Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Here's one to send in to Hollywood Idiots or whatever that website is called: it's rebel singer Patti Smith, now 57 and looking it. Yeah, right, Patti, how really rebellious is someone who's still living off the royalties from her only hit song, which is a Springsteen cover, for Chrissakes? Anyway, Patti's in town to, get this, read seven poems, "accompanied by guitarist Oliver Ray." By the way, they refer to her as the one who "introduced punk to the United States." Wrong again. Punk is an American invention. The Ramones introduced it into Britain. All that stupid shit about, like, getting half your hair shaved off and sticking a safety pin through your eyelid and sewing pork chops to your bowling shirt and gobbing on the dance floor and spouting nihilistic bullshit and naming yourself "Billy Christ" and whatever else punk culture was, agreed, that's British, but the music is American in origin.

Anyway, they interviewed Patti (not the one who sang "The Warrior", the one who sang "Because the Night") in the Vangua today. Here goes...

Q. Poetry as a weapon of agitation has a long tradition in your country, at least among more enlightened circles.
A. Yes, but now we're going through a critical moment, not only in my country but in the rest of the world. That's why I think one of the most interesting and exciting movements is antiglobalization. Really, it's the only one that has a planetary dimension, and it is mobilizing many more people than the powerful thought. And in my country too, it's even worse, with all the people who are in opposition to something, more than ever after 9-11, are criminalized; I'm envious of Europe. Look, I was at the demonstration in Paris and I didn't see any police; in London, the same thing; in Spain, same thing. On the other hand, in the United States the people who are opposed to the war and to Bush's government feel intimidated, even physically intimidated. That is the difference, the tragic difference.

Q. Doubtlessly, you've been accused more than once of being antipatriotic.
A. Sometimes it seems that dissenting poets are the greatest terrorists in my country. I think the true patriot is someone who fights for freedom, which is something that makes up the history of my own country. From this point of view, President Bush is not a patriot but a nationalist, someone who doesn't care about other people's freedom.

Q. In a country like yours, where the citizens do not seem to be big fans of reading, poetry is not a weapon with a great future.
A. Poetry has a growing audience, very concentrated, that's true. I don't distinguish between read poetry and sung poetry, which is what I do. The role of the poet in this world in this sense is very necessary now because we need a critical voice about the Pandora's Box that the Iraq war has opened up, a catastrophe that the American public is viewing, anesthetized by the government and the media.

Right. Poets who speak against the government in America are criminalized. My ass. It's Cuba where people, including poets, who speak against the government are actually IMPRISONED. As for poets in America, I think we've jailed a total of one, Ezra Pound, for collaborating with Mussolini's Fascists, and that was like sixty years ago. If you want to call Thoreau a poet, fine, he spent a night in jail once. BFD. Walt Whitman likely got picked up for soliciting sailors at one time or another. Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen Crane, and Dylan Thomas, who wasn't even ours, and Brendan Behan, who wasn't either, probably got thrown into one drunk tank or another a few times.

Also, it's about time we came up with a couple of literary reference metaphors better than "opening up Pandora's Box" and "the emperor has no clothes". I am heartily sick of both of these.

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