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M Train by Smith Patti

M Train (original 2015; edition 2012)

by Smith Patti (Author)

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9753914,808 (4.1)44
M Train begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, and across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations, we travel to Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico; to a meeting of an Arctic explorer's society in Berlin; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York's Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer's craft and on artistic creation. Here, too, are singular memories of Smith's life in Michigan and the irremediable loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith. Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable artists at work today.… (more)
Title:M Train
Authors:Smith Patti (Author)
Info:Bloomsbury (2012)
Collections:Your library
Tags:lang:en, autobiografie, kunst, künstlerleben, künstler

Work details

M Train by Patti Smith (2015)


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» See also 44 mentions

English (38)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this. Smith's mind is very different from mine, so she was always thinking or doing things that would never occur to me. She doesn't seem to mind hardship or long empty hours so long as she is following her own questions and interests. That's a fortitude in oneself that I admire. She has a morbid turn, never failing to visit a grave of an intellectual soul-mate. She wanders in her writing, then turns out a jewel. After losing some prized Polaroids of Sylvia Plath's grave, she writes, "Nothing can be truly replicated. Not a love, not a jewel, not a single line."

This is after she imagines urinating on Plath's grave, not out of disrespect, but "wanting her to feel that proximate human warmth."

This is a book to pick up (at any page, really), browse until you reach some odd or beautiful turn, then put down. Over coffee, preferrably.
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
I read this book in fits-and-starts over the last four months. Smith was a ready companion, with a philosophical musing and sublime adventure to share whenever I was ready. I wanted to savour M Train - felt wrong to rush through it.

Smith invites the reader into her world in a way that is intimate, humorous and challenging. She isn't shy about dropping obscure author names or books - there is a wealth of material explore based on her casually looking at her bookshelf, discussing Japanese authors whose gravesites she visits and poets who have clung to her throughout her life. She also drinks a lot of coffee. Like, an incredible amount of coffee.

(Thank you to my sister who surprised me with this book in the mail.) ( )
  Cail_Judy | Apr 21, 2020 |
Patti Smith wrote a book about nothing and I am less than enchanted.

I admit to knowing hardly anything about Patti Smith. She has always been a fascinating figure to me, so when I saw this audio book available at my local library, I put a hold on it, because I wanted to learn more about her and her life. Unfortunately, I didn't learn as much as I thought.

I discovered her love for her husband, Fred, and that she lost him while he was still relatively young. I learned that she has two children. I also learned that she is incredibly well read and has traveled all over the world. She loves coffee, cafes and the ocean. There, everything I learned is right here in these few sentences-but I wanted MORE.

This was well written and I did enjoy Patti reading it to me herself. However, I'm disappointed that I didn't learn more about her musical career, her writing or much of anything else. For this reason, I rated this audio 3 stars.

I will most likely try something else, probably Just Kids, and see what I can learn from that.

Recommended for readers that already know and like Patti Smith. Not so much for people that do not. ( )
  Charrlygirl | Mar 22, 2020 |
This book is poetic in itself. Patti circles her known ground, her home, while venturing to her local café and abroad, to places she has not visited before as well as those known by her. Her way of writing here is familiar to those who have read her seminal book of herself and Robert Mapplethorpe. Here, she writes much of her former husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, who has died.

Theirs is a story of love, friendship and travel; this entire book is focused on travel, and Patti writes well of it. Here is an example, from the start of the book:

IT’S NOT SO EASY writing about nothing. That’s what a cowpoke was saying as I entered the frame of a dream. Vaguely handsome, intensely laconic, he was balancing on a folding chair, leaning backwards, his Stetson brushing the edge of the dun-colored exterior of a lone café. I say lone, as there appeared to be nothing else around except an antiquated gas pump and a rusting trough ornamented with a necklace of horseflies slung above the last dregs of its stagnant water. There was no one around, either, but he didn’t seem to mind; he just pulled the brim of his hat over his eyes and kept on talking. It was the same kind of Silverbelly Open Road model that Lyndon Johnson used to wear."

