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Patti Smith to pay tribute to poems of Robert Louis Stevenson on stage


Legendary punk singer will read odes that 'spoke to her' as a child, as well as performing Allen Ginsberg's work at Edinburgh

She was the dark queen of New York's punk performance scene who lived with Robert Mapplethorpe, hung out with William Burroughs and was chatted up by Allen Ginsberg – who mistook her for a boy.

Now Patti Smith has disclosed an unexpected enthusiasm for the children's poems of Robert Louis Stevenson – verses such as The Land of Nod, My Bed is a Boat and Whole Duty of Children.

"I can't imagine my childhood without him. His poems were my companions, my friends," she said. The singer, songwriter, poet and artist recalled her early days as a "very sickly child".

"I had pneumonia, I contracted TB, scarlet fever, every childhood disease. And my two favourite books were [William Blake's] Songs of Innocence and Experience, and Stevenson's poems .

"Bed in Summer, The Land of Nod – all of these poems I read over and over as a child. They spoke to me. Robert Louis Stevenson was also a sickly child who knew what it was like to hear other children playing outside his window.

"Not only that, but the dreamscapes that we get into as children."

Smith was speaking before a performance at the Edinburgh international festival of poems by Allen Ginsberg with composer Philip Glass. She said she also planned to perform some of Stevenson's poems "just for my own pleasure – to read him in the place of his birth".

She described how Ginsberg had tempted her back into performing after nearly two decades. "I left performing because I fell in love, got married, and decided to live simply and raise our children.

"When my husband died [in December 1994] I was devastated and I had no thought of performing again until, in late January, I got a call from Allen Ginsberg." He asked her to read at a benefit for a Buddhist charity.

"He said basically I should turn my mourning into dancing – let your loved one go and live your life. And that is how I re-entered the world of performance: through Allen, and through the spoken word."

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