing.
So they eventually just wiped the Dodo bird out, slaying them for sport, this
sweet, friendly bird. So I wrote this little poem, Sleep of the Dodo, in
memory of the Dodo bird.
TODD BAESEN: Pablo Picasso's painting, Guernica was the inspiration behind one of my favorite poems in the new
book, and it also harks back to an earlier poem you wrote, Picasso laughing.
SMITH: Yes, I wrote Picasso laughing back in 1973, right after Picasso died. It
appeared in my book Witt. But I always loved Guernica, so when I
was young, I would go to visit it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York whenever
I had the two dollars to get in, and I'd just sit and look at it for hours. Then
I was sort of heartbroken when they took it back to Madrid, although I knew that's
where it was destined to be. But last year, when I played at the Festimad in Madrid,
I visited the Reina Sofia Museum and really contemplated Guernica again,
and while I was there, I thought about Picasso in the act of painting Guernica.
Then I wrote this little poem, The Geometry Blinked Ruin Unimaginable.
BAESEN: Of course, the incident that led Picasso to paint such an enormous canvas
was the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war.
SMITH: Yes, it was on April 26, 1937, when a massive air raid by the German Luftwaffe
all but leveled the Basque town of Guernica. 100,000 pounds of bombs were dropped
on this peaceful little village, killing a third of the population. It was a major
and tragic milestone in the Spanish Civil War. It inspired the grieving Picasso
to respond by painting his masterpiece. Picasso had such an emotional grasp on
the aftermath of the air assaults on the citizens. It's a really great painting
that still serves as a prophetic vision of war as well as an international plea
for peace. His work draws one to contemplate the events of August 6 and 9, 1945,
the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must continue to remember and
be diligent. A lack of diligence and misguided nationalism led to allowing the
Bush administration to invade Iraq. We must remember it was not a war. We invaded
them with manpower and technology that they were powerless to defend. We brought
that country down, destroyed its infrastructure and killed thousands of citizens.
We cannot ignore that fact.
TODD BAESEN: Jimmy Carter recently
said the same thing. It isn't really a war in Iraq, because outside of the soldiers
there, nobody in America is really being asked to give anything up, or sacrifice
something, as every American did in World War II or even during Vietnam. Instead,
under Mr. Bush, we've been told we can have a nice big tax cut! So it's a completely
absurd situation, spending billions of dollars in Iraq and having a tax cut which
results in a 7 trillion dollar deficit! Anyway, since three of your poems in Auguries
of Innocence deal with bombings, I'd like to insert another of your souvenances
here on the bombing of Nagasaki. It's very sobering to realize the only time any
country in the world has ever used offensive nuclear weapons was when the United
States bombed Japan. And as Jimmy Carter points out in his new book, Our Endangered
Values: America's Moral Crisis, under the leadership of Mr. Bush, a radical shift
has occurred, where it has now become America's policy to preemptively attack
any country on the planet our incompetent President thinks may pose a danger to
the United States.
Nagasaki - August 9, 1945
remember Nagasaki and mourn her children.
a.m. on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of
Nagasaki. This weapon of mass destruction destroyed a third of the city, killing
or injuring over 150,000 people.
The people of Nagasaki
have labored long to rebuild their city and their lives. Life and vegetation bloom
once more. But we should never forget the terrible consequences of the misguided
and inhumane decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
are no righteous wars. There is no righteous use for the atomic bomb. Only a globally
united people can stop our governments from building, stockpiling and testing
weapons of such magnitude.