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Patti Smith: 'It's not so easy writing about nothing'


In this extract from punk poet Patti Smith’s memoir M Train, a letter arrives leading to a bizarre speaking engagement in Berlin – and a night binge-watching Inspector Morse in a Covent Garden hotel…

Snow. Just enough snow to scrape off my boots. Donning my black coat and watch cap, I trudge across Sixth Avenue like a faithful postman, delivering myself daily before the orange awning of Cafe ’Ino. As I labour yet again on variations of the poem I’m writing in memory of Roberto Bolaño, my morning sojourn lengthens well into the afternoon. I order Tuscan bean soup, brown bread with olive oil, and more black coffee. I count the lines of the envisioned 100-line poem, Hecatomb, now three lines shy. Ninety-seven clues but nothing solved, another cold-case poem.

I should get out of here, I am thinking, out of the city. But where would I go that I would not drag my seemingly incurable lethargy along with me, like the worn canvas sack of an angst-driven teenage hockey player? And what would become of my mornings in my little corner and my late nights scanning the TV channels, watching my crime shows, not a trifling thing? Yesterday’s poets are today’s detectives. They spend a life sniffing out the hundredth line, wrapping up a case, and limping exhausted into the sunset. They entertain and sustain me. Linden and Holder in The Killing. Law & Order’s Goren and Eames. CSI’s Horatio Caine. I walk with them, adopt their ways, suffer their failures, and consider their movements long after an episode ends, whether in real time or rerun.

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