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“The Most Beautiful Work of All”: Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe

I’ve seen a lot of concerts over the years, but somehow one of my heroes, Patti Smith, always eluded me. But I recently saw her down in Knoxville at the Big Ears Music Festival. Twice, in fact. One show was a standard rock concert with a full band in the Tennessee Theater. The other show, titled “Words & Music,” took place in a slightly more intimate setting, the Mill & Mine. No drums, no bass. Patti on stage with only her son Jackson Smith on guitar and Tony Shanahan on keyboards and various other instruments. A cozier, chattier, more relaxed vibe. Patti performed songs, including covers of Bob Dylan (“One Too Many Mornings”) and Stevie Wonder (“Blame It On the Sun”); she gave brief readings and allowed herself the time to introduce songs at length. It was, as they say, a special night.

One of the things Patti read — maybe at the Tennessee Theater? — was the letter she wrote in 1989 to artist Robert Mapplethorpe who was in the hospital at the end of a long illness. Another bright soul taken by AIDS. Patti explained that she returned home after a hospital visit and composed a short letter to her friend, a relationship lovingly chronicled in her award-winning memoir, Just Kids.

He died the next day without ever having read it.

But you can. We can.

 

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain, or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.

The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of your work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.

Patti

Fingertreeprint

“I’m a little worried about how much I’ve been thinking about my fingerprints. All the places I’ve been, the things and people I’ve touched, the marks I’ve left behind.”The Fall, JP 

 

 

In my writing, here and there, I’ve frequently returned to the idea/metaphor of fingerprints. Probably most cogently in The Fall, a book about identity and figuring out who you are (among other things). 

And I’ve also been writing about trees (Blood Mountain, mostly, and in some new work not yet published). Not only writing, but trying to learn about them. Reading, stopping to look, researching. 

So when I saw this meme, it resonated. 

 

 

 

                      

This Saturday, 11/6, You Can Zoom Into the Rochester Children’s Book Festival — from Anywhere — and It’s Free!

A FREE VIRTUAL EVENT

The Rochester Children’s Book Festival goes VIRTUAL this Saturday, November 6th for a full day of FREE panel discussions and readings with a diverse assortment of children’s book writers and illustrators.

I’ll be staggering around in Room 2 at 2:00pm, moderating a (hopefully!) lively and (hopefully!) entertaining conversation about chapter books and series writing with Michelle Knudsen, Laurie Calkhoven, and Judy Bradbury. See below for a full list of participating authors and events.


         

         

You can also order signed book from all participating authors through the festival website.

REGISTER NOW by clicking this link and following the instructions.

Here’s the schedule for the day:

 

10:00 AM

ROOM 1

Read To Me Corner – Picture Book Stories Read By The Author

Annette Dunn

Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Unseld Robinson

ROOM 2 

Picture Books: How Are You Feeling? Coping With Emotions

Heidi Stemple

Jane Yolen

Susan Verde

James Howe

 11:00 AM

 ROOM 1 

Graphic Fiction: Drawing Demonstration  (Interactive – Pencil And Paper Required)

Frank Cammuso

Steve Ellis

Brian Yanish

ROOM 2 

For Our Younger Book Lovers: Stories and Songs (Interactive)

Iza Trapani

Tiffany Polino

Margaret Pence

12:00 PM

ROOM 1

Fantastical Fantasy for Middle Grade Readers

Vivian Vande Velde

Sheela Chari

Bruce Coville

ROOM 2

Historical Fiction – Fact and Fiction Storytelling

Keely Hutton

Elizabeth Falk

Susan Williams Beckhorn

Marsha Hayles

1:00 PM

ROOM 1

Diverse Themes in Middle Grade Literature​

Alex Sanchez

MJ and Herm Auch

Leslie C. Youngblood

ROOM 2

How Authors Use Poetry and Verse To Tell A Story

Linda Sue Park

Joseph Bruchac

Nikki Grimes

2:00 PM

ROOM 1

Picture Books: Fiction and Non-Fiction

Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Kevin Kurtz

Mylisa Larsen

ROOM 2

Get Hooked on Chapter Books: Mysteries, Non-Fiction, and Humor

James Preller

Laurie Calkhoven

Michelle Knudsen

Judy Bradbury

3:00 PM

ROOM 1

Doing It All: Writing and Illustrating Your Books

Jeff Mack

Frank Cammuso

ROOM 2

How Picture Book Authors and Illustrators Work Together​

Peggy Thomas

Kathleen Blasi

London Ladd

Yuko Jones

4:00 PM

ROOM 1

How To Write Non- Fiction That Middle Graders Want To Read​

Ronny Frishman

Rose O’Keefe

Andrea Page

Sally Valentine

ROOM 2

Read To Me Corner – Picture Book Stories Read by the Author

Mylisa Larsen

Yuko Jones

Kathy Blasi

THANK YOU

FOR SUPPORTING THE ARTS

IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES!

 

That Person Is a Gift