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Woolgathering by Patti Smith

New Directions Books

By John J. Kelly · January 3rd, 2012 · Lit
At her home in Michigan on the occasion of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former Punk rocker Patti Smith’s 45th birthday, the multitalented Smith crafted together a modest collection of memories from her childhood, vignettes, poems and tributes to other writers and performers like Sam Shepard. This limited edition, numbered collection, called Woolgathering, was published and distributed to a small and eclectic group of people by Hanuman Books.

Now, 20 years later, Smith has re-released this spellbinding, deeply personal and emotional memoir of her childhood to a broader audience, with more essays and examples of her photography in a gorgeous book of the same name.

In Woolgathering, Patti Smith “revisits the most sacred experiences of her early years,” according to her new publisher, New Directions Books.

She begins with a story of an encounter with her father in which he paid her what she calls the only compliment he ever delivered, telling Ms. Smith, “You’re a good writer,” and then proceeding to make her a cup of coffee. It was a moment of simple and supreme kindness between father and daughter and this collection is filled with many similarly tender moments that seem to express truths and joy that are nearly surreal.

The collection’s title essay, “The Woolgatherers,” is a recollection from Patti Smith’s childhood in which she courageously approached a mysterious old man who lived nearby to ask about a group of people that Patti imagined to dwell in the wood. “They be the woolgatherers …” was his brief reply. Later in the same story she writes, “And I wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind.”

A good writer, as her father said. Actually, Patti Smith is an exceptional writer and more than well deserving of a good cup of coffee. Grade: A



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