Patti Smith – Wool Gathering – a review

There is so much information out there on the inter-webs, it is rare to come across something that stops you in your tracks and  creates a moratorium of space in which to pause, go deeper and sink down below the choppy surface waters of news-feeds, sound-bytes and status updates.
Poems are good at this. Their pace and meter are generally more considered and than that of prose. This is probably because pace and meter are an integral part of how they convey their meaning. Poetic techniques slow the reader to their rhythm like when a mother holds her child and their heartbeats align.

The figurative language of poetry also suspends the regular linear narrative of prose and conversation allowing it to mine a deeper level of consciousness. All this creates space and depth in which what Buddhists might call the “monkey brain” of the beta level consciousness, the level we use in day to day interactions and problem solving can take a tea break and allow a deeper consciousness to enter daily life and broaden our perceptions. This allows us to access a kind of creative thinking which can make free associations between vastly different ideas, like metaphors! In this way poetry is a little like meditation or prayer.
But more than even the words we read or hear, we are moved by the person behind them. Their energy, spirit and frequency is what attunes or re-tunes us.
In Woolgathering Patti Smith’s seasoned, banshee spirit is infused with shamanic recollections some of which pertain to her childhood and some which seem to be gleaned like thistledown fleece from a passing wind.

It seemed like all of creation was mapped out above and I was drawn from the laughter of the other children into a stillness I aspired to master. Here one could hear a seed form or the soul fold like a handkerchief.

Such imagery emerges from the page with stark clarity, sincerity and gentle humour.
Evoking the innocence of childhood with a kind of reverence and nostalgia that makes the ordinary experiences described seem almost transcendent. Yet isn’t that what great poetry should do. Isn’t this what poetry strives to do, to add another dimension to our monkey brain, give it wings and teach it how to fly? As Tony Hoagland writes in his poem “Lawence” in homage to DH Lawrence:

because human beings haven’t come that far

in their effort to subdue the body,
and we still walk around like zombies
in our dying, burning world,
able to do little more

than fight and fuck and crow
something Lawrence wrote about
in such a manner
as to make us seem magnificent.

I always imagined I would write a book,” Smith declares in the opening line of the collection, “if only a small one, that would carry one away, into a realm that could not be measured nor even remembered.

“Woolgathering”  emerged from the extended period of nearly total silence (1980-96) during which Smith lived in Michigan and raised two kids. This was also a time of great soul searching and melancholy.
Yet from such dim lit rooms images, grounded in domesticity are transfigured by a glimmering mythical other-worldliness that create the threshold or brink of a liminal space.
Smith writes:
These words of advice, were imparted with such a lightness that I was lifted and left to glide above the grass, although it appeared to all that I was still among them, wrapped in human tasks, with both feet on the ground.

In one recollections the marbles the poet plays with as a child become‘small glowing planets, each with its own history, its own will of gold’ This image is evocative of her precious ruby jewel from India ‘imperfect, beautiful liked faceted blood.’
‘gathered by beggars who trade them for rice.’
The ruby is lost one day, but its talismanic properties prevail: ‘I can feel the dust of Calcutta, the gone eyes of Bhopal. I can see the prayer flags flapping about like old socks.’

Woolgatherers is a gathering of talismans, a strange, imperfect, broken (in a wabi sabi kind of way) collection (or perhaps hoard or stash) of stirrings, dreams and memories that thread like a string of pearls with the gravity of the silent contemplation which birthed them holding up the spheres.


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