Patti Smith


“Everything contained in this little book is true, and written just like it was. The writing of it drew me from my strange torpor and I hope that in some measure it will fill the reader with vague and curious joy.”

An abundant gathering of things, woolly and otherwise, shared generously by Patti Smith (b. 1946) on the eve of her 45th birthday. Smith is a musician, artist, poet, and cultural figure almost as impossible to describe as this collection, Woolgathering.

Agatha Christie once compared the incisive daydreams of Miss Marple, to a process of “gathering wool.” What a tremendous phrase.

Smith means it figuratively and literally. She bundles thoughts, pilling them into a cluster until they become grande and inseparable. She creates something from nothing (the theme of touch flows throughout).

I truly loved my family and our home, yet that spring I experienced a terrible and inexpressible melancholy, I would sit for hours, when my chores were done and the children at school, beneath the willows, lost in thought. That was the atmosphere of my life as I began to compose Woolgathering.

Smith’s somethings from nothing were gathered in truth and vulnerability, in deep self-examination, what Rilke called “going into self.”

Through this aperture afforded by pain and doubt, Smith refocuses on the minute. Time passes in a fullness often unknown in books or life.

I had one of those headaches. It kept pounding and got into that crazy realm where the guillotine seems like a good idea. I groped about for the scissors and just like that cropped my hair. Brushing aside the discarded braids I dragged over to the sink to cool my face and neck.

Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

The consistent pace of the words and actions, and the consistent nearsightedness of object: “Relaxed, beneath the sky, contemplating this and that” are what makes Woolgathering so calming, so inviting.

These gathered thoughts, bits and pieces of wool, harmonize. It’s written expressionism, designed to evoke a feeling, not meaning. She writes of nighttime patience and wakefulness:

I awoke in the center of night. ‘In movement is blessing’ […] I felt about for my journal and laid there holding it, waiting for the moon to reappear.

Hermann Hesse believed “every book is an adventure of the mind and an invitation to experience the gifts of the imagination.” And yet we seldom find books that welcome us so warmly as this.

If you’re looking to drift outside the bounds of something quickly thumbed and easily synopsis-ed – pick up Woolgathering.

Or harmonize further with an inner chord through Mark Strand’s The Weather of Words, a book of poetry and poet clasped together. Finally, Leonard Cohen’s last work, Book of Longing, is a collection of beautiful measure drawn from solitude and reflection.