Cowpoke. I like that non-gendered version of "cowboy".

She writes about her every day, in a way that is not meant to impress; I think so, anyway - if she IS trying to impress, I'm impressed by not being touched that way. Or any other way:

FOUR CEILING FANS spinning overhead. The Café ’Ino is empty save for the Mexican cook and a kid named Zak who sets me up with my usual order of brown toast, a small dish of olive oil, and black coffee. I huddle in my corner, still wearing my coat and watch cap. It’s 9 a.m. I’m the first one here. Bedford Street as the city awakens. My table, flanked by the coffee machine and the front window, affords me a sense of privacy, where I withdraw into my own atmosphere. The end of November. The small café feels chilly. So why are the fans turning? Maybe if I stare at them long enough my mind will turn as well. It’s not so easy writing about nothing. I can hear the sound of the cowpoke’s slow and authoritative drawl. I scribble his phrase on my napkin. How can a fellow get your goat in a dream and then have the grit to linger? I feel a need to contradict him, not just a quick retort but with action. I look down at my hands. I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.

Her words on finding a calm, lone and quiet spot in a café, anyone can relate to.

In 1965 I had come to New York City from South Jersey just to roam around, and nothing seemed more romantic than just to sit and write poetry in a Greenwich Village café.

It's rare to find a language like Patti's, which is so easily read and at the same time poetic, even though she writes of her everyday, which is not so everyday as she covers stuff ranging from her cats to her incessant love for Roberto Bolaño.

Such a sad portion of injustice served to beautiful Bolaño, to die at the height of his powers at fifty years old. The loss of him and his unwritten denying us at least one secret of the world.


I had spent the past two years reading and deconstructing Bolaño’s 2666—swept back to front and from every angle. Before 2666, The Master and Margarita had eclipsed all else, and before reading all of Bulgakov there was an exhausting romance with everything Wittgenstein, including fitful attempts to break down his equation.

I love how she writes of her dead husband, Fred:

My yearning for him permeated everything—my poems, my songs, my heart.


Despite the heat, Fred wore a shirt and a tie. The men seemed to respect him, regarding him without irony. He had that effect on other men.


Fred finally achieved his pilot’s license but couldn’t afford to fly a plane. I wrote incessantly but published nothing. Through it all we held fast to the concept of the clock with no hands.

And yes, she's not only flim-flam, I mean, poetic in the sense that she, like many others who try too hard to be poetic, is really good at massaging and churning language, but in a kind of Mayakovsky-meets-Burroughs way. Realistic, but not ongoing in a way that makes you wish it'd end soon. For example:

M—What did you two talk about? I asked.
—I really can’t say for sure, he only spoke French.
—How did you communicate? —Cognac.


Without noticing, I slip into a light yet lingering malaise. Not a depression, more like a fascination for melancholia, which I turn in my hand as if it were a small planet, streaked in shadow, impossibly blue.

Goes to show that Patti is a sucker for detective stuff. Partly on Swedish stuff:

On Christmas Eve I present the cats with catnip-enhanced mice toys and exit aimlessly into the vacant night, finally landing near the Chelsea Hotel at a movie theater offering a late showing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I buy my ticket and a large black coffee and a bag of organic popcorn at the corner deli, and then settle in my seat in the back of the theater. Just me and a score of slackers, comfortably isolated from the world, attaining our own brand of holiday well-being, no gifts, no Christ child, no tinsel or mistletoe, only a sense of complete freedom. I liked the looks of the movie. I had already seen the Swedish version without subtitles but hadn’t read the books, so now I would be able to piece together the plot and lose myself in the bleak Swedish landscape.

I like how she weaves in a side-thought of materialism, much like humans think, a bit like Montaigne and people like he have thought and uttered in different ways, since forever:

I did once sit in the chair of Roberto Bolaño when visiting his family’s home in the seacoast town of Blanes, in northeast Spain. I immediately regretted it. I had taken four pictures of it, a simple chair that he superstitiously carried with him from one dwelling place to another. It was his writing chair. Did I think that sitting in it would make me a better writer?

