“We have to keep our language of enthusiasm and curiosity”

“As an artist, you are always going to suffer, and you are always going to have joy. One day you feel like a genius, and the next you feel like an asshole... But the next you can feel like a genius again.”

Music and literature are not separate entities for Patti Smith, who incorporated Lenny Kaye on the guitar into some of her earliest poetry recitals in the 1970s, despite the conventions of the time:“It was a big controversy, as if I had desecrated poetry, trampled on the academic principles. I’m still doing it. Still trampling.”

Being an artist is a calling, Smith states unequivocally, but it is also work: “It is part of who I am every day - I do my work every day. Everything that happens might spark an idea. Even while I was waiting to perform last night, I was inspired by the rain and the situation. I couldn’t help myself. It’s just what I do.”

Her interest in words began at a very young age: particularly when “a situation was described in a way which did not seem to tell the magnificence of it. The word 'swan' did not seem enough to explain the beauty and expansiveness of the swan.”

Smith’s interrogation of language, and her interpretative rebellion, continued and flourished into a writing process, as well as participation in an artistic moment in post-War America: “People wanted things to be perfect and uncontroversial – to conform - but those of us with creative energy had to do something, to express: we were building a cultural voice.” She drew a parallel between that moment and our own: “All through history this has happened: out of bad times comes a convergence of good minds and good people.”

Just Kids was written because Robert Mapplethorpe asked her to write it the day before he died. “I had never written non-fiction. It took me ten years to write that book.” Now 71, Smith has lost many loved ones, many of them young - like Mapplethorpe and her late husband – but she carries them with her, she said: “Even my mother, she’s still scolding me – ‘Patricia! Brush your hair! Wear some colour. How about a red blouse?’”

Her subsequent book, M-Train, was in some ways a reaction against the responsibility of writing the truth of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe: “I wanted to write a book which was irresponsible, no time, no plan, no plot, nothing... And in the end, what was it about? Everything! It was about everything.”

The environment is the crucial issue of our time, said Smith, and will soon personally affect all of us. “These political times are very very hard, but we cannot let them rule us: they are not who we are. I am not Donald Trump, I am myself.”

She had a message of solidarity for Mexico, speaking about the horrors of Trump’s border policy, and the family separations which have taken place this year: “I don’t usually have time to go to literary festivals, but I wanted to come to Mexico to let people know that there are people in the USA who love and respect and are grateful for the Mexican people - our sacred immigrants and their children.”

For Smith, hope lies in unity and communication, in a world which tries to divide and silence us: “it’s like the story of the Tower of Babel.” She urged us to kick down the walls put up between us, poignantly closing last night’s concert-recital with 'People have the Power.'

“There are always people born with this golden kernel: that kernel is what becomes art, poetry, music, communication. We won’t let it die. It might seem trampled or tired, but it will rise up. We are the phoenixes.”