Patti Smith

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Albert H. Johnston

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408

Rock star Patti Smith is one of the newer phenomena on the far-out youth scene, one of the most brilliantly gifted pop performers and poets since Dylan. Here [in "Babel"], in a single volume that includes her photos and line drawings, are her poems, prose sketches and other lyrical outpourings composed during the period of her rise to rockstardom—a collector's item, most likely, and certainly a mind-boggling expression of the surrealist temper that will have some readers shouting bravo while others pull out the plug. This is post-Dylan discothèque writing steeped in the cocaine mystique, savage and invincibly poignant, a volcanic spewing of image and metaphor and immures the sacred in the obscene and profane. Smith is one of the "adrenal people," by turns Scheherazade or Nefertiti (there's an Oriental-exotic strain here) performing a literary gutspill right out of a "high" and veering to straight elegy or tribute, as in her poems on the short-lived Edie Sedgewick and "great lady painter" Georgia O'Keefe. Nothing-barred sex is celebrated with heat, and it is almost impossible to read Smith's dithyrambs at a single sitting—her imagination numbs with its corruscating images and kaleidoscopic turns. (pp. 44-5)

Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the November 28, 1977, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1977 by Xerox Corporation), November 28, 1977.

[With Babel, Patti Smith] turns out an aptly titled mix of prose poems, pseudo-Oriental fables, and ditties, despite her fear that "i'll never squeeze enough graphite from my damaged cranium to inspire or asphyxiate any eyes grazing like hungry cows across the stage or page." Helping enormously with the squeezing are all those modern muses grass, hash, coke, morphine, and a chaser of Calvados. They inspire opaque, largely unreadable, sado-masochistic ruminations on sex and violence interspersed with curious tributes to Rimbaud ("the syphilis oozes") "jeanne darc" ("feel like fucking") and Georgia O'Keefe ("no bull shit"). People and things are laid out, strapped in, impaled, crucified, cut, raped, etc. unless of course they are the ones laying out, strapping in, impaling, and so forth. The whole book squishes with oil, grease, worms, mire, and a vast assortment of body fluids, and were it not for shitting and fucking, it would be a lot shorter. Smith, however, seems to agree with a character in one of her fables: "i can never rest and repetition makes me nauseous." Yes, indeed. (p. 1313)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1977 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), December 1, 1977.

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