I love her recollection of meeting Bobby Fischer on Iceland:

When I returned I received a call from a man identifying himself as Bobby Fischer’s bodyguard. He had been charged with arranging a midnight meeting between Mr. Fischer and myself in the closed dining room of the Hótel Borg. I was to bring my bodyguard, and would not be permitted to bring up the subject of chess. I consented to the meeting and then crossed the square to the Club NASA where I recruited their head technician, a trustworthy fellow called Skills, to stand as my so-called bodyguard. Bobby Fischer arrived at midnight in a dark hooded parka. Skills also wore a hooded parka. Bobby’s bodyguard towered over us all. He waited with Skills outside the dining room. Bobby chose a corner table and we sat face-to-face. He began testing me immediately by issuing a string of obscene and racially repellent references that morphed into paranoiac conspiracy rants.

—Look, you’re wasting your time, I said. I can be just as repellent as you, only about different subjects. He sat staring at me in silence, when finally he dropped his hood.
—Do you know any Buddy Holly songs? he asked.

For the next few hours we sat there singing songs. Sometimes separately, often together, remembering about half the lyrics. At one point he attempted a chorus of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in falsetto and his bodyguard burst in excitedly.

—Is everything all right, sir?
—Yes, Bobby said.
—I thought I heard something strange.
—I was singing. —Singing?
—Yes, singing.

Between her marathons of detective TV-series, funny stuff happened:

During a break between Detective Frost and Whitechapel, I decided to have a farewell glass of port in the honesty bar adjacent to the library. Standing by the elevator I suddenly felt a presence beside me. We turned at the same moment and stared at one another. I was stunned to find Robbie Coltrane, as if I’d willed him, some days ahead of the Cracker marathon. —I’ve been waiting for you all week, I said impetuously. —Here I am, he laughed. I was so taken aback that I failed to join him in the elevator and promptly returned to my room, which seemed subtly yet utterly transformed, as if I had been drawn into the parallel quarters of a proper tea-drinking genie.

On William S. Burroughs:

I last saw him in Lawrence, Kansas. He lived in a modest house, with his cats, his books, a shotgun, and a portable wooden medicine cabinet locked away. He sat at his typewriter; the one with the ribbon so used up that sometimes only impressions of words made it to the page. He had a miniature pond with darting red fish and tin cans set up in his backyard. He enjoyed a little target practice and was still a great shot. I purposely left my camera in its sack and stood quietly observing as he took aim. He was somewhat dried and bent, yet he was beautiful. I looked at the bed where he slept and watched the curtains on his window move ever so slightly. Before I said good-bye we stood together before a print of William Blake’s miniature of The Ghost of a Flea. It was an image of a reptilian being with a curved yet powerful spine enhanced with scales of gold.

—That’s how I feel, he said.

I was buttoning my coat. I wanted to ask why but I didn’t say anything. The ghost of a flea. What was William telling me? My coffee cold, I gesture for another, sketching possible answers then abruptly crossing them out. Instead I opt to follow William’s shadow snaking a winding medina bathed in flickering images of freestanding arthropods. William the exterminator, drawn to a singular insect whose consciousness is so highly concentrated that it conquers his own.

Dialogue that is pretty:

—You have misplaced joy, he said without hesitation. Without joy, we are as dead.

—How do I find it again?

—Find those who have it and bathe in their perfection.

There are a lot of photographs throughout the book.

And I love how she turns out to have boundaries on what constitutes great writing...somewhat:

There are two kinds of masterpieces. There are the classic works monstrous and divine like Moby-Dick or Wuthering Heights or Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus. And then there is the type wherein the writer seems to infuse living energy into words as the reader is spun, wrung, and hung out to dry. Devastating books. Like 2666 or The Master and Margarita. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is such a book. I finished it and was immediately obliged to reread it. For one thing I did not wish to exit its atmosphere. But also, the ghost of a phrase was eating at me. Something that untied a neat knot and let the frayed edges brush against my cheek as I slept. [...] The truth is that there is only one kind of masterpiece: a masterpiece.

