Patti Smith - Auguries of Innocent (3 stars)

Patti Smith

Auguries of Innocence (Virago)


In the recent Punk Night documentary on ITV4, John Lydon was being characteristically, boringly dismissive of the New York acts (Ramones, Television, Patti Smith) who arrived as the British wave exploded. They were just too educated, too well-off, too cultural for his tastes, with the grimy UK anarchists far more his bag. I find it difficult to imagine the drummer of Psykik Volts being able to spell ‘auguries’ never mind ever releasing a poetry book with the word in the title. For those guys, Rimbaud is probably a musclebound numbskull who singlehandedly won the Cold War.

So, what we get here from the rock legend who is gracefully approaching her 60th birthday, is her first collection of verse in over a decade. Being the political troubadour that she is, the ill-advised war tearing her country apart plays a big part with ‘Birds of Iraq’ telling: ‘It is coming on a nerve storm/triggering the current source of suffering/stones pelting the human spring.’ Loss is everywhere. In ‘Fourteen’, childhood is trampled underfoot (‘How so and why sours the tiny bud’) while ‘Death of a Tramp’ is a piece inspired by a news story she read in Belfast and records ‘the stench and sense of aimless wrath’. With its ‘funny beaks . . . funny bones, no more’ the slight ‘Sleep of the Dodo’ is a warning to the human race. My dictionary tells me that an ‘augury’ is the pronouncement of a soothsayer.

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