Compared to Just Kids or M Train, this little book feels so slight and incomplete. But as a small continuation of the themes of creation and artistic drive, it’s a pleasure. Devotion is an expansion of a talk she gave at the 2016 Windham-Campbell Lectures, published as part of the Why I Write series.
I could probably read about Patti Smith’s travels to artists’ homes and grave sites for a thousand pages. Here she takes a spontaneous trip to Simone Weil’s grave and later accepts an invitation to visit Camus’s house in the south of France, the latter of which prompts her to question:
Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others. Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras her muted house. Dylan Thomas his modest shed. All seeking an emptiness to imbue with words. The words that will penetrate virgin territory, crack unclaimed combinations, articulate the inﬁnite. The words that formed Lolita, The Lover, Our Lady of the Flowers.
There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted eﬀorts, deﬂated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We might write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a willful foal. We must write, but not without consistent eﬀort and a measure of sacriﬁce: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.