On meeting needs for money:

September was ending and already cold. I was heading up Sixth Avenue and stopped to buy a new watch cap from a street vendor. As I pulled it on an old man approached me. His blue eyes burned and his hair was white as snow. I noticed that his wool gloves were unraveling and his left hand was bandaged. —Give me the money you have in your pocket, he said. Either I am being tested, I thought, or I have wandered into the opening of a modern fairy tale. I had a twenty and three singles, which I placed in his hand. —Good, he said after a moment, and then returned the twenty. I thanked him and continued on, more buoyant than before.

What she always consumes for breakfast:

I poured some more black coffee, reached for some dark bread, and dipped it into a small dish of olive oil.

Some on Plath's masterpiece "Ariel":

I closed my eyes and searched for a stored image of my copy of Ariel, given to me when I was twenty. Ariel became the book of my life then, drawing me to a poet with hair worthy of a Breck commercial and the incisive observational powers of a female surgeon cutting out her own heart. With little effort I visualized my Ariel perfectly. Slim, with faded black cloth, that I opened in my mind, noting my youthful signature on the cream endpaper. I turned the pages, revisiting the shape of each poem.

This is a really good book. Not because it's swift but because it's just great. I hope Patti releases new stuff very, very soon. ( )
  pivic | Mar 21, 2020 |
M-Train by Patti Smith is a collection of stories by the poet laureate of punk rock. Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist who became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses.

To be honest, I have been a Patti Smith fan since 1978. I have all her albums, seen her in concert, and own several of her books including number 86 of 100 of WIIT. I was really surprised at how well received and the broad appeal of Just Kids and I was interested in seeing how well M-Train would fare.

I waited a while to start this book wanting to hold on to the idea of a new Patti Smith book before risking disappointment. I saw one review that talked about coffee and mentioned the word was mentioned forty-seven times. Actually it is mentioned 135 times including Nescafe, "joe" and beans. If you include cafe to the tally and it jumps to 223 which is pretty impressive for a 250 page book. Patti Smith does love her coffee.

I both read and listened to this book. Patti Smith is a great storyteller. Her stories are not so much exciting and with a twisting plot but more like catching up with an old friend over a ... cup of coffee. There is a familiarity in her way of speaking from plain speech dotted with big words to pronouncing yellow and bureau "yellah" and "bureah." The stories are "just so" and believable. She knows many people, but it never sounds like name dropping.

I enjoyed M-Train perhaps more than Just Kids. It seemed more personal rather than "look where I came from and how hard it was." Of course like I said before, I am and have been a lifelong fan. To me this was like catching up with a long lost friend. Reading was time well spent.

( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
M Train might be taken as a most roundabout and leisurely way of answering the question “How have you been?” The answer comes in the form of fragments of waking fantasy, literary commentaries, extended reminiscences, evocations of lost objects, travel notations, tallies of places and names and flavors (“Lists. Small anchors in the swirl of transmitted waves, reverie, and saxophone solos”). By turns it is daybook, dreambook, commonplace book. Under all lies a grief that is never allowed to overwhelm the writing but is, it would seem, its groundwater. She allows herself to begin anywhere and break off anywhere, thus realizing the secret yearning of almost anyone who sits down to write a book: that it might be possible for the thing simply to create itself out of necessity, to emerge as if by a natural process of unfolding.

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Patti Smithprimary authorall editionscalculated
Heuvelmans, TonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It's not so easy writing about nothing.
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Wij willen dingen die we niet kunnen hebben. We willen een bepaald moment, geluid, gevoel terughalen. Ik wil de stem van mijn moeder horen. Ik wil mijn kinderen zien als kinderen. Kleine handjes, snelle voetjes. Alles verandert. Jongen volwassen, vader dood, dochter langer dan ik, huilend in een nare droom. Blijf alsjeblieft altijd hier, zeg ik tegen de dingen die ik ken. Ga niet weg. Groei niet op.
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